It’s been four years since I first visited Israel and the Palestinian territories. I was 20, it was the summer before my last year of journalism school in the Netherlands. I worked at the movie theater, drank pints in my favorite pub with my favorite people, binge-watched Sons of Anarchy and visited hiphop concerts, but most of all: I researched the Middle East, interviewed people who had researched the Middle East longer than I’d been alive and wrote about the Middle East for every school project.
That summer I visited the Middle East for the first time as a journalist. Aside from a trip to Egypt with my mom a decade earlier, I had never been to that part of the world. After two days in trendy, but expensive Tel Aviv I took a bus down to the West Bank. I wanted to practice my newly learned Arabic and enjoy cheap falafel.
Later the same day I discovered that if you’ve studied Arabic for half a year, you really don’t know anything yet (give it a couple years.. or decades). But I didn’t merely come to the Holy Land to practice Arabic and eat 6 shekel falafel. So with the help of Arab busses, sheruts (taxi vans) and unofficial taxis I eventually ended up in the small town of Susiya, in the south of the West Bank. Not long before my visit, the town – consisting of tents, sheep and roughly 300 people – had received a warning from the Israeli authorities to move from the land. And the residents refused.
During that same trip I visited a Palestinian farm called Tent of Nations, near the city of Bethlehem. I listened to stories about Israeli soldiers destroying Palestinian olive trees, settlers that blocked Palestinian roads with massive rocks, who shot dogs and even beat women into the hospital.
There were only a couple days during that first trip that I actually spent inside Israel. Most of the Israelis I met were soldiers and settlers, so obviously after this one-sided trip I returned home angry and exhausted. I was angry with Israel and upset by the injustice done to the Palestinians.
But later that year I visited the area twice more and spent more time in Israel. After graduating from journalism school I moved to Jerusalem. I studied at the Hebrew University, took courses in Hebrew and Arabic and ended up working as a producer at the international TV channel i24NEWS.
I got to know more and more Israelis. I met Israelis in their twenties who were afraid to take the bus during the intifada, Israelis with PTSD after their mandatory time in the army, Israelis who had lost family members in a terrorist attack. At the same time I got used to the smell of tear gas and the frequently sounding rocket alarm and I realized that the injustice happening in the region is not limited to the Palestinians.
I think Israelis are often direct and unnecessarily rude, the country’s bureaucracy drives me crazy and half a liter of Goldstar shouldn’t cost 9 bucks. But I’m not angry anymore. During my three years in Israel I also got to live five minutes from a beautiful beach, got a checkup at the dentist for 8 dollars and ate world’s best hummus at Abu Hassan in Jaffa every Friday. It turns out that in this country, where even young kids have lived through a war, day-to-day life is actually pretty okay.
Now I’m back home, where people ask me whose side I’m on: the Israelis or the Palestinians? The easiest answer is that it’s complicated. Because the more time you spend in the Holy land, the more energy you invest in that most contested piece of ground in the world, the harder that question becomes to answer.
Tomorrow I’m moving to Morocco. I think my story – the story of a white, western girl from a rich, western country that can study, work and live wherever she wants – is not that important or interesting (right now). That’s why I’m leaving for a new country, to speak to people whose stories matter. And I can’t wait to share those stories with you and the rest of the world.
Israel got me tired and bitter. When I first moved to Israel I thought there were so many important and new stories to tell. I don’t think that anymore. The world has an obsession with Israel, every reporter and their brother lives, will live or wants to live in Israel at some point. And even though I share this obsession and to a certain extent will always share this obsession, it’s time for someone else to take my place. Someone who’s not bitter and who can still see all the new stories that need telling. I look forward to reading them.