We are often asked since how long we are traveling, and we answer eight months before realizing that no it has not been eight, but nine months already. Some weeks ago as we were camping on the side of the Nile river, we decided to make a list of the people who marked us during our trip. The people we spend time, we converse and create links with are a big part of this trip. Some of them marked us genuinely and we would like to see them again if randomness of life allows it. In our list many of these people are Israeli encounters.
We talked about what we perceived of Israel, Palestine, the conflict, a good part of the culture, but we didn’t talked about the trip itself.
From the start to the end in Israel we didn’t had to think much, the encounters chained themselves all naturally. Before getting there we had a contact: Rémi met Lauren in Albania during a hitchhikers gathering last summer and she made an impression on him when she arrived and decreed, full of energy, that we had to collect the trash with the kids of the village. Mission they totally fulfilled! She lives now in Nes Harim with Alex and Johnny where the three of them take care in a farm of a goat herd and some plantations. We spent quite some times in Nes Harim with them, the cheese and the goat yogurt being a blessing and the long nights spent drinking and talking on the terrace happened to elapse too quickly. One hard morning we struggled to extricate ourselves from sleep at sun rise, not without the help of the shepherds armed with water, in order to walk the goats together, all of them taking advantage of our mollusk’ shape to do what they wanted. It is a great place, peaceful with a warm welcome and good food/ We also helped a bit, for example playing the guinea pigs for the curry ice-cream. It is Lauren who advised us some places to visit south of Haifa on the way to the farm and how we got to know Ein Hod and Jisr az-Zarqa.
Ein Hod is an artist village chilling on the side of a hill. Everywhere many quite fancy houses rise together with works of art, sculptures of any kind, installations and galleries. While struggling to find a place to camp, somebody called us from his balcony and ask us in Hebrew if we are doing the « Shvil Yisra’el », a hiking path going through all Israel from north to south. A bit everywhere on the way one can find the “Shvil Angels”, camps or simply people welcoming the hikers. The one of Ein Hod being certainly a bit different from the other ones with its big teepee and its giant eagles sculptures. Great, we got there and shared the evening with few hikers who for once sat up a little later and who had left long time ago when we woke up.
The next days we got to Jisr az-Zarqa. It’s a small Arab village and also the poorest of Israel. To enter we passed through a tunnel under the highway whose facade is painted with all colors and announces « Welcome to Jisr az-Zarqa ». Going through this tunnel is a little bit like taking an inter-dimensional door that makes you change space-time. And there we are, transported to a typical Arab town, with its regular amount of mess, cars honking and trash a little bit everywhere. People are outside, say hello to you, kids play in the street and everybody knows each other. It’s an other face of Israel that we discover here which has nothing to do with the rest.
On Nes Harim heights, which is located between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, while watching the sun set we can catch sight of Tel-Aviv’s buildings and even the sun diving into the sea when the sky is clear. On the other side of the hill we see the first habitations of Jerusalem‘s periphery. It was time to leave the goats, so we rose our thumbs for Jerusalem and Elisha, a university mate of Lauren; hosted us. Both study oriental music and we got the chance to listen Elisha playing on his Saz and to try it as well. For Elisha, no way we sleep on the floor, so he gave us his ultra comfortable double bed and slept himself on the floor. Any guide will tell you very well how not to miss the unmissable in Jerusalem so we will not talk about it. Still from our opinion, some things are worth seeing. During our wandering through the small streets of the old town we went up on the roofs after trying several stairwells and it’s really nice to this the city from an other point of view. We also liked the Jehuda market that changes completely atmosphere when the sun sets: during the day a colorful and lively market, it transforms at night when the bars open playing music on their speakers and when youngsters come to hang around and make their instruments resonate in front of the closed iron curtains. During this transition time at the end of the market, we had to keep control on ourselves not to get more veggies and fruits, judged a bit too old, that we can use. In the Nachlaot neighborhood next to the market, we loved to discover the small streets and other hidden gardens. Another night we went to a concert of Bint el Funk, an Israeli band that rocks, mixing Yemenite music, funk and other styles with lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Jerusalem is a very religious and very touristic city, but also a lively city that still leaves many things to be discovered. The city surprised us when we tried to hitchhike at night, in the city, and a very kind small grand-pa drove us to the tramway station.
After Jerusalem we wanted to see Tel-Aviv, Israel‘s capital city, but as well the cool, alternative, on the move city, where for example gays and lesbians often emigrate to escape from the other cities’ conservatism. Alex the shepherd came with us and introduced us to Oren, our first host in Tel-Aviv, a big teddy bear currently training to catch objects with his feet. Alex took as a duty to bring us to the best hummus of Israel and to make us visit the places he likes. Alex took the bet not drinking beer until he will brew his own: the last news were that the equipment was ordered and we hope that he didn’t give up, because for a guy like Alex, not drinking beer is like not eating cheese for Frenchman. When we left Oren, we found a refuge close to Karmel market, this time at Maxim’s; while his girlfriend left us for the ‘Backstreet Boys return show‘, we went with Maxim to listen to a crazy pianist and his band at a nice jazz bar in the same street. Yonathan, a friend’s friend, who introduced us to Maxim joined us a little bit later. In this market, just like in Jerusalem, the amount of abandoned avocados at the end of the market overwhelmed us. Be careful to arrive before the big mega bulldozer that comes to clean everything. Ok, a bulldozer to clean a market sounds a bit weird, but it’s a weird country anyway. Yonathan and Maxim will put all their efforts so we could do longboard, eat at a hummus place (yes again), giving us some clothes or helping us to sell beers when we broke Rémi’s computer and Arthur’s bag got stolen.
In Tel-Aviv, we like the Yaffo/Jaffa neighborhood of Arabic origin, much prettier than the new and big buildings Tel-Aviv is made of. In its really cool flea market, we bought our new mocha pot, the most indispensable tool of our journey.
With Manu the real Brittany guy, just like we like them, found in between two potatoes and a lemon at the end of the market, we met one night Laura on the beach. She was coming back from the Midburn and the days she spent there made here change her vision of the world, she wanted to help everybody, not care of anything and screw everything. She therefore hosted us without further questions.
When one travels, it is a common saying that people always meet twice. And sometimes even more! In Tel-Aviv we met again randomly Scott who we already met in Cyprus, and Freddy with whom we shared Christmas in Turkey, and already met randomly in Cyprus as well. Zincredible.
From a random research online, we saw that Driss was playing at the Groove Attack festival. The festival was way too expensive for us but we know Driss because he was the director of Hadra festival in Grenoble where we often volunteered. A quick email and the invitations were in our pockets. So there we went to party hard and destroy our ears with Infected Mushrooms and other very good artists. Driss also put the crowd on fire under the water vaporizers of the dance floor. One thing leading to another, we found back the contact of the Exodus organizers, festival where we volunteered in Cyprus. On the beach where the party was organized we met all the crew, except the big Shaman who we will see again later. A crazy one, but also a bit touching once the first impression put aside. It’s where we got our bag stolen and where we discover that the computer screen is broken.
Sometimes we are tired of hitchhiking. And then something happens to remind us why we do all this: Rimoch and Jeky are part of it. At this time we already wanted to leave Israel but Rimoch promised that we could come and drink some good beer if we came to visit their kibbutz. Because we never went inside a kibbutz we allowed ourself this detour. Rimoch and Jeky are this couple that make concerts dressed as giant space lizards. Rimoch speaks with no pause if you don’t manage to control him, which probably takes years of training, on all different topics and in detail. Jeky doesn’t listen anymore since long what Rimoch says but still looks tenderly for head lice in his hear.
Kibbutz watizat? Kibbutz are collectivist villages created by Zionist movements during Israel’s colonization. First mainly agrarian they developed later industrial activities. Historically, kibbutz members were known to be engaged and militants, advocating egalitarian values, cooperation between members and the absence of private property. With time kibbutz changed a lot and many of them did not keep much from their values while their industries and agrarian activities have been mainly privatized. The kibbutz’ importance in the Israeli society as well as their number is in clear decrease since 1970. Today one can probably still find kibbutz with these original values while the others range from village a bit more communitarian to a simple memory of the past.
Ginegar, the kibbutz in which we stayed some days keeps some traces of this history. The common laundry or the dinning room are still here, and if they were yore important components, they are nowadays optional. The newcomers don’t necessarily share the egalitarian values and are not really part of the community while the kibbutz population is getting older. Nevertheless it is true that we feel a particular atmosphere, the feeling of community is here, people look happy and get along well with each other, and religion is almost nil, astonishing for this country.
Ginegar is a very green place where the buildings have a strange aspect (who said Soviet?), and adjoining the village a huge cattle exploitation with cows that see only concrete all their lives. Proof that industrialization got the better of traditional farming. We also keep in our minds the image of the golf carts that parade everywhere, only a few cars pass by, which we adore to observe the coming and going.
It is Rimoch and Jeky that advised us the spot next to the Dead Sea were we hitchhiked to with Johnny. Remember Johnny? It is our friend shepperd. If Alex and Lauren are young in age (like us), Johnny is young in his head (like us). It is this South African dude who at one point asked himself what the hell he was doing with his life. He decided to leave everything behind and to go meditate in the Sinai mountains. He then found his luck with the farm that he brilliantly manages. A great soul who learns by experience, his cheese getting better at each batch while the sheep heard is everyday more behaved. Even with his curry ice-cream he gets better. The coast sides of the Dead Sea are very impressive. We went not far from Metsokei Dragot where people swim naked, where nobody comes to harass you or sell you a regenerating spa. There it is chilled, with a small pool of clean water to rinse that we shared with the passing people. This is where we met Rivi and Katja who took us back to Jerusalem to spend the evening at the light festival of the city. Rivi studies in the US at Naropa University in Boulder, a pretty special alternative university that she seems to enjoy. And if we get there one day we might say hi.
In Israel people are cool and open. Maybe a bit too speed, a bit too much cutting your speech off and not listening to you (isn’t it Rivi?), but we like them anyway. We are as much in disagreement with the government and its way of managing the situation and the inside issues we talked about in previous articles, as we felt well with the people we have met. There is in this country a kind of solidarity hard to re-transcribe by writing, some kind of trust and easy and straightforward communication. Israel was a great moment of our trip.
This is for our forth and last article about Israel, if you still have any questions just shoot them us.