Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes
Close your eyes for a second and I want you to think of as many images of Israel as you can.
Now open them, and tell me what you saw.
Anything like this?
How about this?
Maybe something like this?
And surely, a little bit of this?
Oh — no? See, that’s the problem with the media — the overly sensationalized narrow views of the media.
It’s a common theme with the gatekeepers of the news that…
If it bleeds, it leads.
Meaning, the media want to show you the scariest, goriest, and most horrifying aspects of a country or situation as possible.
All to keep us sheepishly living in fear, with just enough ‘freedom’ to seek out their news, but even more bondage to never question their truths.
Everything we know about other countries, especially ones with controversial or sensitive politics, is unfortunately 90% based on what we’ve seen through the media.
Sure, we might not have much else to rely on, but that’s why firsthand experiences are so beneficial and crucial to shaping a more tolerant and well-rounded society.
So in a small effort to change your perception of what a visit to Israel is like, here were my 5 biggest takeaways, thoughts, and insights in hopes it can inspire you to make the trip down there for yourself.
I felt safer in Israel than I do in some parts of America.
It started at the airport.
Then the bus station.
Then the streets.
Everywhere I looked. I saw guns and rifles.
Casually on the hips and shoulders of Israeli people.
These were IDF (Israel Defense Force) soldiers in uniform, patrolling and protecting the streets and overall areas.
Their need for guns doesn’t even come close to what half of gun owners in America use them for.
Growing up in the U.S., it was normal to hear about regular mass shootings at schools, movie theaters, restaurants, malls, or parties.
The reality of America’s gun situation, is that there was a mass shooting almost every single day of last year; The Guardian reporting 1,052 mass shootings over the span of 1,066 days. You can view more of those unfortunate stats here.
And as an American who will never understand the need for guns to exist in non-trivial places like this restaurant in Utah where the waiters all carry pistols on their waist as a statement of support to the 2nd amendment, it was surprising how much more at ease I felt in Israel.
You see, the presence of open guns here is more of a necessity than a right, so they grew up knowing how much of a responsibility they had to protect their people.
When I saw IDF soldiers (three of whom came and spoke very candidly about their experiences during my stay in Jerusalem), I never once felt in danger, but rather, more at ease.
During their talk in Jerusalem on Israeli Independence Day, the thing that got to me the most was when they were asked,
“What was the best part about serving in the IDF?”
And all three responded with some variation of how the ending of their terms, was the best part. But without skipping a beat, they all said they’d do it again in a heartbeat if that’s what their country needed to do to remain safe from terrorism.
You see, these people don’t necessarily want to serve in the military, they need to.
When you’re living in a country that has a consistent record of attacks, then conscription, or mandated military service, becomes a thing (3 years for men, 2 years for women).
“The number of wars and border conflicts in which the IDF has been involved in its short history makes it one of the most battle-trained armed forces in the world,” as quoted by GlobalSecurity.org.
Meet with both Israeli and Palestinian people, and learn each of their stories.
While biases exist in almost every aspect of life, culture, and travel, do your best to meet with both Israelis and Palestinians — both religious and secular; both the passionate and apathetic.
One of the most intense tours I’d ever been on was called the Hebron Dual Narrative Tour, and it’s a MUST-DO for anyone visiting the area who wants to grasp as much of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as possible.
This day tour takes you through the city of Hebron which has been the setting of many attacks in the recent past, leaving it a divided city with a raw glimpse of one very real yet extreme side to the current political situation.
Essentially, you spend four hours with an Israeli guide, who takes you through the side of the city he’s allowed to be on due to his nationality, and then you spend the remaining four hours with a Palestinian guide, which includes lunch in a lovely, Arab home in between, as well as visits to holy sites around the city from a Muslim point of view.
You get the opportunity to listen firsthand to the emotions, the contradictions, the pain, the hurt, the angst, the hope, the prayers, the wishes, and the overall truths from the very people who are living in this complex situation.
From this, you’ll re-learn the power of faith, as well as the depths of compassion for people on both sides; and it’s a powerful feeling.
Both Israelis and Palestinians are victims. But your job is not to choose a side.
In an effort to show that I truly have love for both Israelis and Palestinians, I found myself in a constant state of confusion and sadness.
Who should I root for? Who’s side has history favored more? Who is suffering the most?
These questions attacked my mind and clouded my thoughts for hours at a time, to where sharing words prematurely on social media wouldn’t have painted the full picture of this masterpiece of an experience.
But no matter what you see, what you hear, and who you know, the fact of the matter is that the battle of the bigger victim is not a winning game. Both sides are hurting and you could point fingers, peruse YouTube attack videos, or simply put all that aside and realize that your heart is big enough to be compassionate for everyone involved.
I don’t love Israelis more than Palestinians. And I don’t love Palestinians more than Israelis.
People are people, and as long as we share the same human race, my love has no limits or conditions for the sufferings of those at the hands of a political situation that has so many layers, that my two week visit only scratched the surface.
The fact that the 3 main monotheistic religions can share holy sites peacefully, is a sign that these people can indeed put their differences aside.
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all consider many parts of Israel their “Holy Land” based on their respective beliefs to places like the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
As a Christian, I can’t tell you how powerful it was to walk down Via Dolorosa, a street in the Old City of Jerusalem where Jesus walked to His crucifixion and fell under the weight of the cross.
Or to the sacred church in Bethlehem which houses the cradle where baby Jesus was born. Or to the Mount of Olives at the Dominus Flevit Church, where Jesus wept while overlooking Jerusalem, knowing He was about to undergo the ultimate sacrifice for mankind, and many more.
Whether you’re religious or not, it’s worth checking out the “Holy City Tour” to truly grasp the many important monuments displayed throughout the city that has major significance for Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike.
The people here are BEAUTIFUL.
Excuse this potentially vapid-sounding point, but beyond their physical appearance, the people here, both Israeli and Palestinian, are simply beautiful creatures.
If not their olive-colored eyes and tanned skin, it’s their inviting spirits and hospitable hearts.
If not their full beards and warm smiles, it’s their honest words and passionate tones.
If not their rugged and stoic demeanor, it’s their eagerness in shouting, “WELCOME!” whenever possible.
Every encounter I had with people here reminded me that before these invisible borders and nationalist movements, we were and still are just ONE people.
And whether or not you’d like to visit to draw your own conclusions about a country with one of the most intense political situations in the world, I promise you’ll experience a side to Israel and The West Bank that the media has forgotten and will continue to forget to show you for years to come.
So remember that next time your brain collapses at the sounds of their biased, sensationalized, violence-porn of reporting.
Shalom and Assalamu Alaykum.
Special thanks to the people at Abraham Tours and Abraham Hostels for hosting me for two weeks!