A Travellerspoint blog

Israel Day 5

Spending the day on the Gaza strip and traveling to Jerusalem

sunny 45 °F

I wish there was a word for everything I felt and experienced today. It was definitely the heaviest day of the trip, and there were several stretches of walking around and sitting on the bus when all of us were completely silent and pensive. Somehow the silence never felt awkward. I'm sure it was partially due to the exhaustion that comes from five days of nonstop travel, but I also think we were all trying to come to terms with a new reality. Something frightening.

We started our day by traveling South to Asaf Siboni, an outlook on the border of Gaza. Our guide warned us about the violent nature of where we were going, but also told us about the safety measures and most up to date information on the conflict that made the border relatively safer. Looking tinto Gaza was surreal. Just beyond the stretch of “no man's land” littered with walls, fences and sniper tours was Hamas, a governing terrorist organization that is responsible for launching bombs and other assaults across the border. The civilians over there suffer under terrible indoctrination and a constant threat of persecution and retaliation from Israel. It was shocking and humbling to stand between these two places.

After this we drove a few minutes to an Israeli Moshav right on the border. A Moshav is a closed agricultural community, and this one is within eyesight of Hamas. Over the years two massive concrete walls have been constructed along the border, and along with the iron dome (an anti ballistic system that shoots incoming rockets out of the air,) the people are considerably safer than they used to be. However, as our tour guide attests, this safety is really only an illusion. When a bomb or mortar is spotted the people in this town have about 15 seconds or less to find shelter. Sometimes only five seconds. Children and adults alike have died in these streets, and now bus stops are made of fortified concrete and every house has a mandatory shelter. Hamas also sends balloons with explosives attached to them across the border, and when children find them they die in the explosion. According to the woman who lived there and guided us around, the people live in a constant state of trauma and recovery.

Miraculously, despite all the odds, this community is flourishing. They have a private and government sponsored program called resilience that provides the community with a vast array of mental health services. And, although Moshavs aren’t economically socialist, they have a tight knit community and they all take responsibility for raising and caring for their children. There is a waiting list to buy land and become a part of the town.

Before going to our new hotel in Jerusalem we stopped somewhere that wasn't originally on the itinerary. We parked on the side of a hill called Tel Azeka and walked up to the top. The valley below is the area where David and Goliath are thought to have battled thousands of years ago. I'm a natural skeptic, so hearing someone claim something like this with near certainty was questionable at first, but I definitely left with a clear image of the battle. Shai pointed out archeological sites and ancient roads that mark where the ancient Philistines lived. This, along with several other things he mentioned, marked the site as the most probable location of the battle between David and Goliath. Although it's difficult to know so many years later, i'm inclined to believe it.

After debriefing and having dinner in the hotel I was getting a bit grumpy and wasn't in the mood for the speaker we had scheduled at 8:00pm. So, I took my sweet time getting ready and strolled in a minute or two late. However, this speaker ended up being my favorite so far, and was such an incredible person intellectually and socially. Someone came up to the mic to introduce our lecturer, Dr. Reis, and based on his qualifications I was expecting a lot someone at retirement age. According to the passage leader, Dr. Reis has a PhD, works at harvard, and has counseled the leaders of the US, China, Israel, and more about predictive epidemiological measures. I wasn't expecting Dr. Reis to be a younger-looking man in a black sweatshirt and jeans. He exuded respect for all the students, and asked everyone who asked a question his or her name. The lecture itself was on Israel's reputation as a Start-Up Nation and its economic and intellectual growth. I was so fascinated that I made sure to shake his hand and introduce myself afterward. I hope to see him someday in the future.

Despite being thoroughly exhausted, with the encouragement of some friends I decided to go out into the city to experience some of the night life in Jerusalem. We walked into a local market area that was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Shops, bars, and restaurants were all squished together in a small ally, and people were dancing, smoking and drinking within a 15 foot wide ally. I loved the energy and the people there! We got something to eat and walked all around. Needless to say, I was even more exhausted and ready for bed by the time we got back.

These posts have been getting so long haha. What can I say, there's a lot going on! I'm constantly reminded of how lucky I am to be a part of this program and to have the chance to be here.

Boker Tov (good day!)

-Emily

Posted by emschroen 06:17 Archived in Israel

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