Airports and airplanes smell transient– sandwiches on the go, sterilized floors and seats, plastic one-use blankets and pillows, people stuck in the same space for hours and hours and hours.
So after three flights and three airports, I was more than grateful to step out of the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and into the fresh night air.
And then right back on a bus bound for Jerusalem.
It was a whirlwind night. We went straight from airport to bus to YMCA, where our seminar was going to be for the night. Our party fell behind at the airport, so we couldn’t check into the hotel before our lectures for the evening were going to start. I was rocking the airport grunge look for the first leg of the trip.
Our tour guide is Opher Rom, an Israeli gentleman and seasoned tour guide who has guided both Madonna and Depeche Mode on their trips to Israel. Rom switches seamlessly between Hebrew when he’s on the phone and English when he’s talking to us– his tour.
I was looking forward to grabbing a quick snooze before Jerusalem and the lectures, but Opher had other ideas.
“I’m not going to let you sleep,” Rom says to our group.
Instead, Rom gave an abridged but solid overview of ancient Jewish history during the hour-long bus ride. Having spent ten years at a Catholic school, the stories were ringing more familiar than I had ever anticipated. The stories of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Saul… All were coming back to me from the days of St. Joe’s in Big Bend.
But I didn’t have much time to ponder the overlap in my own religious upbringing and Judaism. [Side note: I just googled “Judaism” to make sure I spelled it correctly– look at this]
The first talk was a brief introduction from Linda Epstein, the former director of the Israel Office of the Council of Jewish Federations.
The key to success on this trip, she said, is to forget all the rules of Western formalities. People are not as easily offended here, and they ask questions and do not mind being asked anything in return, she said.
“Personal space isn’t a thing here,” she said.
Ask questions! Interrupt! You don’t have to raise your hand to ask a question in Israel! Speak up!
Unadulterated friendliness and openness sounds good in theory, but I bet I will get grouchy if someone asks me something too bold. I’ll just have to wait and see. Open mind!
Things got more interesting with Einat Wilf, a member of the Israeli Parliament, arrived. Wilf is a striking woman with an authoritative presence. Her view of the motives behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was less than bright.
She said the root of the conflict is an existential one, meaning the Palestinians are less interested in creating an Arab state and partitioning land and more interested in making sure the Jewish state does not exist. Because the conflict is not material and more based in inherent oil-and-water ideologies, she said she did not see the conflict ending anytime soon.
More than choosing sides–Israel or Palestine?–Wilf said the “intellectually responsible” thing to do is understand the complexity of the situation. It is not a story of good versus evil, it is a situation where two groups know they are right and there they stand.
Perhaps this is very rudimentary to you. It wasn’t to me, and tonight the thorny topic was explained in a very clear and concise way.
Tomorrow our group is meeting with Ethan Brommer, chief of the New York Times Jerusalem Bureau. I’m trying to think of some good questions and while I’m sure some will present themselves once he gives his talk, I’d like to have some prepared.
- “When you cover things related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how do you stay unbiased? Is it even possible to be unbiased for such a situation?”
- “Have you covered events in other parts of the Middle East? Is so, what makes covering things in Israel different?”
- “What makes being a reporter in Jerusalem unique to being a reporter in other parts of Israel?”
Send me suggestions! Hopefully I can get on Twitter tomorrow morning. Wi-Fi at the hotel is hella expensive.
It was a crazy day and now I’m curled up in my hotel room. Two of my favorite TV channel names are “Naughty Kiss” and “Good Jokes,” but I’m watching CNN as I type this up.
Hopefully my next few posts won’t be so text-heavy. Thank you for reading!