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Published: September 25th 2008
No! Jerusalem wall. But the idea is the same.
This entry we couldn't publish earlier because we were afraid of getting in trouble in the many Arab country's we have visited after Israel.
Now is time to tell about our journey to the center of the 3 biggest religions in the world! There is something very important we must state here before describing our experience in Israel. We write about injustices from the Israelis towards the Palestinian, but at no means we are taking side in this war. We don't think the Palestinians are innocent neither are the Israelis correct in their actions against the Arab countries. In our opinion both are wrong. We could discuss politics for hours and describe lots of stories from both sides here but this is not the propose of this blog.
To begin our trip to Israel we dig all the information about the visa stuff. The result is: We must enter by the King Hussein Bridge, the only place where we can enter without the famous Israeli stamp. We will have to ask for the Jordanian officer not to stamp the exit in our passports but instead in another paper. Once in the Israeli side we have to ask for the
ID's must be presented to pass here.
same. There they will give us one form to fill and ask why we don't want the stamp. If they trust us, they will stamp on this form, which we have to carry with us all the time. It's quite risky but the good side is: It is possible to do it. The downside is: we can only stay in Israel while the Jordan visa is still valid.
At the border we were just freaking out, and this might be why they made us so many questions, and let us sitting for one and a half hours to "check" our passports. Including the name of our grandfather they asked, even if they can't check it!
After many questions and a hurting bum, finally we manage to enter with all the stamps in the right places. Only than we realize the first thing about Israel. The girls. All the staff form the border were girls serving the military. And how cute they are! Dressed in feminine shaped uniforms they don't loose their charm. Think about it, beautiful young girls in military uniforms! Of course no one can beat this army, who whould shoot someone like this?
From the border we took
The last remaining from the Great Temple. Muslims built a mosque on top.
a bus direct to Jerusalem. On the way there we saw our first images of the Israel/Palestine conflict. At a certain point we were leaving the Palestinian territory entering the Israeli one. Splitting the two sides of the country there is a huge fence and many kilometers of walls avoiding the people from one side to shoot or cross to the other. Palestinians needs a permit to pass there, almost like a visa for a different country. The wall look like the Berlin one, but higher and longer. At this check point one of the (female) soldiers trow one guy out of the bus, because he didn't have whatever document she asked. She literally grabbed the guy by the arm and pushed him off the bus. Fernando got shocked. This same girl was checking his documents earlier.
We arrived in Jerusalem and checked-in at the Faisal Hostel. This place is very interesting. There is, in this hostel, a big living room where everybody meets in the afternoon to drink tea and discuss politics. Only very few are tourists (like us). They are all volunteers, journalism students or peace keepers. People involved with the conflict and doing their share to improve
Swastika versus David Star
Change the year, change the sides. But the story is the same.
the situation. There we met Claudio, a Italian volunteer working in one settlement in Hebron. He told about the situation there, all the riots going on, the military occupation, the Palestinian response, etc. We got very interested and he offered to take a small group to visit the area. Next day nine of us left to Hebron.
For foreigners there is no restriction on transit between Israel and Palestine. Not even in and out of the settlements. As we arrived in Hebron we walked direct to one of the check points of the main settlement. The soldier checked our documents, pockets, cameras but couldn't stop us from entering the area. The chock is instantly. The noisy, lively city is gone. Inside it is like a ghost city. Dozens of empty buildings. Silence. Only a few soldiers hidden behind sand bags and concrete blocks. Some in the corners, some on the roofs. The empty houses had the star of David spray painted on the doors. A warning for the families to leave before they add the block to the settlement. (It reminded a lot the ghettos in Berlin) This way the Israelis occupy more and more area inside Palestine. This is
Soldiers clearing the area for the Jewish tourists.
known as "The silent invasion".
As we walked on the empty streets one army jeep stopped us and checked everything again. Documents, pockets, cameras. They let us go, but followed us at walking speed for a long time, just in case. At the first moment we were scared, but the Italian Claudio said they were more concerned about our safety than about any harm we could cause. We walked around for a while, had tea with some families, talked to other volunteers (there are Israeli volunteers too!) Claudio told us about their heroic work in Hebron. He told us about the schools too, after the classes the Palestinian and Israeli kids leave school at the same time in the same street and there is always fights and stones being thrown at each other. "They learn to hate each other since small kids" he said.
In one moment we stopped to chat to one Israeli soldier. He asked us if we knew the reasons of the war. We knew it, but we wanted to compare his explanation to the one given by the Hezbolah militant we meet in Lebanon ()a few weeks before. So, we listen carefully to his explanation,
They have to do 3 years of Military service.
took some pictures together and left the settlement.
On the outside, the streets just next to the settlement are covered with metal nets to avoid the settlers, residents from the up floors trowing bricks on the peasants on the streets. Here we stopped at one tea house close to the many shops owned by the Palestinians. Italian Claudio told us there are Jewish tours to this areas every Sabah at certain time. Exactly when we were there. For their safety, during the tour the army clear the streets and close the shops. We couldn't believe until we saw with our own eyes. At a certain hour the people started to close their shops and leave the streets. Except by us in this tea house nobody remained at that street. Heavy armed soldiers came clearing the area, checking the corners, being sure there wasn't any shop still open. Claudio told us not to worry and stay there. Fernando told later "The first soldier came to me and with his machine gun pointed to my face, told me to leave. I almost shit my paints. Looking right inside the barrel I heard Claudio telling me again to stay there. I couldn't move
The praying hall with the golden dome
Only a few meters from the wailing wall and the via Dolorosa.
anyway, my legs were shaking too much!"
The soldier stayed there, taking care of us. Few moments later a big group of Jews arrived. The guide gave them some explanation which we have no idea what was, since they were speaking Hebrew. Than he turned to us and switched to English to make a speech about how unfair we were for supporting the Palestinians and stopping them to get back their promised land. After the speech they left, followed by the soldiers. Slowly the street gain live again and we returned home.
The next few days we visited the old Jerusalem. On the walls there are signs pointing the exact places of importance in the Via Dolorosa. Walking there feels like visiting a scenario of a well known movie! Following this signs we entered the church build on top of the hill where, according to the Bible, Christ was crucified.
Continuing, just around the corner we got to the Wailing Wall. It is the remaining wall from the Great Temple, the most important religious compound for the Jewish religion in the biblical era. The Great Temple was destroyed and on top of it build Aqtza and later the praying hall
Floating easily in the dead sea!
with the golden dome, considered one of the centers of the Islam.
In a few minutes is possible to go from one religion to another. All claiming this land! Is not for nothing there is so much fight for this place. On the small alleys one souvenir shop sell the Koran, the other crucifixes and the one next door Kipa's, the Jewish capes.
After visiting Jerusalem, our next destination was the Dead Sea. We went early in the morning to the bus station but as we arrived there there was already a big line. Mainly young soldiers going to their bases. Like everybody else we entered the line for the X-ray. What happened next I think was one of the most controversial scenes we've seen in the three years traveling. The guy just before Claudio was a soldier. He, like all the others, was carrying a loaded machine gun, one extra magazine and a small daypack. He stopped in front of the X-ray machine, took off the gun shoulder strap from his neck and placed on the courier belt, than did the same with his daypack. He passed under the arch of the metal detector. As expected, no beep. He picked up his gun in the other side and placed it back, as the daypack pointed out of the machine the officer behind the scanner screen jumped up and with one accusing finger pointed to him, ordered him to immediately open his bag. Watching the scene, we were wondering: What forbidden item a guy carrying a machine gun could have in his bag? A knife???
The trip to the Dead Sea was short, the boredom of the landscape was broken only by a few signs on the roadside showing the altitude. Sea level, -100, -200... -400! We spend many hours floating, drinking beers, washing our eyes every time we got some salt water in it, enjoying the strange feeling of the super saline waters.
We couldn't miss Tel Aviv. For the single reason we have so many times listen to the news finishing with the line "...direct from Tel Aviv." So we had to go there to see how it is.
The impression we had from the Israeli city is the same we have in Rio. It is a big modern city that mixes the business man in black suits caring briefcases, with surfers in shorts carrying kite boards. All in the same place, sharing the same sidewalk.
Finally, for the ones that think Israelis are all religious orthodox consider this not a rule. We met hundreds of them traveling around, and with rare exceptions they prove to be very open minded people with few religious dogmas. Most of the times we were welcome in their group and they made a big effort to speak English all the time so that we could follow the conversation. On top of it there are the solo travelers, always involved in funny stories. Stick to this guys!!
After Tel Aviv we had to leave Israel. We still wanted to visit some places in Jordan and the days in our visa were counting down. At the border we stamped out our forms and again asked the Jordanian Officer to put our re-entry stamp in other paper (the receipt of the re-entry fee). Once safe in Jordan we burned all the proofs of our visit to the forbidden land!
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