Quick post while I use up a bit of internet before trekking through the old city for a while. My study abroad program ended yesterday with a beautiful, rushed, and bitter-sweet farewell as people said goodbye and prepared to scatter all around the Middle East before we trickle back home to the states over the next few weeks. For many of the people from the program, it will probably be the last time I see them (at least for a long time), but I'm looking forward to catching up with a handful back in the US (Bonaroo '10?) and wherever our adventures take us in the future (Paris?).
For myself, I will be in Israel and the West Bank for the next 2 weeks, exploring holy sites around Jerusalem, checking out the night life in Tel Aviv, hopefully finding some live music, and hiking a bit in the Golan Heights.
My trip here was like any border crossing in the Middle East, made wonderfully difficult by the strong regional tensions. I took off with a group to try to cross the King Hussein Bridge which is the quickest route to Jerusalem from Amman. Unfortunately, it being the Sabbath, it was closed by noon. So, quick 3 hour detour to the northern border! Here I was held for 2 hours while the others went on. They questioned me extensively about my travel in Lebanon and Syria and my stay in Jordan, and even wanted to see what I was writing in my journal.
Finally, I made it through and continued on to Jerusalem. I met Libi, a wonderfully energetic Israeli girl on my first bus, and we made the transfer to Tel Aviv together. She shared her mango with me that she found on a "foraging trip" this weekend. She is about to start her national service work this week, helping new immigrants adapt to Israel. She declined military service because she is religiously orthodox (and a vegan). I looked incredulous and she pointed out the skirt that she was wearing over her jeans and the red checkered kuffiyah that she wore like a bandanna covering her head.
We sat on a bus for a couple hours surrounded by young Israeli men and women wearing military dress and many of them toting pretty heavy duty weapons. We laughed and sang and they tried to teach me military songs in Hebrew which I didn't really pick up easily. Libi tried the best she could to translate for me since she spoke more English than most of the others.
A strange bond united these young Israelis as we sat together in the back of this crowded bus. For most, they had never met before, but interacted like long time friends. And only a few times did difficult political questions come up:
"Do you love the Israeli army?" asked one man, dressed in civilian clothing.
"I don't love any army," I responded.
He thought for a minute, then looked at me again. "I was in Gaza last year."
I didn't quite know what to say, I smile and nodded. The conversation moved on.
They always say it is important to see an issue from both sides. After 6 months in Jordan, this is my chance to do that, and I'm really interested to see how that goes. My first experience with Israelis was a really good one, but it is definitely difficult to talk politics here, even for someone of a fairly moderate perspective.
Alright, back to the old city for a bit, and the 24/7 prayer house that I found which overlooks the city wall!