Since my late teens I have been fascinated by the Holy land; Israel/ Palestine. Don’t ask me why. I have faith but do not believe in religion although I find it very interesting to find out how others practice faith within their belief system. Years and years after this fascination had gone into a comatose slumber I have finally set foot in Highly Disputed land. I took a train to Um ad-Dunya (my beloved Cairo, which at this time of year is way too stinking hot) to take a bus to Taba in the North East Sinai. There I met my friend Moina, who had been chilling on the peninsula for over a week, to cross the border together. Although a border crossing, especially one between Egypt and Israel, is a militarised zone the crossing at Taba, the only one between Egypt and Israel that is guaranteed to be open, is an almost chilled, idyllic place with flowers and greeneries situated at the Gulf of Aqaba with views over Jordan. We crossed the border on foot. It is possible to cross by car but there weren’t any vehicles at the time we were there. The world of difference in the organisation of the the two countries became immediately apparent . Although the ‘departure hall’ at the Egyptian side didn’t look too bad for the country’s standards the halls on the Israeli side looked modern and immaculately clean. I have never ever seen a female police officer, soldier or women in any other uniformed profession within the civil service in Egypt. Of the ten or so agents we had dealt with through the different stages of our crossing at the Israeli side eight of them were young women. By the time we got to Eilat from where we took a bus to Tel-Aviv the cultural ‘shock’- after ten months of MaSr and MaSr only- slowly started kicking in; people – men and women- wearing next to nothing, cars stop for you at a zebra crossing, the coffee shop where we waited for our bus had plenty of booze for sale to consume on the premises and to take away. Plenty of wine and brands of spirits were readily available like in any other Western country. In Egypt they can only be purchased in very fancy bars or on the black market. Towns have plenty of trees and everything looks clean and horribly organised. Ten months of Egypt without getting out most certainly has had its effect on me.
Tel-Aviv, which is like Brighton on the Med without the pebbled beach has been a breath of must needed liberal fresh air. I brought my most skimpy clothes, all the stuff I haven’t been able to wear in Egypt ,just because I knew I could wear it without any problems. I had the most delicious food and decent wine in the most funky places I had been to in months. The city is of a provincial size with a cosmopolitan attitude. It is everything Alex could have been and so isn’t. It’s very funky, relatively clean, the population absolutely gorgeous, people are friendly without having a hidden agenda, mixed (sub) cultures, religions and ethnicities, who live and let live together. I almost-skinny dipped in the Med at 6 in the morning after a night out and stood outside our hostel talking politics with nothing more than a shirt and towel wrapped around me. On Thursday night I went out with Lou, my evil genius friend from London who joined us at the hostel after arriving at Ben Gurion airport in the afternoon. We went to the Old Harbour to search for a place to enjoy a bottle wine. After the placed closed we changed venues. It was already around 3 o’clock and most places seemed closed (for entry). We came across a bar where people we’re still sitting outside. We walked in. The place seemed to be closing but when we ask if we could have a drink we were welcomed with open arms. We had another bottle of wine with some locals who wanted to make us feel at home as much as possible. Lou and I were quite sad to discover that their general view is that they (Israelies) are not very much liked in the world. It is true that the country is surrounded by other nations that don’t really approve of its government’s actions and although it receives a lot of support it also receives a lot of criticism especially after the events of the last few weeks. I am critical of Israel’s policies and actions but that doesn’t mean I automatically dislike every holder of an Israeli passport. It’s very easy to have a pro Israeli or pro Palestinian stance as both sides conveniently leave certain aspects out of their argument. I came to the Holy Land to see the country and meet its people to get a better understanding of this very simple and yet complicated conflict. Coming to Tel-Aviv has been a good entry point to enjoy some old-fashioned hedonism and connect to people in Highly Disputed Land.
image: L ‘sharmoot’ Lunter