Where I Live, Where They Live

I went on a graduation trip to Europe and the Middle East the summer before entering college. Given that the trip was nearly a month long, we decided to visit 4 countries, 3 of which I could pick. My Dad had taken a business trip to Israel nearly 18 years before and adamant that we revisit with him that summer.

The culture shock had set in long before we actually landed in Israel. While in a security line to board the plane, my younger brother, only 6 at the time, was holding a small plush toy. Right before we went through the metal scanner, one of the security officials took his toy and threw it in the trash for “safety concerns”.

On the first day, we headed straight for Jerusalem guided by one Palestinian tour guide and one that was Israeli. I remember seeing, in  the airport TV, that a man had been shot in front of the Rock of the Dome in Jerusalem two days prior.  On the way there, our bus was stopped right before we entered Jerusalem and armed soldiers boarded to check our passports. I began to realize the gravity of the situation. When we finally arrived at the Old City, I quickly learned that I had underdressed and would not be allowed into the Churches unless I covered my knees and my shoulders. I ended up wearing a man’s XXL T-Shirt and an ankle-length dress on top the dress I already had on. As we walked through the Old City, the tour guides would swap in and out when we approached areas where one wasn’t allowed to go. Other than being uncomfortable because I was wearing three layers in 112-degree weather, the culture shock in seeing so many armed men and women was hard to get accustomed to. Only recently, however, my own backyard, Washington DC looked similarly armed.  However, just as in Israel, people kept living in spite of the heightened tensions.

When I reflect on my time in Israel, the more culturally shocking events are highlighted by my memory. However, I was only apprehensive in those acute, punctuating moments. While I remember the armed guards, I also remember wading in the Dead Sea, visiting the Masada, and cooling off with strawberry ice-cream afterwards. I remember feeding birds with my younger siblings and grabbing coffee at an Elvis-themed diner in the desert.

Outside of my mini trip to Israel, everything else I think I know about the Middle East is grabbed from headlines and viral clips. I recognize that that scope is severely limited. Headlines are sensational. The DC I saw on TV looked like a scene from a Hollywood dystopian film. However, as I walked through the capital in the weeks following the insurrection, I saw tanks and armed military officials, but I also saw joggers sprinting right past them.

1 reply on “Where I Live, Where They Live”

As someone who has visited Israel three times, I can vividly see what you are describing. Israel is a country obsessed with security and you can see this obsession clearly in “hot spots” like the old city around the Western Wall and Al-Asqa, and airports. (Palestinians in the West Bank deal with this obsession daily in the form of checkpoints). I think the theme you highlighted at the end though is also very interesting which is how, despite all this, life goes on. It is really amazing how people can look the other way and become desensitized to the militarization of life around them, whether it be in DC or the Middle East.
I also am sorry you had to go through the sexist dress code before entering the old city. As a man, I have never had to worry about it but I know it was a demeaning experience for others. A lot of people have gone through exactly the situation you did.

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