Friday, 2 March 2012

"Israel is the true democracy. Like the United States, look at this civilisation".

This was the first conversation I had with an Israeli citizen, a taxi driver taking us from the border crossing to Eilat bus station. How was he trying to portray his 'country'? Was he expressing what he believed four English people wanted to hear, or was he defending what his country was doing? Nobody knows, however one thing I do know is that this was the springboard for how I felt during my transit in Israel; a constant feeling of slight disgust, accompanied with paranoia - or rather an aura of tension - that could erupt at any moment.

This was first highlighted when we pondered whether we were followed to the bus station by a police van. Was this anxiety? It does seem a bit paranoid to speculate that we were followed because the police didn't believe our story for entering Israel however, after seeing the country in daylight, was it?

In Jerusalem, waiting for the bus to take us to Nablus, it seemed that almost every man and woman we saw between the ages of 18-25 were proudly bearing military uniform. However, even more discouraging was the sight that every other one of these soldiers held a rather large upgraded version of what is commonly known as a machine gun, and they seemed to hold more regard for their gun than for their fellow soldiers or citizens. The words from 'Full Metal Jacket' seemed to be ringing in my ears as I saw what quickly became a common sight of a soldier having a penchant for their weapon; "This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life. My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless" (Full Metal Jacket,1987).

However, what shook me the most was when I went into the shade to grab a break from the sun. As I was standing there I saw it - a pistol tucked into the back of a man's white trousers - a plain-clothed man holding a pistol through his trouser waist. It was like a scene from a terrible Hollywood film.

This however, really summed up my feelings in Israel; a constant uncertainty about people, a general feeling of distrust, and fear towards both the authorities and also the public. With all the bad press that Palestine gets in the 'West', this entire feeling of anxiety, fear, disgust and hostility all went away when we crossed the 'Green Line' into the West Bank. My feelings there were met with excitement,
comfort, love and passion as we were greeted with a great regard of hospitality.

Perhaps my feelings were of mixed emotion because I hadn't slept for almost 24 hours, or perhaps it was due to the uncertainty provoked when having a gun pointing at you from 5 yards every other second. Regardless, Israel is a state of uncertainty, fear, paranoia and insecurity. These feelings transfer onto the visitor as soon as you step foot in the country.

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