Arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday at 1am. Yesterday spent the day in East Jerusalem (in the sense of the Armistice Line) in the old city and arab quarter to the north of the old city. On the way back, we wandered through back alleys in old jerusalem, out of the market streets into neighborhoods – some of which we were asked to leave.
Near the end of the day, we found ourselves at the Wailing Wall, where the IDF were preparing for a celebration of the paratroopers. The militaristic iconography mixed with religious symbolism revealed the Israeli state for what it (at least partially) is: a theologically militaristic imperial power.
Today the whole group is together, and we headed into the downtown of Jerusalem. We took an ice coffee at Cafe Hillel, one of Jerusalem’s most popular coffee houses. We then went to a market in East Jerusalem to buy groceries. In a sense, these parts of jerusalem look like any other city – but if you are careful you can notice the everyday force and security which is required to perserve the appearance of normalcy. For example, any mall you want to enter, you will pass through a metal detector. And the streets are full of soldiers, both with and without guns, both in and out of uniform. And there are many people carrying guns who are clearly not military (because their guns are more like hunting rifles). Initially I thought they were radical settlers, but in fact many Birthright groups have to travel in a group with at least one person carrying a gun.
So far the trip is going well. I’ve had good conversations with many of the participants, and I think I will get along splendidly with all of them.