“When I say, ‘I went to reconnect with family’ I mean, ‘I’m not joining your crusade.'”
WHEN PEOPLE ASK about my Israel trip, I have to choose my words carefully.
The usual travel vocabulary of micro-snapshots feels vapid and inadequate. The word “Israel” resonates with more political weight than I am comfortable with. It sends my anarchist friend on a rant about oppression and the injustice of settlements in Palestinian territories. It causes my aunt to swallow her civil dinner tone along with another gulp of wine and rail against Obama’s lack of support, or double standards in journalism. On both occasions, I nod politely, feeling guilty.
I take the journalist’s fifth – plead vague objectiveness. In actuality, I don’t know what’s more irresponsible – pretending that a twenty day trip has made me informed enough to take a definitive stance on a complicated and polarizing political issue, or pretending that I can take a trip through hotly contested land which a significant part of my family calls home and remain a detached observer.
Two recent articles come to mind. In one, an Italian man arrives in Falluja as a tourist, on a guilelessly apolitical mission to see a new country. In another, an American college student on break from classes and in search of an extreme vacation flies to Libya to join up with the rebels. Was I any better than the former? Conversely, were my peers who, dissatisfied with the lack of struggle in their lives and inflamed by the idea of “authentic conflict,” traveled to Israel to build settlements for either side any different from the latter?
At the wailing wall, women in shawls rocked back and forth. Girls looked around nervously, then looked back at their prayer books. Many cried. Some whispered, chanted, wrapped their voices around vowels I didn’t understand.
When people say, “the personal is political” they mean, “a place is never just a place.” When a guide says, “look at the beauty of the desert” he means, “and help us preserve it and understand that it is ours.” When I say, “I went to reconnect with family” I mean, “I’m not joining your crusade. Sorry I’m not sorry.”
The kibbutz where my Israeli relatives lived for two years reminded me of the bungalow colonies where I used to spend my summers, especially at twilight. A scruffy dog followed us up the path, nuzzling my hand. Four teenagers sat at a table drinking bottles of Goldstar beer and talking about burlesque. My uncle pointed to a nearby field – the site of his brief shepherd career. “Herding sheep was never my intention,” he explained, “but I didn’t want to deal with the kibbutzniks. Sheep were far more reasonable.”
It is easier when I tell people I went to Tel Aviv – their eyes light up mischievously, they ask me about the nightlife.
Back home, it is the same. I did learn a lot about the conflicts, but my perceptions of Israel are above all colored with the warmth of family happiness, the conversations with the people I met, the taste of thick hummus and dark Turkish coffee, and the impossible hues of Mediterranean light.
I don’t connect with holy but I connect with home. I don’t connect with war but I connect with survival. I don’t connect with politics but I try to connect with people.
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Israel is in full lockdown from 8 January 2021. During this time international travel is prohibited with some exceptions.
The Israeli authorities have announced that with effect from 23 December, foreign nationals will not be permitted to enter unless they are citizens of Israel, with some limited exemptions. If you’re eligible for entry, you will need to complete an entry form. All travellers will be required to quarantine for 14 days. This may be shortened to 10 days upon the completion of two negative coronavirus tests (one upon arrival and one after 9 days). The minimum time required between the two tests is at least 24 hours.
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