Six days is obviously not enough to sum up Israel. It’s not enough even to simply visit as a tourist. But as this leg of our top was a bit of an add-on, and Israel was even more of an afterthought, six days has been enough. After all, think what happened in the Six Days War. The shape of this entire country changed.
So, impressions of Israel after Six Days? Well, I like it more than I expected, or even wanted. And yet I don’t. We met some lovely people – unfortunately due to our time constraints and the fact we didn’t in the end hire a car, we didn’t have time to meet my delightful colleague’s father. Yet we also found lots of people very aggressive and unpleasant, even when I think they were trying to provide a service and be hospitable. I could look into this, and imagine it is a result of everything the people of Israel go through on a daily basis, and have been through. Or I could surmise that it is cultural, and just a feature of culture that is misinterpreted as aggression by polite and retiring New Zealanders. Or I could make some conclusions that this explains why the country is so aggressive to its neighbours. But I can’t, because I simply don’t know enough.
Jerusalem was fascinating, with all the sights in the Old City, both human and physical and historical. Of course we visited all the sights – and we took a day tour to the amazing fortress of Masada, and dropped down to the Dead Sea, where we floated uncomfortably, and struggled to find our feet, at 400 metres below sea level, and in 40 degree heat (and at a surprisingly unsophisticated facility). But Jerusalem was more than that. We couldn’t ignore the history, and visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum where time seemed to disappear. A beautiful museum at the end of the tram line, set in large grounds, on a hill. To be expected, it reduced me to tears – not so much for the factual accountings we read about, but for the personal testimonies from Holocaust survivors, and the very simple, matter of fact ways they talked about life and death then. None of this was necessarily new to me. In seeing this, in Jerusalem, it was personal, and much more intimate.
But the rest of Jerusalem seemed a long way from the mid-20th century ghettos of Europe. I was surprised that it had such a lovely, open atmosphere, a cafe culture, full of people eating outside, families and friends together, tourists and locals, everyone relaxed and happy. We found Tel Aviv to be similar, but even more relaxed and liberal, The obvious religious conservatism was out, and skimpy beachwear and gay culture (at least near the beach where we stayed) was in.
I did however feel quite foreign there at times, simply because Hebrew is the official language, and Arabic the alternative. Sure, many if not most people spoke English. The receptionist at one of our hotels, with a strong American accent, admitted she had learned Egoish by watching movies and TV! But all the daily signs of life are in Hebrew, and my offline map app was also in Hebrew. I felt quite disoriented, perhaps because it looks so similar to a stylised font used in Thai. I’d start reading it, and realise that it didn’t make sense, or wonder where the strange extra letters came from! Now I understand how people feel when they go to Thailand I guess …
We didn’t have long enough time to go north and explore Roman ruins, ancient fishing towns, and natural reserves in the far north. We didn’t have time (or, to be honest, inclination) to explore the many Christian religious sites. I l don’t regret that. But I do wish we had had more time to meet more locals, and to see more about life there today – for all inhabitants. Maybe another time.
* Photos to come at another time, when I can overcome some of the difficulties of using technology when travelling