“We will spend the morning in Kibbutz Dan. We will eat the secret khummus”. The last Whatsapp message my friend Amir sent me was promising. After being interrogated for hours at the border, I was in the mood for a more relaxing atmosphere. No famous sights and hordes of tourists. Just a slice of normal day-to-day life please!
Hummus and T-34 Tanks
Back in India last year I climbed for a couple of weeks with 3 Israelis. Cheap onward flights from Tel Aviv gave me a good excuse this year to visit them in the North, near Kyriat Shmona. After spending a month in the Jordanian desert, the lush green scenery was a welcome relief.
Amir just started studying and lives in Kibbutz Dan, a few kilometers from the Syrian and Lebanese borders. But it’s easy to forget where you are. Young men walk around barefoot wearing baggy ethnic clothes. Kids play in the park. A neighbor’s backyard becomes a makeshift restaurant on Fridays, serving the most delicious hummus I’ve ever tasted. Seriously, it was that good! No wonder they keep it a well-guarded secret.
You would be forgiven to think this is a small paradise, a green utopia. But next to the pick-nicking family, a rusty carcass of a Syrian T-34 battle tank from the Six-Day war is a silent reminder that appearances can be deceiving. Small ventilation chimneys mark the location of countless bunkers and emergency shelters. This place could become hell in a matter of minutes.
The Panoramic Safety Road
The next morning we go climbing with Yohai. We swiftly drive up the hills overlooking Kyriat Shmona. A few hundred meters before the Lebanese border, we turn on a gravel road, past a small depot of armored trucks. A sign joyfully proclaims “Panoramic Safety Road”.
The view is indeed stunning. The summits of the Golan Heights in the distance are still covered in snow. The cherry trees in the valley below are in full bloom. Behind the crag, a stone throw away, a tall concrete wall crowned with razor barbwire marks the border with Lebanon. On the other side a few villas overlook the Israeli towns.
In the evening we pay a visit to Shoham, who studies in nearby Tzfat. We meet her in a micro-brewery where she works. A Nepali plays classical Indian music. The audience is best described as Jewish American hippies. My tired brain finally gives up on trying to understand exactly where I am.
The next morning we go climbing with Shoham. We speak a lot, about the surprising generosity of orthodox families, the rift separating Jews and Arabs, the situation of Palestinians. I remind myself once more that nothing is black and white, and how easy it is to judge.
What Exactly Is Normal?
Israel is certainly one of the more bizarre places I visited in recent years. This tiny slice of day to day life that I got to experience made me think a lot about what we call normal. I am also perfectly aware that there is another side to this “normality”, and that for most Palestinians lush green scenery and hip bars are not a part of it.
But perhaps what struck me the most is how we can take peace for granted. I’m very grateful to have grown up and lived most of my life in places where there is not a constant risk of armed conflict. And where bomb shelters are not part of a normal house design.
Time For A Holiday
Tel Aviv airport, 4:30am. After sleeping for a few hours outside, I enter the terminal. A staff member from the security contractor starts chatting to me. He’s from Mexico, so we start talking in Spanish. He tells me that the next World War is coming, that I should head to the desert and stash food. That a false messiah will first appear. And that I should start observing the Shabbat. All I can muster is a tired, confused smile. Goodbye Middle-East, hello Turkey!