A few months ago I visited Israel and Palestine. I travelled with a group as a part of a journalistic course on a Danish school. We talked to a lot of interesting people and even though we were only there for one week, it felt like an eternity because we experience so many thought provoking and amazing things!
One of the things that really hit me when we were down there was the contrast between the religions, the people, the cities, the.. I could write forever about all the different contrasts. But I’ve chosen to tell you about two cities that shows a lot of the different contrasts – Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Before we left Denmark we were told that Jerusalem was a city characterized by the heavy, religious history that is connected to the city. Tel Aviv on the other hand was told to be “like any European capital. Imagine Barcelona but in the Middle East”. On one hand it was true, but on the other hand both cities had so much more to offer, than at least what I expected.
In Jerusalem we spent a lot of time in the Arabian parts. Even though there were Jewish settlements in some parts we felt like being in the middle of – oh well – the Middle East. Around every corner there was another shop selling fallaffels, shish kebab and delicious sweets. A smell of harsh tobacco drifted through the air as we walked the streets. And I promise – the food was so delicious. The falafel were so fluffy and full of taste, and the kebabs were filled with all kinds of good stuff. Cabbage, herbs and all kinds of delicious sauces. As a lover of everything spicy and hot, I fell head over heels in love with the food in Jerusalem. But Jerusalem also has some Jewish quarters and Israelian quarters. They also have some great restaurants, but they are more european. Except for the Jewish Orthodox areas. Here, everything is of course kosher.
The most amazing falaffel in Jerusalem
In Tel Aviv it’s a bit different. It’s much more like being in a European capital. The restaurants and the prices at the restaurants are like any Northern part of Europe. Still, the food was really good, but just a bit boring. Some might find the a okay, but when I travel I would like to ‘taste’ in which part of the world I am because I think that food is such a big part of a country’s culture. But all of this does not do anything about the fact, that we had some pretty decent food in Tel Aviv.
In Jerusalem we saw the Western Wall. We heard the stories about the Western Wall. It was amazing but also very thought-provoking. After walking around in the Arabic parts of the city for a whole day, we saw the Jews in their characteristic dressing. They walking towards the wall from all over town. It was mesmerizing to watch. The following day we went to a part of Jerusalem, where only Orthodox Jews normally are. People told their children to close their eyes when passing us, and a lot even walked to the other side of the road – just to avoid walking past us. It was so weird to witness after being in the Arabic parts where everybody welcomed us no matter where we went. No matter where we went in Jerusalem we were reminded about religion in some way. Even in the Arabic parts were the Via Dolorosa cuts through.
In Tel Aviv it is the contrary. When you walk the streets you barely remember that you’re less than 100 kilometers away from one of the biggest religious conflicts in modern day history, if you ask me. It is like being in Barcelona. The streets, the shops, the restaurants, the nightclubs. You wouldn’t think this was a country given to a religious group. Because in Tel Aviv you have to look very deep to find religion. Of course there are still synagogs around the city, but nothing that you really notice.
Jerusalem is a religious city from the bone. The conflict in the city is partly because of religion. The people in the city has a very strong opinion about religion. Religion permeates everything and everybody. So your sexuality is not something you talk about or show. If you’re not straight, you most likely will not be living in Jerusalem out of fear. Even though Jerusalem has had its own Pride every year since 2002, an accident in 2005 scared a lot of LGBT people. An ultra Orthodox Jew stabbed multiple persons in the pride with a knife, and after 10 years in prison, he went to the Pride in Jerusalem again, and stabbed more people. Even though he has a life sentence know, the LGBT people in Jerusalem are very aware of the strong religious beliefs in the city.
In Tel Aviv it is the contrary. They have the biggest pride in the Middle East and Asia. And the city and city council is fully supporting it. It is a celebration all over town, and a lot of LGBT people from all over Israel is living in Tel Aviv because of the open mindset against LGBT people. It is something Tel Aviv is very proud of, and as an example of how the city shows it, they painted some of the streets and pathways the colors of the rainbow flag in the days before the pride.
Even though the two cities are so different, I really enjoyed being in both and one thing is sure: I’m going back to visit both in the future!