30 July 2012

The trip of my life: Israel 2007

Actually, it is very hard deciding which of your travels is the best. They all have something; long summernights, unknown adventures, the feeling of being far far away, being with the people you love. And so it doesn't matter if it's in the American desert, playing in a French river or listening to leafhoppers in Italy. But some trips do stand out, and the trip that made the biggest impact on me was when I went to Israel for the first time. It was in February 2007 with the journalist class I was taking. I was 19 and had never seen anything like it. We drove around the Left Bank, talked to Palestinians who couldn't leave their city to go tend their fields on the other side of the wall, talked to Israeli settlers, a man who had done terrorism in Jerusalem, government officials and boys on the streets that just wanted to die and become a martyr. It was an incredible journey .
 We began in the Golan Heights near the border to Syria. It's actually originally Syrian territory, but the area's been occupied by Israel since 1967. They still consider themselves Syrian there, and once every year they go as close to the border as possible and use megaphones to shout to their beloved ones on the other side.
 We slept in an unfinished building, on the floor. There were no furniture. At night we went up on the roof and had the most magnificent view over the hilly area.
 We tried to get into Jenin one day to interview someone, but the guards at the checkpoint wouldn't let us. We later discovered that it was because they were hunting down a man suspected for conspiring, and they didn't want to let us witness that... The wall cuts its way through the country - which is not even bigger than Jutland - and divides Israeli and Palestinians. A few cities are totally surrounded by a concrete wall, whereas most of the 'wall' is barbed wire.
 Ramallah was busy and full of shouts and cars honking. We went to talk to some people fighting for peace. Their office was in a building where there had once been a killing. Instead of washing the blood stains off the wall, they preserved it behind a piece of glass as a daily reminder of what they were fighting for.
In Nablus we found this old barrel... That city was crazy. There were only men in the streets, and they all talked about how much they wanted to kill Israelis so they could become martyrs. The city is known for its resistance to the Israeli occupation, and almost every night there are fights between the soldiers and the Palestinians. The houses were shot to pieces. We met the leader of the resistance who walked around with a loaded machinegun. A few months after we came home we learned that the day after we'd visited Nablus, the Israelis had stormed the city apparently discovering a place where the inhabitants had hidden weapons. We have no idea what became of all those boys...
 One day we had a really good falafel in the bazar in Jerusalem. When we walked out of the shop, we saw this sign.
 Jerusalem is a fascinating city. It's built on religion, and when you walk the streets, you see orthodox Christian tourists singing passionately as they walk the route Jesus was supposed to have walked with the cross. Or you see orthodox Jews with their long, black curls and big hats. Or Muslims with the checkered scarfs around their heads. There are three churches that claim to be built on the exact spot where Jesus died...
 The Al-Aqsa mosque is sooo beautiful. We went there at the break of dawn, and it was all quiet and sunny and gorgeous.
 Later, we went into the desert to go see Massada. We also bathed in the dead sea and tried to visit some beduins, but they didn't want to speak to us. So we drove back to Jerusalem in the dead of night.
 When we went to Bethlehem, some of our group was held back in an area where the Israelis had caught two suicide bombers. So I had to wait at the Bethlehem checkpoint for some time with three other girls, in the middle of nowhere.
 Bethlehem is completely surrounded by the wall. They've decorated it with strong statements, that are heartbreaking when you come to the city with your light hair and Scandinavian passports. We were able to walk through the VIP-entrance to the city, walking right past the city's inhabitants who spend every day waiting in line for hours in the strong sun in the hope of being able to check their fields outside. But often they're not allowed and they need several papers of identification; papers that are hard to acquire. So we felt so bad every time we had to get in and out of a city... Inside Bethlehem, we drove past a bunch of kids burning cars, the air was full of teargas. When we got out of the car, some of them spat on us, it was such a strange experience.
Back in Jerusalem, we saw the beginning of Sabbat before heading home to winter Denmark, our heads full of thoughts and our notebooks overscribbled with impressions from a week I don't think any of us will forget.

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