I only spent one week in Israel and Palestine (or West Bank, not trying to get political here) and it was definitely the best travel I have ever done. It was such a bumpy journey and I discovered 100 times more than what I expected.
Where are you going?
It was a while ago (January 2016) and not at all planned. I was waiting to get my contract renew at work which was taking longer than expected. January season means holidays season and none of my friends was in Rome.
After a brief talk with the HR, I understood I would have one more week off and I decided to travel. I was endlessly bored (yeah it happens a lot to me) and wanted something a bit more adventurous than a city trip in Europe but not a too long flight and no visa requirement (time constraint).
Friday morning, I texted a friend of mine from high school in Chile who was, back then, working in Tel Aviv. He said I could stay and I booked my flight tickets. The next day I was in Israel.
Rome: Fiumicino Airport
The journey started very badly. Since I booked my flight the night before, I had done no research about Israel. I was flying with El Al and never again I would choose them. If only I had read a bit about getting to Israel I would have known about the security control you go through especially when you are travelling alone (i.e. they always suspect you to be an activist).
Short version: I was set apart and went through a 40 minutes interrogation. Plus, I had to show them my Facebook account and my mail box from work. I was not happy at all but I wanted to board the plane so I cooperated.
Afterward, the security walked me inside the plane (while everyone else was still sitting at the gate). Back in time, I was traumatized but it turned into a good story to tell.
When I arrived in Tel Aviv, they pasted a bar code with numbers on my passport and everything else went smoothly. Little did I know that the code will be used later on (when leaving the country) to allocate you to a specific security section of the airport. Yes, the number is your level of threat for the country and I scored pretty high.
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
Tel Aviv is a little city on the beach and it’s kind of a paradise bubble. I was not there long but from my experience, everyone was friendly and keen to party anytime. The food was amazing, people were surfing, and doing yoga on the beach at sunset. I loved it but left soon to visit Jerusalem.
The country is small so a one hour-long bus ride leads you to the next city. I stayed at the best hostel ever (i.e. Abraham Hostel) and met so many awesome people all traveling by themselves. The architecture and the history of Jerusalem is completely astonishing and I totally recommend anyone to go there once in their life.
Couchsurfing in Palestine
I met Claire in Tel Aviv and she would become my new travel buddy. I told her I had arranged a couchsurfing in Ramallah and she decided to join. I don’t know if we were unorganized or just very stupids but we rent a car with an Israeli number to get there (= Hi everyone look at us!!).
Some information: Palestine is divided into three zones (in a nutshell):
- Zone A: about 20% of the occupied territories under Palestinian control (in theory). Access to zone A is forbidden to Israeli citizens.
- Zone B: about 28% of the occupied territories,under Israeli and Palestinian controls.
- Zone C: covers most of Cisjordania and is under Israeli control.
Back to my story: Claire and I spent the day in the Avdat dessert and crossed the border around midnight. That was a bit scary because the driving style is different and you have military check points, massive walls with red sign ‘ZONE A, access forbidden’. Also, the 3G signal is blurred in zone A and I forgot that… No need to say that we were quickly lost in the night with no map and too much unwanted attention (i.e. only kids but they were determined to sell us stuffs and you don’t know what means ‘determination’ before meeting them).
We drove back to Jerusalem, left the car and asked a taximan to drive us to our couchsurfing. Fortunately, we had the most patient host that was not even mad at us. We woke up with a beautiful view over Ramallah and an amazing breakfast (Palestinian hospitality is not a joke!) and spent the day in the city with our new friends.
I could tell you way more about it: I met so many nice people from different walks of life, the vibes and the revolutionary spirit, but it’s so hard to communicate.
I had never visited a conflict area before and I was so unaware of the living conditions of the people. I’m so thankful I could experience this from so close, it really gave me some perspective on this life.
It was my first time in the Middle East and I was so excited to be in this part of the world. Back in time, I was working for an international organization and the Middle East is an hot spot when you are interested in a career in the development sector. Also, I love Mediterranean kitchen, I was learning Arabic and I’m interested in the geopolitics of the region. Hence I was super entertained and I hope to go back to Israel to learn more about the country and explore the Golan Heights!
Ps: My friend offered me to live with him in Tel Aviv at no cost since they had an extra room haha. I was so excited about Israel that I called the airline to cancel my flight. Fortunately, they were charging a massive fee which gave me time to collect my thoughts and remember I had a job in Rome and an apartment full of stuffs of mine.
Ps II: I skipped many discoveries that contributed to make this trip unforgettable (and it includes a shooting, some tears gas and running away – It felt too much for a public blog called ‘Aurrou in Wonderland’).
Ps III: Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, I’m always glad to help and to share all of my stories!