Before even collecting my luggage after getting off our flight I had already had two experiences which seem to be indicative of things to come during my time here. As we were flying Easyjet and I had pottered around for longer than necessary in the departure lounge we were one of the last on the plane so I ended up sitting separately from the rest of my group. I was sandwiched between a very glam Jewish grandma on the one side, who had tucked into a cream cheese bagel and told me about her grandsons before we’d even taken off (“all lawyers, very good looking boys, need to find them nice Jewish girls… are you Jewish dear?”), and a stunning Israeli boy on the other (most enjoyable). I had heard The Stunner talking to his friend in Hebrew and recognised the words Hamas and Hezbollah, so thought it would probably be best to steer clear of a heated political discussion so early on into my trip.
All started very nicely – the boys had a bottle of Baileys so me, the Glam Gran and The Stunner had a drink together happily chatting at the front of the plane about the best falafel I would find in Israel, a country they clearly loved. When the boys asked me where I was going I said Jerusalem, and that’s where Glam Gran dropped me in it – I’d told her earlier that I was actually going to Ramallah and whilst initially she seemed to brush over it, she decided to tell the boys about what I was actually doing here.
Well that was the end of the friendly chit chat – I spent the next five hours trapped in cramped easyjet conditions flanked by two virulent Zionists. I am here to try to understand the conflict better and so tried to be as diplomatic as possible and not get frustrated with some of what they were saying, but unfortunately The Stunner in particular was being overtly racist about the Palestinians and Arabs in general (they were “primitive, uneducated thieves”). As usual, a combination of what happened in the Holocaust and the security threat seemed to be the predominant response which for them justified what Israel is doing in the territories. They argued that I was brainwashed and that I could have no idea of the conflict as the British media lies about what is happening, and therefore was basically not allowed to have any opinion on it.
I guess in some ways they had a point; with something as complicated as the situation over here, its impossible to grasp what is going on without experiencing the dynamics of the region first hand, and I’m not sure that solely reading The Guardian and a few articles on Al Jazeera can really be evocative of the two sides of this story. However, what surprised me was the sheer rage of these two well educated, cosmopolitan boys. They had a successful business in Brighton selling Israeli cosmetics (it had been boycotted by the BDS movement, something they were both furious about -“business is separate from politics”…hmm), but they liked good techno and previous to our political wrangling had charmed me delightfully. But there was little room for manoeuvre in the conversation or any compromise on their attitude and when I asked what they thought a solution could be, the response was that there would always be war. Trying to negotiate with an ideology as ingrained as theirs seemed to be almost an impossibility.
Being let off the plane was something of a sweet release. As we approached the passport control, our entire group began to look rather shifty as we stumbled over our well rehearsed lines “visiting Israel to work with women and young people.” Its fair to say that nobody in my group is going to make it as a spy. However, our whole team was let through without too much drama. Except, that is, for the two Muslim girls we were travelling with – one of whom was questioned for four hours, the other “fortunately” for only 30 minutes. The suggestion that Israel is not discriminatory against Muslims began to appear fairly laudable.
Fortunately, the two girls were let go and as we zipped towards Jerusalem we passed through the first check point. It was manned by two very pretty Israeli girls, who except for the massive assault rifles slung casually round their shoulders looked like they could be working in a supermarket checkout – bored. With an uninterested look and a toss of their hair we were let through, there’s no doubt that this is a conflict that sometimes seems to be as pointless as it does devastating…