I arrived in Tel Aviv after nearly 24 hours of traveling. I was singled out for additionally questioning and bag search because, it seemed, of the Tanzanian and Indian visa stamps in my passport.The questions ranged from the staple ‘who packed your bag?’ to the less often used ‘do you speak Hebrew?’ ‘why don’t you speak Hebrew?’ ‘what is your Jewish name’ and my favorite ‘do you celebrate the Holidays?’. After swabbing down all of my luggage and my feet I was allowed to leave the well concealed little room they had led me too (which had lovely posters of Israel’s tourist attractions) although my bags were under detention until I boarded the plane. I was sure that after that pre-israel experience going through passport control in Tel Aviv would be hell. However, all I was asked there was the purpose of my visit: tourism and how long I wanted to stay: 3 months, stamped and done. Of course nothing is ever that easy and one of my bags evidently didn’t make it out of Zurich with me… We hope to be reunited soon.
Anyway even with the bag delay stuff I flew out of the airport, got in a shared taxi and was at Damascus Gate by 5am. Which was a problem because I had nowhere to go in Jerusalem at 5am. I decided to walk to my hostel and hope someone was at the front desk. And as luck was with me two Austrian tourists who had made arraignments with the hostel to arrive early got there just at the same time as me. The teenager in charge of the desk took pity on me and let me sit on one of the couches (I was not allowed to fall asleep or he would be in trouble) until 7am when I checked in and promptly conked out till 11:30 when I forced myself out of bed.
The rest of the day I spent walking around old city Jerusalem. There are four quarters to the old city, Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian (evidently a religion unto itself, actually I believe that community is Armenian orthodox). My hostel is right at the intersection of the Muslim and Christian quarters, directly across from the 3rd station of The Passion. I set out to get lost in the city for the day, but it is a surprisingly easy city to navigate and I always had a very good idea of where I was.
So about the occupation, while I had a good idea, intellectually, of what that meant, walking around through different neighborhoods, seeing soldiers, seeing the disparities in wealth, the architecture, the predominance of Arab Muslims throughout most of the city and the way people do an do not interact with each other.The occupation vibrates through the heart of everything.
While walking down one of the main roads in the Muslim quarter I was inadvertently swept up in a large tourist group of Jews. I had no idea where they were going and I couldn’t disentangle myself so I figured I’d just ride it out. A wake of stillness and quite followed us down what had moments before been a bustling bazaar. No one made eye contact no one called out. Guns and turnstiles and security checks are casually slipped in around the city. “Neutral” language reinforces the Israelis as victims/brave prevailers and simultaneously seems to humiliate the Palestinian population. Even though I found Jerusalem unexpectedly beautiful I was profoundly uncomfortable all day. If this is what Jerusalem is like, well then…