Sometimes the best way to understand the country you’re living in is to leave it and afford yourself time and space to reflect upon it from completely different surroundings.
Asya and I have just got back from an amazing week-long break in Croatia – idyllic Mediterranean towns and landscapes, glorious late summer weather, tasty (non-kosher) sea-food, cheap wine and beer and the odd romantic sunset; who could ask for more?
Seriously, 10 months of living in Jerusalem and not once leaving Israel’s borders can take its toll on you. Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, is like a pressure cooker bursting with religious and nationalistic zeal; its streets and buses full of machine gun carrying soldiers, views over Jerusalem tarnished by the high separation walls and squalid Arab neighbourhoods, and it’s media and commentators full of paranoia, fear and despair. Not to mention the savage heat that for has been unrelenting this summer. What could be better than a week in a sleepy fishing town on the crystal blue Mediterranean coast to transport you a million miles away from all the above. It also makes you stop and think of how absurd Israeli reality can be at times.
For all its mistrust of Europeans, Israel aspires endlessly to all things European and what it wouldn’t give to be the attractive Mediterranean tourist destination that countries like Croatia seem pull off with such ease. I hadn’t been in Europe in ages and I was astonished by just how relaxed and laid-back everything felt in comparison to Israel – be it the ease with which people switched between all manner of European languages or how service almost always came with a smile (Israeli tourism take note). Not to mention the affordable and reasonable prices which Israel is also lacking.
Another great thing about escaping Israel for a week was to get away from the constant barrage of news that you can so easily become addicted to living here. The night before our departure a number of Israeli settlers were killed by Palestinian terrorists not far away in the West Bank. What a relief it was to escape the inevitable uproar and detailed analysis that was bound to come in its wake – would this or wouldn’t this disable the up-coming peace talks etc, etc. I know it hardly counts as a valid comparison but having visited the Balkans a number of times now it’s such a pleasant contrast to see a region, once ravaged by brutal wars and deep religious and ethnic divisions, to have turned a new leaf and with a bright and prosperous future ahead of itself. In contrast Israel really has a long, long way to go…
Having said all this I still couldn’t be more happy about still being able to call Israel home for the time being; if nothing else to be flying back after your summer holiday safe in the knowledge that summer here still has another good 2 months in it before the autumnal rains come. And for all the pessimism there is around the newly initiated peace talks I have to remain (naively) optimistic that one way or another that peace between Israel and Palestine is still within our grasp.
Asya and are I lucky to be enough to in fact be heading back up to Europe this week, a 12-day break in my other home, Denmark. I can’t imagine the weather will be just as kind but we can’t wait to get away again. A week will be spent on the remote northern island of Læsø, so I can only imagine long walks and quiet evenings will offer yet more ‘escapism’ from all the endless array of impressions that makes living in Israel a one-of-a-kind experience (if at times both hugely frustrating and confusing).