We've been back a little over two weeks now, and I've finally managed to process, post & weave some of the photos into the posts from our trip. The full set of pictures (all 425 of them!) is over on flickr and can be found by clicking here. Hope you enjoy them!
I've also been thinking back through the trip trying to digest everything we did and saw. It was definitely one of our most memorable trips that we've taken in some time. I'm actually really pleased that we did it as more of a "backpacker" style trip, rather than going more up market. I think this let us meet more of the local people and gave us a better sense of the country than we might otherwise have gotten. It was these interactions, most notably at Shkedi's & The Green backpackers, that really made me feel like I truly got to know a bit more of the spirit of this remarkable nation. So a huge shout out to Gideon & Yahov! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us and sharing your love of your country with us.
That said, even where we were, there was still evidence of a very divided society. Arabs segregated (by choice or otherwise) form Jews segregated from Bedouin. Then even within the Jewish societies, the Russians, the Ethiopians (which Israel still celebrates rescuing) and others aren't particularly well integrated into the more (traditional? stereotypical?) culture, and seem to experience quite a bit of at least passive discrimination. While we felt perfectly comfortable (being white Americans) and were welcomed with open arms, I wonder if it would have been the case had we been otherwise. Hard to know, really, and no doubt the tensions were not nearly as bad as what I was expecting from reading the news on a daily basis. But still, it's not a country that seems to sit very easily with the fairly diverse population living there cheek to jowl.
I was also doubly glad to have had Branson, who speaks and reads Hebrew, with us. Not only because travelling with him is grand fun (even if he does encourage Stephen's morning person tendencies more than is strictly comfortable!), but because it made navigating a bit easier. We definitely could have done it on our own only in English, but having just that bit of extra language skill with us did make a difference. And in all honesty it was probably a good thing having someone with us who insisted on things like not stopping to take pictures of the military signs & bases. Curiosity will probably be my undoing one day.
We also really enjoyed being out and about in the countryside. Living where we do, we've been really focused on seeing the larger cities in Europe and haven't done as much "natural" sightseeing. A reminder we need to do more of this in future. Of course it helps that the scenery was stunning. I truly had no idea that a desert could be so beautiful. Growing up in (and having actively fled from) North-West Oklahoma, I tended to be dismissive of scrubby, dusty landscapes. See what I've been missing! It also helps that history quite literally falls out of almost every crack and crevice. It's mind boggling to think of how many pairs of feet must have trodden the same paths over the thousands of years . . .and this is in the middle of the desert! In that respect places like Jerusalem, Jericho, Hebron and Gaza must be truly amazing.
So Israel is definitely a place of contrasts, but also full of passion. The people who live there truly love living there and couldn't imagine themselves anywhere else. That these passions also overflow into less desirable traits is a given, but still it's pretty special to be somewhere where everyone loves their home so very much and in many cases have taken great pains to raise it from nought but rock.
We're definitely looking forward to going back, and with any luck again before Branson leaves in the next 18 months. I'm half tempted to try and do a beach holiday in Tel Aviv for my birthday, but with so much history around I doubt I'd lay on it's very beautiful beaches for very long.