Woke up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy. Let’s start again.
Woke up in the morning on the day of my trip to Hebron thinking it wouldn’t be just another tour I would end up sleepwalking through, completely oblivious of the impact it would have on me. After a slow start at the beginning of the week with the hop on, hop off bus, I needed something with “wow” to get me out of my slump.
If there is anything I want you to do when you go to Israel, it’s to visit Hebron on the tour that gives you the perspective of both the Jewish settlers and Palestinians. Many tourists and even Israelis only join a tour that hears one side of the story creating more bias, hatred, and conflict, moving further away from peace and freedom for both sides. Plus, the money you pay for the specific tour that visits both sides goes toward small organizations working to create peace between Palestine and the State of Israel.
Disappointingly so, the Jewish settlers portion of the tour didn’t resonate with me as much as the Palestine side did. My tour group had the privilege of eating a home cooked lunch with a Palestinian family who gave us a peek into what life is like for them. It was truly heart breaking to say the least.
They showed us pictures and a video of settlers running down their street throwing bread loaf sized stones inside their homes threatening their safety, lives, and well being. The scary part is that this can happen at any hour of the day, and they have to live in fear of never knowing when it could happen.
To be fair, the Palestinians are not squeaky clean either. They create riots and fight right back when there’s an attack, but to me, their story is more compelling.
Kids are harassed when they go to school. Men can marry whoever they please, but women have to marry within the same religion/faith. People aren’t allowed to walk or drive on certain streets, and instead, they have to go far out of their way just to go somewhere that’s right down the street from where they live. Every day, they have to walk through multiple checkpoints just to get to their homes. The soldiers and police at these checkpoints have the right to stop any Palestinian for no reason and make them sit for 3 hours. If they get stopped at multiple checkpoints, that’s 6-9 hours of their day GONE.
On a human level, it’s just very sad.
I don’t know if it was just me being overly sensitive or what, but to everyone in my group, all of the information seemed to go in one ear and out the other. I kept hearing “this is normal for them” followed by an apathetic shoulder shrug. THIS SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE NORMAL. It made me furious. People should have the freedom to live without fear and to fall asleep at night instead of flinching at every little sound wondering if it’ll be the last glimpse of their bedroom ceiling. And the fact that they accept it as normal and we just say okay devestates me. I walked away from that experience feeling more grateful than ever for my freedom.
The thing that gets me the most is that there’s such a blurry history full of conflict that nobody knows the truth. No country, neighbrohood, area, or city is horrible. We build walls/borders to try and isolate ourselves and become our own entities, but at the end of the day, it’s all the same land just with a different name. People say they hate a certain place, but to me, that’s not possible. You can only be unhappy with your experience or perception of what happened, but we project it as rejection of a “country”. Nowhere in the world is a bad place to go. It is simply our ideas, beliefs, knowledge, etc. that differentiates our feelings and experiences.
After an emotionally taxing day, I arrived back at the hostel without much time for a nap and unsure if I had the energy to go on a midnight bike ride. In the end, I decided I needed the exercise, and I’m so glad I went. It felt good to ride around in the cool night air of Jerusalem, clear my head, get a bit of background on the Old City, and climb to a couple of different rooftops to see the city all lit up. Jerusalem seemed surprisingly busier at night than it did during the day. The hardest part of the ride was navigating through narrow alleyways and dodging slow moving pedestrians.
We rode around for 3 hours, taking breaks every 15 minutes or so, and it ended up being very rejuvenating. If you get a chance, rent a bike and ride around the city center at night. The weather is much more bearable, and you won’t have to fight as many crowds for a late night snack. You’d be surprised at all the gems you can find weaving in and out of all the nooks & crannies.
I’ve had plenty of experiences on the road, both good and bad, but this day was like my own personal 9/11. It tore my heart to pieces, and it will be a day I’ll never forget.
This article is part of a two week series of adventures in Jerusalem. You can read the others below. All tours were booked through Abraham Hostel.