Tag Archives: israel

Back and forth between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

hi, just a quick message, managed to make it into israel yesterday, after more than four hours at the border crossing. it was nuts, but an amazing experience… and as usual the latin connection followed me, i met a Brazilian / Palestinian girl in the immigration hall, she had traveled through Dubai and Amman to get to where we were and was going to a little outside Ramallah in Palestine to visit her family.

As for me, following the border crossing, it took me almost as long as the crossing itself to get from the border to Tel Aviv where I met up with my friend Joey Seroussi.

I took two taxis from the border to the Jerusalem bus station (one was a shared taxi costing me the equivalent of US$22 or 75 shekels), then a bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv (18 shekels), and then a shared taxi from Tel Aviv to Joey’s place (50 shekels).

When I showed up at Joey’s place I was informed that it was the first night of Hannukah! Could i have picked a better day to arrive… a traditional meal of egg salad, eggplant salad, omelette, bread and cheese was on the table along with a fried jelly doughnut..!  Happy Hannukah to my Jewish friends all over the world!

Later in the evening, Joey took me around the city and I have to say that this place is a somewhat like a mix of Montreal and Rio de Janeiro. It’s a very “green” city (at least in the wintertime) with vibrant street scenes filled with lots of individual little store fronts, selling newspapers and magazines and pastries, coffee shops, juice bars, clothing stores, pizzerias, bagel shops, pharmacies, etc… plus from what I’ve heard it’s got an amazing nightlife.

The club Joey took me to was a private lounge he has a membership at called Shmone, which means “Eight” in English.  Eight is also meant to be Infinity (if you turn the figure eight sideways), and eight is the number of candles on the menorah, the candles that burned without going out thanks to a miracle from God (according to the Jewish religion)… in fact while we were at the club, the singer at the front of the live band and did an impromptu lighting of the menorah ceremony on stage… It was quite cool.

I’ve been told it’s a must to come back in the summertime and hit the beach and visit other parts of the country.  Perhaps a 10-day jaunt is in order for summer 2009?  Hmmm I can see the itinerary now, I’d do a couple of days in Petra which I missed this time around, as well as see the holy sights in Jerusalem which I won’t be able to see comprehensively on this visit (given the scarcity of time and the fact that I am staying with a local family in a different town).

This afternoon I went to a bookstore and picked up a Lonely Planet for Israel and the Palestinian territories.  It may sound silly, but I feel naked without.  They are great books to guide you when you’re unsure of what to do next… and they certainly help save a few shekels, pesos, or yuan or whatever the currency is onf the country you’re in!  Walking back to Joey’s place from the bookstore, I walked through suburban Tel Aviv, I came upon five Orthodox Jews (Hasidic Jews) in a children’s playground, using the swings, the merry go round and the see-saw. It was the funniest sight and I so wanted to get a photo of it, but they are very touchy about photography.  I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask but they turned me down…

An interesting point in Orthodox Judaism, at a certain point in their lives, they will go to study in a communal setting called a yasheeva, where some of them may stay for their entire lives, becoming religious scholars.  But these scholars don’t go on to teach at mainstream universities, they will pass on their knowledge to other Orthodox Jewish students…  Some of them may choose to be in the real world.  Note to self to read up more on the topics they study, and whether they share their learnings with the outside world so as to gain new perspectives.  Another interesting point of note – apparently there is a sect of Orthodox Jewism called Magna Carta, they are based in New York and are still waiting for the “promised land”, basically they do not feel that Israel is that place and they are opposed to the existence of Israel as that promised land for all Jews, everywhere.

At the moment I’m now back in Jerusalem, waiting for a bus to the Bethlehem checkpoint (7.9 shekels) at which point I will cross on foot at the Damascus Gate and try to grab a shared taxi into town.  I haven’t been able to get in touch with the guy who arranged my accommodation and am hoping I won’t have a problem once I arrive in the town.  My mobile phone is not working here (as it’s a UAE phone with provider Etisalat which not surprisingly doesn’t have a roaming agreement with the Israeli providers).

I will then be in Bethlehem for the next three nights, which is Palestine-controlled territory.  I will be staying in a little town called Douha Town (or Doha Town) with a Muslim Palestinian family.  This was all organised by a fellow I know through a girl I met when I was in Uganda in August 2008.  He works for an organisation called the Lighting Candles Organization and he set up the family stay for me. I figured it would be an amazing cultural experience to stay with a local family and also give me a better understanding of what these people go through on a day to day basis.

apologies for the somewhat disjointed nature of this posting… just some scattered thoughts I wanted to get down in writing…

Signing out for now…

From inside the Israeli border crossing at King Hussein Bridge

At the King Hussein border crossing between Jordan and West Bank going thru Israeli border control.

I’ve been here now for three hours and counting and no telling when I’ll be done. Others have been here for longer than I have. One Dutch girl arrived at 8am this morning and just went through now, almost six hours later.

The scene here is quieter now than it was when I first arrived, I think because the border is closed to new travelers. There are ppl of all nationalities, Japanese, French, American, Jordanian.

The immigration officers here seem to treat everyone here pretty equally.  They are stern, professional and totally uncaring – this seems typical of most border officers I have seen in my life. No visual indications of discrimination although I am sure the immigration officers do racial and ethnic profiling for obvious reasons and they appear to do extensive background security checks. Remember that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency is one of the most highly sophisticated in the world.  There are people here who make this trip on a regular basis but still get stuck for hours waiting to be cleared for entry.

They’ve taken my backpack away. Don’t know when I’ll see it again. I also went through some type of biometric scanning device which blows high-velocity puffs of air at you. Apparently to see what you have under your clothes. Something called Sentinel Express I think.

I haven’t dared to take any photos, mostly because I don’t want to risk having the camera confiscated.

There are paramilitaries here, some of them with huge looking machine guns and dressed in plainclothes and reflective sunglasses. Maybe they’re settlers?

Most of the security / immigration officers here are early twenties, maybe 17-18-19… Regular people just doing their jobs, most of them are probably Israeli Defense Forces doing their two years of mandatory military training. Most of them are women too, many of them extremely attractive, the Eastern European heritage very apparent (i.e. Descendants of WWII immigrants). It’s almost closing time now and getting quieter in here.  Everyone thats still here is waiting for their passport to come back and get cleared for entry. Some of the immigration officers are walking around with walkie talkies and clipboards, and when they’re not busy they stand around just like 19 yr olds do, laughing and talking with each other looking at their mobile phones and probably looking forward to finishing work, hanging out with their friends and going out for drinks.

Youth all over the world, we all think of similar things, across religious lines, ethnic lines, youth everywhere have so much in common (sports, romance, television, parties) it is interesting how some become fanaticised, even the well-educated, the well off, (am thinking of the recent cases of US Somali youth who have fled to join the Islamist rebel cause in their homeland).

I wonder why it happens.

Being here, stuck at the border, probably being scrutinised at this very moment (maybe they are even googling my name and are coming up with ryanrowe.com?), I don’t have a problem with it. It is part of the experience, of learning to appreciate the things that people go through here, on all sides of the conflict. And I don’t want to take sides, I am here to learn and understand, to speak with the people.

Signing out for now…

Learning from a Jordanian taxi-driver

So I checked out of the Movenpick Dead Sea Resort and Spa this morning, deciding to head for Tel Aviv, Isra*l via the King Hussein border crossing.

My driver, Amar, another friendly Jordanian, pulls away from the hotel parking lot and we begin talking. He says he leads a simple life and is happy. He asks where I’m from. “Canada”, I say, “but I live in Abu Dhabi”. I’m sometimes shy to admit this, since I’ve lived there two and a half year and speak barely any Arabic. Amar tells me he’s been to Qatar (his cousin lives there) and has visited Kuwait and Dubai as well. He says he doesn’t like it. “Why?”, I ask, “is it because they are not “really Arab”?”. I’d heard this expression from another Jordanian I’ve met here. “No”, he says explaining that he doesn’t care whether they’re Arab or not. “They’re all so fake these countries. It’s all about money and business. I don’t want to worry about those things. I have a good wife, and three kids: Khaled – 11yrs, Youmna – 13 yrs, Massa – 4 maybe 5 years old – this is all I need.” I ask him if he’ll have another. “Maybe”, he says with a laugh, “we’ll see.”

Amar holds a pharmacist diploma but is unable to find a job in his field so he has spent the last eight years working as a driver for Hertz Rent a Car. He says its a “not bad job”. Although he finds it difficult to scrape together the funds to put his children through school he still manages to do it – he understands the value of education. It is really the most critical foundational element for development, for without it, a country’s citizens and industry inevitable become less competitive against other countries.

As we drive through the countryside, stray donkeys wander along the shoulder of the highway, flatbed trucks chug along, piled high with fruits and vegetables from the country’s farms. Tomatoes, lemons, olives, eggplant, this is how the rural communities make a living, irrigating their crops from underground aquifers, and using huge tent-like structures to cover their fields, presumably to protect from the elements and create a greenhouse effect. Jordan is one the most water-scarce countries in the world and of course, water is an integral part of the conflict in the Middle East.

Occasionally I see someone on the side of the road with a herd of sheep or goats or camels. “They’re the rich ones”, Amar explains, ” the ones with the animals can produce milk and meat”. I tell him about the Hutu and the Tutsi in Rwanda and how they were divided up generations ago on the basis of how many cows one had. Those with ten or more were a Tutsi and the rest were Hutu.

He points out gypsy camps in otherwise-empty fields and says they are from Turkey. “They beg and steal and we don’t like them”, he says. “They stay in the countryside during the winter and return to Amman in the summertime.” I see them everywhere….

This is the Jordan I really came to see… and when we finally arrive at the border crossing and discover it is closed for the rest of the day, I am not disappointed to return to Amman and enjoy the opportunity to see the city I missed the first time around…

And here I am now, in Amman’s City Centre eating another delicious beef shawarma meal and wandering the streets..

Thankfully I have a better hotel lined up for this evening… The Firas Palace Hotel at 30 dinars a night and working heating system.
Until next time….