By Julie Holm
A week ago I went to Tel Aviv for the first time since my arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in August. My friend Marit and I dropped off our bags and ran to the beach, to soak our feet in the water and write “Free Palestine” in large letters in the sand. Those letters were the only thing around reminding us of occupation, warfare and Palestine. Even if Tel Aviv is just a short drive from Ramallah, it seems like worlds apart.
Tel Aviv is a city of shopping, swimming, and partying. Expats in Palestine use it as a place to get away for the weekend, and in the summer it is a tourist paradise with fancy hotels, beautiful beaches and a famed night life. We walked along the beach in the sunset, together with Israelis who were jogging, playing Frisbee, walking their dogs, holding hands, and I couldn’t help but wonder how often these people think about the fact that their government is actually occupying the lands and lives of another people, just a few kilometers away.
Living in the middle of it, it is hard to believe that this “neighborly feud” doesn’t play a larger role in the everyday lives and thoughts of the average Israeli citizen. It doesn’t however, especially not in Tel Aviv, a city that seems to make a real effort to look like a bad copy of any European city.
After visiting me in Ramallah, a friend of mine who lives in Tel Aviv went back to meet some curious acquaintances who wanted to know more about what it is like in Palestine. The questions they asked says it all; “Do they have cars in Ramallah?” “Are there any cafés?” If any of you out there are wondering the same, let me assure you; you can’t take a step anywhere in Ramallah without the fear of being hit by a car – they are everywhere. It’s not all donkeys and tents here.
Jokes aside, the reality is that the majority of Israelis have never been to Palestine. Ramallah is less than 50 kilometers from Tel Aviv, and still for some Israelis it is a world so different that they wonder whether they have cars here. On the other hand most Palestinians are well aware of what is going on in Israel; they have to be since practically every aspect of their lives depends on it. You’ll never find a Palestinian that is surprised to hear what Tel Aviv is like.
Walking around Tel Aviv, the only thing that reminded me that this is a country involved in occupation and warfare was the security guards outside almost every building. The Israeli security industry is huge and due to its mandatory military service, everyone is involved in the occupation at some point. This is one of the reasons why the ignorance of the Israeli people about the situation in Palestine continues to surprise me. The entire Israeli society takes an active part in the occupation, but they live their lives without any real knowledge of the situation, without doubt and without questions. It is almost as if the Israelis don’t want to know anything about the occupation or the people they occupy on the other side of the wall.
It isn’t that hard to do though. The Israeli government does what it can to hide the realities from its people. They control the media and brainwash Israeli citizens into believing that all Palestinians are terrorists. The government tells the Israelis that the wall, the checkpoints, the bombs and the bullets are all necessary to protect them from the Palestinians.
Close to the Palestinian city of Qalqilya an Israeli main road runs along the separation wall. To relieve Israeli drivers from having to look at the gray cement structure, Israeli authorities have built a slope with grass and flowers, hiding the wall behind it, from the Israeli side. This is the perfect picture of how the reality is being kept from Israeli citizens so that they can continue walking in the sunset on Tel Aviv’s beaches, blissfully ignorant of what is going on, on the other side of the grass and flower-decorated wall.