My recent two-week solo trip to Israel and Palestine has beat out Japan for the top spot of the most fascinating place I have ever visited. Unlike Tokyo, where I was convinced I would feel completely like a foreigner, this was not something I was expecting coming from Israel, but as I dived deeper and deeper into the religion of the Middle East, as well as the heated political climate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I found myself more and more intrigued by everything I was observing.
Picture this. You’re at lunch on Friday and sifting through your change when you notice a tenth-of-a-shekel coin. You ask yourself why a society in 2019 would still need a tenth of a shekel coin (Israel’s currency) when an average dinner can cost 40-60 shekels. The waitress comes over and reminds you to hurry up and pay because it’s Shabbat (the day of rest observed by Jews) and the entire city is closing down. Crap, that’s right. For the next 24 hours, elevators will be on Shabat mode meaning you can’t press which floor you want to go to (if you’re pressing a button, you’re not resting, and it’s supposed to be the day of rest), sliding doors will be turned off, and any light turned on before sunset will have to stay on until the following sunset. There are hundreds of rules, and as avid non-rule follower (this website is called Shut Up and Go – do you know how many people told us not to name our brand Shut Up and Go?), it’s not only freaky, but quite impressive (and admirable?) to see how an entire country respects the rules set in place. You walk outside and see an 18-year-old in a military uniform with a machine gun. He’s there because it’s mandatory for guys to enlist for approximately three years and women to enlist for two-ish (the durations are constantly changing). There are a few ways to get out of it, but for the most part, the general consensus is that most young Israelis are proud to serve. That, and I was told employers can discriminate based on whether or not you served? This young boy is on his way home, where soldiers keep their guns till the next day, (imagine the number of guns everywhere), and he’s walking next to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple. The couple is in all-black – the man wearing a yamaka and the woman, a wig. Next to the couple is a massive Birthright group (you are offered a trip to Israel if you grow up Jewish or if you convert). Is this merely an incentive the Israel government/Jewish organizations offer to get you to move to Israel and increase the Jewish population? If so, is that weird? Is that bad? Is that good? You turn your head to the left and notice a gay club with a banner announcing tonight’s party. Friday in Israel is the equivalent Saturday in the rest of the non-Jewish world, where the work week runs from Monday to Friday. In Israel, the work week is Sunday to Thursday. Is going to the club considered not working and therefore “resting?” All I know I can say is that the bars in Tel Aviv were packed, whereas the bars in Jerusalem were empty.
When you’re in Israel, this train of thought is never-ending. It’s like you’re a curious child again with 10,000 questions. Actually, near the end of my trip, I had to start apologizing to my Israeli friends by saying, “Sorry, I just have one more question… then I’ll stop (for a bit).”
Yeah… and we still even gotten to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict yet. Here are the resources I used to learn more about the culture and politics of this part of the world.
ARTICLES I USED TO RESEARCH THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Start here. Read all of these recaps of the questions you probably have.
This website is beefed up with really everything you could ever need to know. Everything from which buses to take into the West Bank to which countries you can and can’t go to after you visit Israel. For the record, they did not stamp my passport. You are given an entry stamp in the form of a piece of paper that you are supposed to keep with you until your departure, at which point they give you another piece of paper as a departure “stamp.” This is accurate as of January 2018.
Jo and I got coffee with Adam in Berlin a few years ago to talk about our travels. He spent a few months in Israel and his articles on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are very in-depth, but not overwhelming. I got a lot of my cafe and restaurant recommendations from his articles.
Jo and I also met with Matthew when we were both participating in a One Day Offline event in Upstate New York. He spent time in the city of Hebron in the West Bank and wrote about his experience hearing from each side of the Israeli-Palestinian political debate. He interviewed Israelis, Palestinians, and an Israeli living in a settlement. You should read this.
VIDEOS I USED TO RESEARCH THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Can Israelis and Palestinians See Eye to Eye? || Creators for Change
I have watched nearly every video on the Jubilee channel, and especially in their series Middle Ground.
Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Season 2 Jerusalem
I appreciated Anthony Bourdain’s no-bullshit approach to travel content. He has a way of maintaining his own beliefs while hearing people out, and I think that’s super important in a world that is now so easily offended.
The Ask Project
Taking to the streets to ask Israelis and Palestinians intriguing questions, this YouTube channel was my go-to to bypass the media bias and go straight to the source. Not a huge fan of radicalism in any sense, so some of these you’ll have to cringe through. Nonetheless, this YouTube channel is my way into each culture without having to awkwardly stick my own camera in everyone’s face.
This pretty much sums up how I felt in both Israel and Palestine… and on social media when I announced I was coming to this part of the world. There is an incredible amount of heat in people’s words (from both sides) and you feel like no matter what you say, it won’t satisfy anyone. The bottom line, as Conan says (at 10:54), is that he didn’t come all this way to ignore what’s happening. He is not the President, but he can present the information in his way. Major respect to him in this video… as it could’ve easily gotten ugly.
And here is my video of my experience in Tel Aviv
Here is my video of my experience in the West Bank/Palestine
Here is my video of my experience in Jerusalem with my ex-Orthodox Jewish friend (whom I met in the club…)
OTHER COMPELLING ARTICLES CONCERNING THIS AREA AND THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
- The West Bank Border Wall & Zone divisions (Areas A, B, and C)
- Palestine Remix | Area C and Israel’s plans
- If you’re looking to add some conspiracy to the conflict, I recommend you read into the concepts of Pallywood and Pinkwashing. Some Palestinians accuse Israel of pinkwashing – using marketing tactics to promote LGBT rights while also distracting tourists from the human rights violations to Palestinians. Some Israelis accuse Palestinians of Pallywood – manipulating photos and videos to construct fake stories of violence from the Israeli Defense Forces. Both concepts are extremely dangerous in the sense that they create skepticism and distrust to the media. Both appear to be public relations strategies to win public support and are extremely controversial concepts that should be heavily researched before blindly standing behind either one.
RECOMMENDED TOURS + GOING TO THE WEST BANK
Are you really capturing the essence of a city if you’re only reading the English translated from Hebrew? I wanted to take this walking tour of Florentin’s graffiti, but the guide was, unfortunately, shutting up and going to Shanghai at the time. A similar option: Alternate Tel Aviv Tours.
When you travel often, unfortunately, travel starts losing its shine. You recognize the travel formula. Each city has an old town that now is filled with souvenir shops, there’s probably a love-lock bridge, a poorer neighborhood going through gentrification via gourmet coffee and warehouse nightclubs, a famous cathedral, a contemporary art museum in a gay neighborhood, etc. That being said, when I hear about something like a massive, completely unorganized bus terminal that was supposed to be a mall and is now 75% unused, that sounds 10x more interesting. Urban Tours of Tel Aviv offers these kinds of tours.
Light-hearted city tours by actors and comedians throughout Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem & The West Bank
There’s a lot of information on the internet, but here’s how I crossed the border into the West Bank, in the most simple English. I used Google Maps and took Bus 234 from Damascus Gate (it was 7 shekels) to Checkpoint 300, where the checkpoint was undergoing renovations. They seemed too busy to check passports, so they waved me through. I was the only tourist on the bus, as well as the only person on the bus to walk through the checkpoint. Upon exiting the terminal, there are taxi cabs hanging out, one of which tried to confuse me by telling me the city was in the completely opposite direction. It wasn’t. I passed him, bought a banana for one shekel, and walked 15 minutes to the Walled Off Hotel. I got in at 4 PM and the city of Bethlehem felt like a ghost town. This resource may be useful as well: How to Get to Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel.
This tour company has “free” (you have to tip) tours all throughout Europe and now the Middle East. The recommended tip for the Jerusalem tour was 50 shekels. I’ve taken this company’s tours in Paris, London, Berlin, and Jerusalem and they offer a good mix of pop culture and history. Their multilingual skills put ours to shame too.