United Airlines flight 1957 from Philadelphia International to Tel Aviv Airport in Israel was a little over eleven hours. Seeing as how this was my first time outside the country, the only thing keeping me calm was my preparedness. I knew I should sleep on the flight, but my excitement wouldn’t let me. I knew I should be reading more about Israel, but I had already studied for weeks. The only thing on my mind was that in less than twelve hours I would no longer be in the land of the free and the home of the brave, but I would be in the war torn Middle East.
When the plane finally landed, I stepped off of that Boeing 777 and set foot in Tel Aviv (Picture1). We headed to our hotel, The Marriott Renaissance, which was located on the surreal shores of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea (picture2). Having not slept on the plane, we took the rest of the day to relax on the beach and enjoy what would turn out to be the only relaxing day of the trip.
The next day we chartered a tour into Palestine. Frankly, it struck me as more of a prison than a city. Only in this prison, everybody was armed. Spending the previous day at the beach really gave me a false sense of security about the dangers of being in Israel, but when I saw the walls of Palestine, that sense of security vanished. We walked through the barbed wire entrance past the electric fence and into the holding cell (Picture3). After we had passed through the labyrinth of defense systems, we walked out into the Palestinian streets where a warm greeting of armed 18 year olds toting Ak-47’s, M-16’s, and hand grenades were waiting to meet us (picture4). We walked through the militia with the misconception that these people were here to protect us from the Palestinians, but it became very apparent that these soldiers saw us as the enemy, and saw the Palestinians as the ones who needed protection. As we passed through the town squares, we also saw marksmen with rifles stationed on rooftops(picture5). Seeing this reminded me of how much I take my freedom in America for granted. There was not one moment while in Palestine that I felt safe, nor was there one moment where I truly was.
We left Israel a few days later after seeing Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Sea of Galilee. However, my adventures weren’t quite yet over. I was strip-searched at the airport and all my belongings were searched (including a scan of my computer) before I was let on board. They told me it was a routine search, and I did what anyone in that situation should have done: exactly what they said!
I finally boarded the plane, and as I was finding my seat I had been listening to a song by Lifehouse called Broken. Then it hit me; this is what I had seen. For the last 4 days of my life I had seen people who are broken, people who live vicariously through faith, and people who are emotionally and mentally dead. Yet, these people wake up every morning to this pain that surrounds their reality, a pain that somehow eludes tourists. I felt so confused. While the danger and poverty of their society was so real, a part of me kept telling me it wasn’t. It is impossible for Americans to comprehend what these people go through, because at the end of the day, we still have our freedom.
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