Being amazed and simultaneously humbled by a Country

I am writing this, sitting in my hotel room absolutely stunned by the variety of emotions that I have felt throughout the day. Beware this will be a very long post. So please give yourself 10 minutes when possible to read through this.

The Journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

I started my journey today, walking 3.5KM through Tel Aviv carrying 25kilos of equipment + luggage in 27 degrees. Doesn't sound that bad I know, however, I am not made for heat. I get on the bus, which takes me through Israel to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the place which I had been warned about. Jerusalem, the place where I was discouraged to go by people living in Tel Aviv. I wasn't nervous, yet I had a certain amount of anxiety.

Throughout the entire journey, we had roadworks, lots and lots of roadworks. On the occasion when there wasn't one, the road was brand new. Israel has clearly invested a lot of money to build and improve the infrastructure. 

Much to my surprise I hadn't seen a single Orthodox Jew in Tel Aviv and then I arrived in Jerusalem. This isn't by any means a statistic however I would guess 40% of all people I saw, were Orthodox Jews. Never before had I had any inhibition about seeing them; however now because of what people had told me, I looked at them differently. Not negatively per se however differently.

 View from the Jerusalem Bus Terminal

View from the Jerusalem Bus Terminal

Coming from Berlin, Tel Aviv jad more security than I was used to but Jerusalem had at least double as much as Tel Aviv. I pondered these  differences as I scurried through the city, hopeful that the man bringing me to Hebron, wouldn't have to wait too long.

The Journey from Jerusalem to Hebron

The man driving used to live in Hebron, but now he works from Jerusalem. Thereby he had in-depth knowledge of both places. He explained that Jerusalem as a city is divided. The new city in the west is mostly inhabited by Orthodox Jews, whereas the old city in the east is inhabited by "Arabs, Muslims, Christians and some Jews." The separation of Arabs and Muslims intrigued me, however I didn't want to enquire further; to ensure not upsetting anyone. 

I hadn't been nervous until I saw a bus. This bus, same make and company as the one which I had taken to Jerusalem, had smashed windshields, and burn marks along with dents along each side. Yet what shocked me was that it was in service. Picking up passengers and no one looked twice. This was the first instance, when I noticed the tensions up front. 

 Awful Quality I know, but I think it demonstrates my point well

Awful Quality I know, but I think it demonstrates my point well

We continued driving, in the distance I saw a tunnel and over this entrance were huge steel bars looming over the road. This was the border. When we came closer and closer to this monstrosity, the sheer size became apparent to me. The only thing I was nervous about, was the border crossing; even when you have nothing to hide there is always something daunting about it. We simply drove through it; I was stunned. Everyone drove through it. There isn't a border crossing into the West Bank, only when attempting to enter Israel is there a checkpoint. So we continued driving, the highways stayed in the same excellent condition, and as such I noticed no difference.

Then the driver (I am terrible with names, and I just couldn't remember his.) pointed to a village. Not any village though, a armed village with Orthodox Jews, American Orthodox Jews. Apparently, the majority of these settlements are inhabited by Americans.   

A Palestinian numberplate. The first one I'd seen. He quickly mentioned that those numberplates are banned within Israel, any car carrying those numberplates will not be granted permission into Israel. Again, this stuck with me. Israeli numberplates are allowed throughout the West Bank, and there isn't a border control, yet Palestinian numberplates aren't allowed in Israel and there is a border control.

War. The first time, that I had ever felt so confronted by it. A huge concrete watchtower, with at least a dozen CCTV cameras, a barb wire fence surrounding it, and 3 Israeli soldiers with machine guns. Opposite the road, was a refugee settlement, of people who had been living there before 1949, when Israel got the land. The driver told me, that this is where the rocks are commonly thrown. Every 5-10 minutes I saw one of these watchtowers, these symbols of power instilled fear. Further down the road, there was a huge fire which people had set in front of yet another guard tower. . Next door, literally the next building was a bridal shop, showing the attempts at normality. I will never forget this image, yet I wanted to be as cautious as possible and decided to not pull my camera out.

Once again, the driver pointed. It was the first glimpse of Hebron which I saw. We turned left, and there was the street leading up to the city, which I was going to spend the next 10 days in. Once again roadworks, the pathment was being completely renewed and trees were being planted.

My First Impressions

I arrived at the hotel greeted by 5 people all speaking great English. They exuded a welcoming atmosphere. I got shown my room, and was given an ashtray; puzzled I asked, to be told that all the rooms are smoker rooms, yet not one little bit of smell. Once again, I was impressed.

So there I stood, looking out of the window, with a cigarette, enjoying the incredible view of the sun coming down over the city. Suddenly I heard two screams, I looked down and two boys, guessing I would say 8 and 5 were shouting hello and waving. I waved back with a massive smile to this openness. They asked whether I spoke english and I shouted yes. Then they were gone, 2 minutes later, they were standing on the roof of the building so they could see me better. They stood there, just watching me and shly waving. It was incredible. I was covered in goosebumps and full of amazement.

 The view, which I got to enjoy.

The view, which I got to enjoy.

How can children who live in a place, which some countries deny the existance of, with continuous tensions be so open and friendly? I am writing this, close to tears just filled with amazement. Right now, I hear more shouts, the same children are running down the back alley with toy cars and scooters enjoying life without the internet or iPads.

The sound of the call to the sunset prayers rings throughout the city, I go down to the hotel lobby. Empty, people are praying. I can't identify with religion nevermind understand it, but its interesting to be in a place with people so devoted. 

I look at over the city once more, and hear bangs. Echoing throughout the hill tops. They sound like gunshots, and before coming here I read a lot, and people mentioned that one can often hear gunshots from a distance. This brings me back to their reality rapidly, thinking once again about how these children can be so seemingly free of worries with gunshots in the distance.