Discover more from Without A Path
Next Stop: Palestine 🇵🇸
Why can't you use a Palestinian bathroom?
I intended to send this out last week, but travels to London and Wales took up my time. Excuses, excuses, I know.
Keep reading for some behind-the-scenes thoughts on visiting Palestine
Palestine. The word alone often hangs like an elephant in the room (depending on who’s in the room). It might be one of the quickest ways––just three syllables––to signal your political leanings and worldview. It’s a name––a beautiful one at that––that can fire up a crowd in either direction. Case in point, a Ryanair employee recently drizzled a little oil on the linguistic fire by referring to Israel as Palestine during a descent into Tel Aviv.
For some, Palestine refers to both the Palestinian Territories (home of a hopeful future state) as well as the modern state of Israel. For others, it refers simply to the biblical land of ancient times. And there are likely a million other definitions in between.
For the purposes of this video, Palestine is where I traveled when I crossed the wall separating Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
I made a point not to blatantly bring up the politics of Israel - Palestine. I think people outside of the region forget that most folks living here are just trying to live their lives. Just as I don’t love strangers lambasting me with questions about American guns, anti-abortion laws, and poor access to health care, I presumed Israelis and Palestinians weren’t waiting for me to show up and ask them about their existence.
Of course it came up. It was inevitable. You can only ignore the fart in a crowded elevator for so long. But the way it came up differed considerably between Israelis and Palestinians.
In Israel, people would preemptively decline to discuss the politics. For example, I asked one Israeli about life in Tel Aviv. I didn’t say, “In light of the occupation” or anything like that. I just asked, in general, what’s it like living there. This person preemptively said they do not like to get into the politics and repeated that again later on. Anecdotally, other Israelis we met had their own way of wanting to avoid discussing the politics, almost like a relative they’re embarrassed of.
This isn’t a criticism. It’s an observation. And I get it! I generally don’t think locals have an obligation to discuss the politics of their homeland to tourists just as I didn’t think I owed it to Germans to explain how Trump got elected.
Nonetheless, it was night and day with Palestinians who either explicitly discussed the occupation or mentioned it indirectly. That’s likely a result of the places in Palestine we visited: a hotel sitting along the wall in Bethlehem and a refugee camp. But such places don’t exist in Israel. There is no Israeli refugee camp to visit nor is there a hotel (that I’m aware of) where you can stay and learn about the wall on the Israeli side.
Indirectly, Palestinians mentioned the occupation by simply talking about their lives. We ate lunch in Bethlehem (you can see a few shots of it in the video). Our host was chatty; the son of the owner. We made casual, typical chit-chat. “Where are you from?” kind of stuff.
When we said we were from the US, he mentioned that this brother was studying there. “I’d like to go, too,” he said, “But I can’t get a visa. You know,” he shrugged. “I’m Palestinian.”
It’s easy to travel around the region and start to question your perception of Israel -Palestine. There are far more moments of normalcy than your imagination might ever allow if you exclusively consume news about the occupation and Hezbollah rocket fire from Gaza. But of course, a Palestinian giving up on their dream of studying abroad because they live in an occupied state isn’t something you can see as a tourist. It comes up in conversation. And there are surely countless other injustices that are invisible to the naked eye when on the ground.
Nonetheless, what will always stick with me is the degree to which Palestinians felt the need to humanize themselves in front of us. It reminded me of traveling to Jordan and the unprompted refrains of “we’re not terrorists.”
Palestinians, too, asserted that they’re not terrorists. They just want to live their lives like everyone else in this word. And the fact that anyone would feel they have to justify their existence––to a dumb tourist like me, no less––is nothing short of tragic.
What isn’t tragic are the Palestinian people themselves. It seems to me that some supporters of their struggle are guilty of offering one-dimension portrayals of Palestinians as downtrodden and hopeless; human equivalents of those wide-eyed puppies in the Sarah McLachlan ads against animal cruelty. But let me tell you, there were far more smiles than tears. (Of course it helped that none of the American-made tear gas canisters were fired during our short stay.)
Now let me leave you with a Palestinian joke I read somewhere.
Why can’t you use a Palestinian bathroom?
Hiking and Hitting the Beach in Northern Israel
Safed or Zefat as you’re more likely to see around town, came recommended to me by a cousin living in Israel. It would be a great base for hiking, we were told, so why not spend a couple of nights?
After our all-too-short stay in Palestine, we crossed back into Jerusalem and took the bus north for the mountains, completely unprepared for what Safed had in store for us.
My 5 Favorite Places in the World and Why (Not Your Typical List!)
When you live abroad and use your money on travel instead of paying mortgages or feeding offspring, people tend to ask: “What’s your favorite place you’ve been?”
To be clear, I hesitate to entertain absolutes no matter what the topic of conversation is. Like tastes in music, my “favorite” place ebbs and flows with the seasons, my mood, and probably some wild card, like am I depressed or surfing a serotonin high.
Disclaimers aside, let’s talk about five places that have burrowed their way into the reinforced cavernous bunker that is my soul.
Get This Smokey Kishke in Your Face!
Here's a vegetarian, smokey take on the classic kishke.