Israel – a journey to the country of conscription

Israelis are one of the most friendly people I have met in my short life and I do intend to return to this distinctly diverse country.

Tel Aviv Beach

Several weeks before my flight to Israel, Tel Aviv was bombed for the first time within twenty years. Thus, the possibility existed that I would not be able to fly or worse, the situation in Tel Aviv would deteriorate further and evolve into a catastrophe. However, due to Israel’s expenditures on warfare, a system was built within a short period of time, which was able to keep the bombs away from Tel Aviv and shot them off over the ocean (the antimissile system ‘Iron Dome’). I, therefore, decided that I can take the risk and shall not adhere to the fear spread by the media and fly to this unknown country. I, admittedly, was a bit naive, due to the fact that I had not thought about the strictness at the Israeli airports. As I had flown to the Lebanon, as well as Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia recently – I had collected a plethora of stamps which entailed difficulties for me at the border checks. However, I had not thought ahead well enough, and was caught by surprise when asked at the Tel Avivian border check to wait in an extra room until picked up for my separate interview. Unstudiedly, horror stories popped up in my head, about uncomfortable questions, about checks of my social networks or email accounts and worst of all: the possibility of being sent back. After these minutes of agony I was led into a room with one desk (yes, it was similar to a prison and no, I did not sense any fear at all) and was questioned by a feisty looking woman. Questions about my family came up; where they were born, which religion they belonged to; who I was visiting, what my purpose of the visit was and last but not least, why I had visited the Lebanon back then. I had wisely been able to hide the fact that I was half Afghan and after these twenty uncomfortable minutes was allowed to leave the airport and head to Tel Aviv. Even though having experienced these intimidating minutes at the airport and having had to wait seemingly ages at the border checks, I could not have been happier after entering the train and approaching Tel Aviv city. It was December 31st, 25 °C and I was in Israel – nothing could have spoiled the feeling I had then.

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The following days passed in such speed, that I wished I could have remained longer. I stayed with a friend, who is studying at the Music Academy of the Tel Aviv University. Thus, we were able to get to know Tel Aviv from a non-touristic side and met her Israeli friends (which are all not really Israeli, but a mixture of several different cultures brought to Israel by means of emigration over the recent decades). Due to this, I was able to experience an incredible Shabbat dinner with the family of my friends’ Israeli roommate. I, furthermore, heard as many Jewish jokes as I had never heard before in my life. I was told that this is the way to cope with what had happened, and I myself, as a German, started adjusting to this type of humour and admittedly even laughed. I, unfortunately, cannot present any kind of these jokes here, but if you will ever travel to Israel you will be confronted with this type of dark humour and should harden yourself beforehand! We, furthermore, were able to spend our afternoons at the beach of Tel Aviv (on the 1st of January!), walk through the wonderful old town (Jaffa) or purchase delicious spices or falafel at the markets. After having visited the Lebanon I had expected similar prices in Israel, however, was surprised to be confronted with Tel Aviv being similar to Zurich and thus, even more expensive than Maastricht! Therefore, be prepared on spending a lot whilst your visit!

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Another important aspect I have not mentioned before, is the fact of the high military presence within the country. Israel possesses the third greatest army of the world, which is intimidating taking the size of the country into account. Israel has eight million inhabitants and in its size is comparable to the Bundesland Hesse. Both men and women are forced to participate in the military for at least two years, which creates this humongous military presence. You are confronted with young soldiers all over the country, and have to get used to the fact of these young boys or girls carrying loaded weapons and being able to check you any time of the day. During both day trips, to Jerusalem and to the Dead Sea, we were checked several times, our bags were scanned in detectors, our passports were observed and so on. The fear by the Israelis could be sensed and also comprehended from my side, which revealed the isolation of this small, but diversely beautiful country. Nevertheless, Israelis are one of the most friendly people I have met in my short life and I do intend to return to this distinctly diverse country.

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It has a diversity to offer which I have not experienced before, including the diverse nature (rather modern looking Tel Aviv, the beautiful old town of Jerusalem and the desert on the way to the Dead Sea), the delicious foods, unexpected images, such as an orchestra practice with several young people wearing their military uniform. Furthermore, beautiful people, cool stores, nice bars, restaurants and clubs can be found – which would never reflect what is written in the media. I recommend you to see it for yourself and book your flights soon! As a last hint, on your flight back go to the airport as early as possible – my lucky nature has led to the fact of being held back three hours, which almost made me miss my flight back. So, be on time, be patient and get a new passport in advance if you possess any kind of uncomfortable stamps. Apart from that, have fun!

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Places to go:

  • Clara, Summer Bar, Address: Koifman 1, Dolphinarium: little article.
  • Art market ‘Shukhacarmel’ at the crossing of King George Sheinkin and Allenby Road
  • Falafelbooth in the Rehov Hanev’im Street
  • Rotschild Boulevard
  • Teimanim neighbourhood
  • Shalvata bar: and in general the area around the port of Tel Aviv

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Little tips:

  • Think of including a minimum of 15 % tip on your bill in restaurants/ cafes/ bars, so you do not slide in the uncomfortable situation of the waiter/waitress pointing out your mistake.
  • Consider the fact that buses and barely any taxis can be found around Shabbat (Friday after 4 pm) and Tel Aviv is seemingly died out.
  • Explore Tel Aviv by means of walking/ wandering around/ discovering. In case of getting lost, access one of the free Wifi’s which can be found everywhere (even at the beach) and find your way back with beloved Google maps.
  • Try to not be bothered by the immense amount of cats within the country.
  • If you find folded clothes at the side of the streets, have a look and take an item or more with if you take pleasure in it. This seems to be an Israeli habit of leaving the clothes you do not longer have need of nicely folded on your street corner to give other people the possibility to ‘rewear’ your clothing.

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Article: tzh & special thanks to Maximilian Negwer for the beautiful photographies
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