The current television advertising campaign by the Israeli Tourist Board uses the slogan ‘Two Cities. One Break’ as it’s basis, focussing on the cities of Tel Aviv (modern metropolitan city with beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean Coast) and Jerusalem (the holy city). The campaign uses images of smiling people on the beach and in nightclubs in Tel Aviv and wondering down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This slick campaign is brought to our television screens on an almost daily basis, but what are people really seeing?
On my first full day back in the North East I was asked the question “Could you visit Israel and not know see any of the day-to-day struggles in the area?” The simple answer to this question is … yes. If you were to follow the advertising and visit only Tel Aviv and central Jerusalem, staying in Israeli hotels (or popular international chain hotels) and never wandering from the traditional ‘tourist’ areas you could easily be unaware of what is really happening. This poses an issue for a variety of reasons, some of which are obvious and some which come from the people we have met over the past 10 days.
There are any number of tour companies who will take you to Israel, show you the sites (even venturing into Bethlehem) but on the vast majority of these (even companies labelled as ‘Christian’ or ‘pilgrimage’) will stay in Israeli hotels, visit only the ‘Holy Sites’, eat in hotels, or large chains (often a more Western menu), use the open entrances and exits to Bethlehem and use their own guides. Whilst I have little issue with these types of holiday, I do have an issue with the overwhelming use of them at a time when, yes, the Israeli economy requires support, but also the diminishing and struggling Palestinian economy desperately needs support.
With a tour company it is quite possible to enter and leave Bethlehem without ever seeing the Separation Wall and passing through very small checkpoints very quickly. Israel are more than happy for international visitors to assume it doesn’t exist or isn’t as obtrusive (in many ways) as it is.
One thing everone we spoke to on our trip spoke about was; get people to come and see what it’s really like here, get them to come and speak to us, share coffee with us, eat with us, and walk a tiny bit in our shoes. Only then can the area, and it’s issues (on both sides) be truly considered and after a time, understood.
Yes, there are serious problems on both sides, Palestinian as well as Israeli, no one is completely faultless in this area. However, it is the people who are suffering for the failings of their governments, political parties and of external agencies and states. This has to be understood and examined, both by individuals but also by the people showing them the area. I question the extent to which a UK or other guide can do this, but local guides (such as those we had during our visit) can. We had guides and drivers from a variety of backgrounds; Israeli Jew, Israeli Arab (Christian), Bedouin Muslim and Palestinian Arab (Christian), all had their own view of the situation, but also their own way of describing what was happening on the ground and in the places we visited. We stayed in an Palestinian Hotel and Israeli Arab Guest House and ate in local places and with local people, and bought from local people, both Israeli and Palestinian. I feel that only by doing this can you even begin (and for most on the trip this was only a beginning) to understand the deep complications, hurt, and trauma of those in the area.
So possibly the ‘Two Cities. One Break’ slogan should be continued but refer to Tel Aviv and Bethlehem or Jerusalem and Hebron instead of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Make it really two cities, two sides, two perspectives. See them both without your own prejudice, as is written in Luke 6:42.
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your bother’s eye.
So definately go and see, and you’ll want to come and tell. But please consider how and with whom you go and see. Don’t stick to the well trodden path as sometimes these miss the real beauty of the place Jesus lived, taught, died and rose again. Be adventurous, speak to people, eat with people and drink with people. I can guarantee that you will open up a whole new world when you open yourself to the lives and hospitality of others.