Published: August 15th 2012August 8th 2012
Change of Plans
I left Bethlehem again for Jerusalem and decided I would try to figure out what to do for the day on the way. I was planning on renting a car and driving up by Tel Aviv, then northeast to Nazareth and Galilee, spending the night, and driving back to Bethlehem early the next morning. I would take the detour west around Tel Aviv and up through Caesarea and then on to Nazareth because there's a horrible checkpoint to get through up at Beit She'an if I go the more direct route north. My friend from Bethlehem told me they would both take the same amount of time because the checkpoint guards are so mean, so I might as well see more of the country rather than sit at a checkpoint.
But renting a car didn't work out because right before leaving the states I had to get my license renewed and instead of giving you the new one on the spot, now the DMV mails them to you. I left for Jordan before they mailed it to me so my mom forwarded it to Jordan so it is now sitting in Jordanian
customs...no idea when I'll get it. So instead of the trip to Galilee I decided to take a trip to Tel Aviv for a day at the Mediterranean.
Walking around West Jerusalem I noticed firsthand just how different the Israeli side is from the West Bank. Different worlds! Israelis enjoy much fewer limits on trade and business and therefore have a thriving economy. Both Israel and the West Bank have a lot of construction sites, but the difference is there are construction workers in Israel working at the sites. The streets remind me more of Europe than the Middle East and western culture is more common. The roads in West Jerusalem are new, clean, and the whole city is a lot more modern. New european cars roam the streets as opposed to the ancient hondas that are seen out and about in the West Bank.
Next stop Tel Aviv! The city that never sleeps!
I took a taxi who initially wanted a small fortune for the trip, so I had to do a bit of bartering. After getting him down a bit I switched to Arabic and upon hearing that I spoke
Arabic, the Palestinian driver was happy to give me a special "Arabic-speaker discount". He was actually a really nice guy and pointed out points of interest on the way there - such as abandoned houses where Palestinians lived before the occupation. The drive there showed me a lot of the countryside and I honestly see now how this is the Promised Land. After being in desert areas for so long I had forgotten how lush, green vegetation looked. I hadn't seen this much green since I was in the states. The land here is truly blessed. Once we reached Tel Aviv he dropped me off in the perfect spot. Right on the line where the old city of Jaffa meets the new Tel Aviv and right at the boardwalk along the Mediterranean!
Tel Aviv is a western, cosmopolitan city known for its beautiful beaches and its neverending nightlife. Tel Aviv is the place to go to relax, shop, and have fun. A couple of friends I met in Jerusalem were also going to Tel Aviv the same day but were planning to go at night so I took a taxi earlier so I could walk around and
see everything while the sun was out and maybe hit the beach for a while. Laila's family is originally from Jaffa, a Palestinian town that was merged with Tel Aviv after the first influx of Jewish immigrants.
The old city of Jaffa is still preserved there and archeologists have found signs that it was inhabited as early as 7500 BC. Jaffa port (sometimes referred to as Yapu or Joppa in the Bible) is where Jonah tried to flee from when God commanded him to go to Ninevah. I sat on a bench looking out at the Mediterranean Sea and read the book of Jonah, imagining that giant fish spitting him up onto the beach in front of me. Its amazing to see the places all these stories took place in. It makes them jump off the pages and come to life. The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?" "Pick me up and throw me into the sea, "he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah 1: 1-5, 11-12, 17 and Jonah 2: 1, 10
The taxi driver, Rammi, and
I chatted for a bit on the boardwalk before he headed back to Jerusalem and I went into the old city of Jaffa to explore. I walked through the town for a while, stopped for falafel, and continued south. I reached the old Jaffa port and a few very modern looking houses that looked out from a hill over the sea. Such a great view! After reaching another boardwalk where a few fishermen had cast their lines out over the rocks, I reached a large, landscaped, almost unnaturally green, grassy hill. The hill had a circular seating area on top and I climbed up for a good view.
After that I headed back and up a hill next to the old Jaffa port to the St. Peter's Church and Al-Bahr Mosque, which are extremely close to each other. The hill there also had a platform with a view and I met a few Russians. I actually heard a lot of Russians around Tel Aviv so I'm guessing there were quite a few Russian Jewish immigrants who came to the city.
The deep, blue, placid waters of the Mediterranean
I walked back
to the main boardwalk that I had started at and sat by the sea for a bit until I got hungry and found a restaurant nearby. It was called Goldman's and had a nice outdoor seating area right next to the beach. I order the grilled grouper kebab and had some of the best bread as I waited for the food. The sun began to dip down closer to the water and I watched as some of the Arabs hurried home for Iftar (break fast during Ramadan). Looking out over the water was utterly relaxing and the lull of the sea was entrancing.
After eating my fish I walked out onto the beach to try out the water for myself. It was incredibly refreshing. I don't know exactly what made it so refreshing, maybe my sore feet needed to get out of my shoes or maybe the water was just the right temperature, but it was perfect! I stayed on the beach until the sun finally set and then went back into town. My friends from Jerusalem gave me a call and unfortunately couldn't make it, so I'm really glad I didn't wait to go with them.
On the way into town I passed an ultra-orthodox Jew (they're the ones who wear all black with the hats), who yelled something at me and stopped and glared as I walked by. I had heard stories about Haredi Jews before, who are the most conservative Jews of all, but none before had said anything to me or showed me any kind of hostility. I was modestly dressed so I don't know what might've set him off. Most Haredi Jews are so conservative that they believe they are the only authentic Jews and therefore Israel is only for them. Maybe he was just mad to see a tourist?
Metropolis - Tel Aviv
I took a taxi north into central Tel Aviv so that I could take a bus back to Jerusalem and save some money (the buses are super cheap and just so you know - they have wifi on the bus!). The driver was Israeli and I couldn't really get him to talk much. As a matter of fact I couldn't get any of the Israelis I met to talk much. Opening a conversation about anything with the Palestinians I
had met so far had been easy, but their Israeli counterparts seemed more closed.
As we drove into downtown Tel Aviv I recognized something I had seen on the news a lot recently - Sudanese immigrants/refugees. Downtown Tel Aviv is full of them. I had seen multiple times on the news this summer that Israelis are really getting frustrated with the copious amount of immigrants. Most are refugees fleeing violence in Sudan after the split and have flocked to Israel/Tel Aviv looking for jobs and safety.
I had a little bit of trouble in the bus station, because literally everything was in Hebrew. My bus ticket, the destination signs over each bus, everything. And unfortunately, I barely speak a word of Hebrew. Shalom, Mazel Tov, and Bar mitzvah are the extent of my Hebrew vocabulary. Lucky for me though, on the drive to Tel Aviv I had been reading and trying to figure out the Hebrew script. Most city or place names are transliterated pretty phonetically so I was able to figure out a few letters along the way and I was able to make out the word Jerusalem on one of the overhead
Overall, I loved Tel Aviv for it's beauty, but its westernized atmosphere of shopping and clubbing made it less culturally intriguing. I'll have to make it to Galilee the next time I'm over here, inshallah.
As I said before, Israel, as opposed to the West Bank and Gaza, has proved to be very expensive, clean, modern, and liberal. Many of the women and men in Tel Aviv dressed more like westerners and the cars, houses, and mentality is very european. Seeing as most of the Jews in Israel emigrated from Europe, this wasn't too big of a surprise. This definitely accounts for the fact that Israel has become very westernized as opposed to the West Bank that has very successfully preserved its Middle Eastern culture behind its security walls and checkpoints.
There are more photos below