I just returned from my first trip to Israel, where I had a fabulous time. What is happening in Gaza is of course a tragedy, but away from Gaza in Israel – as elsewhere – life goes on. I wanted to share a few pictures and observations and thoughts after my first visit to this country.
The Gaza conflict has devastated the travel industry. Airline tickets and hotel prices are ridiculously low, sites visited by thousands of tourists are empty, and as as long as you are not in Gaza Israel is statistically safer than your own country, no matter what your country may be. But also, this is a region it seems, unfortunately, of perpetual conflict – and I wanted to see and feel for myself a bit of what life is like in Israel.
A few things disappointed me. I had read that the security is so high, even at the airport you’ll be “approached” by other passengers who are really secret Mossad operatives trying to size you up as a terrorist threat. Or that the security in Ben Gurion airport is so high, they will open your luggage and inspect each item. I was really looking forward to this! Sadly, none of this was true in my case. Our jumbo jet was filled with 30 passengers at most, so we could sit where we wanted. And at the Ben Gurien airport I never saw a guard or a gun. The only difficulty was getting through customs: the customs officer spoke with me (and I am not making this up!) about 10 minutes before he finally let me through. “Sir, you do understand that we are in the middle of a war?” Me: yes. “And let me understand correctly, you are here on holiday?” Me: yes. Well, you can imagine what he was probably thinking.
Finally, I was looking forward to having my passport stamped with “a visa stamp so damaging, other Arab countries may put you in jail.” Sadly, this never happened either. My passport was not stamped; instead I got a little printed paper with a barcode and was told to keep it in my passport. So after returning home, I taped the printout to my passport instead of throwing it away – just to give me that diabolical feeling!
5 days is not nearly enough to take in this fabulous country. Europe is “brand spanking new” in comparison to the history you’ll find here. Fabulous food. Very friendly people in all Quarters of Jerusalem. Fabulous weather. Economically, lots of shopkeepers seem very worried about their immediate future – since the city is of devoid of tourists, but at this time there should be thousands.
As time permits I’ll share a few other pictures I took.