Thoughts by a Tel Aviv Tourist

The independent travel time portion of this trip was supposed to start yesterday, but for lots of reasons almost everyone stayed at the apartment an extra day – so really, today is the first day of ITT. I tried to stay with some people we met while volunteering, but it didn’t work out so I’m at a hostel. I don’t feel fantastic about contributing the extra funds to the Israeli tourist economy, but I suppose it is good to have the experience of an average traveller in “Israel”.

I’m not crazy about travelling individually; I get lonely and bored. But our hostel is near the beach, so I found a funky mexican bar on the water and chilled for a few hours reading the book on religion and violence which Jordan (an IDF soldier) lent me. Trying to get into contact with people is frustrating without a cell phone, so I eventually gave up and found some pizza and a beer (you can drink beer on the street in Israel – have I mentioned this?) and watched the sunset.

I eventually met up with Sadiah who is staying about a 40 minute walk from my hostel. We decided to meet halfway, in Rabin Square. This was a bad idea – the square was packed with people, and it took me ages to find her. Thankfully things were made easier by the fact she was the only muslim woman in the entire crowd. We talked about politics and religion, but especially we talked about how to talk to people you disagree with. I made improving my skill at “talking with zionists” a personal goal on this trip, and I think I’ve made real progress. Unfortunately, you can only improve your own ability to talk to people you disagree with respectfully – the problem of people you disagree with being disrespectful towards you is out of one’s control.

The amount of racism in this country continues to astound me. Whether its people yelling from passing cars, people staring from cafes, or people taking photographs from their cars, Sadiah is singled out, gazed at, confronted, and verbally denounced for being muslim. I find this much more depressing than racism in Canada, however, because it is not an exception. It is instead a perspective that has the force of the state (both ideologically and in terms of administration and policy) behind it. Jews are the “in group”, and everyone not-jewish is treated well only if it suits the state’s needs. This place is a zionist place, which menas it exists primarily for Jews and Jewish migrants, and only secondarily for anyone else, including those who happen to be from here. This is explicitly manifested in a plack outside the Etzel museam, which speaks of the “Liberation of Jaffa” in 1948 – one must simply ask: liberated from who?

Everywhere you go in this country, you see commemorative plaques to zionist paramilitary groups and their actions in the war of independence – but it’s as if everyone’s skull is too thick to see any commonalities between zionist terrorist organizations and palestinian terrorist organizations. The same kind of logic that justifies the armed conquest of Palestine by Jews can justify the armed conquest of Israel by Palestinians, and if you travel through Palestinian territories you see commemorations of martyrs, and of armed groups and their actions.

I wish that both sides – but especially the zionists – would recognize that it is incoherent to pursue a nationalist agenda of armed conquest of a land because the principles that justify it can always be used to justify another conquest.

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