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Surfing the same waves

- by Carolina Maltese, UK -

Israel historical and political background has always fascinated me and the more I learned about it through books, newspapers and documentaries, the more I knew I had to go see it with my own eyes. I am also a surfer (or learning to be one) and in spite of being a country washed by the usually quiet Mediterranean Sea, Israel can get blessed with some good swells. So, when my partner happily accepted to join me on this long-awaited trip, expectations were set high.

We can easily say that Israel has been one of the most interesting places we’ve ever explored, the one that when you get back home you really feel different, as you have been struck by so much beauty, learnt new things and experienced contrasting emotions. And enjoyed incredibly good food.

We spent five days based in Jerusalem and four in Tel Aviv. We fell in love with Jerusalem, wandering around the Old City through the Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim quarters. It is a cauldron of diverse cultures in balance between tradition and a strive for modernity. We mingled with Arabs in traditional attire or wearing jeans and t-shirts and Jews in casual or Orthodox dresses. Every narrow street is different. To the eye of a foreigner visitor, every bit of this intricate puzzle offers a glimpse of greatness, a new perspective at each turn: synagogues, churches, convents, mosques, hospices, hidden courtyards and gardens.

And then we approached the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. Sitting so close to each other, it is incredible to think that they represent two religions that indeed belong to the same family but carry such different cultural and political implications. The diversity became tangible when queueing to access Temple Mount, just a few meters away from the gate through which Jews only access the Western Wall. Thorough identity check, bag search, a few queries to confirm our nationality - and some suspicious looks at my partner who can totally look like an Arab with his olive skin tone and long black beard.

That Israel is a country in conflict became evident on the day we took the tour to Palestine. A day in Palestine is surely not enough to appreciate its historical, political and cultural complexity, but it is definitely an eye-opening experience that we recommend to anyone travelling to Israel. Our group was fairly small, 12 people in total, all riding in a small van - perfect to listen to the commentary of the tour guide, a knowledgeable Palestinian man with a good sense of humour and a sounded sense of reality.

Moving away from the pristine Jerusalem into Palestine, it is no surprise to notice that Palestine is economically challenged; the Palestinian villages and Israeli settlements we drove through looked poor, with newly built tall buildings that looked to serve a functional purpose rather than an aesthetic one. Some buildings were incomplete, others had on their roofs water barrels as emergency in case of water shortage. Yet, the vibe we got when walking around Ramallah streets and the main souk, was that of a lively and vibrant city that looks forward to modernity. It was fun to see a Star & Bucks cafe dominating a crowded crossing.

After the initial shyness that is typical of every group tour, everyone started sharing their honest feelings on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and many questions were asked. I believe everyone was expecting the tour guide to come up with a strong feeling of rage and hatred towards Israel and its people, but that did not happen. He thinks that education and dialogue, but also full ownership of the matter (read: the USA should leave it to them) are the only possible ways towards a peaceful solution to the conflict. At times, a step back by all parts, is the only step forward.

But then, could sport also be a step towards unity? When in Tel Aviv we took a couple of surfing classes – the owner of the school of Jewish descent, the main surfing coach an Arab living in Jaffa. In common a love for the sea and the adrenaline that dominating a wave can give you. Sitting on their surfboards on the line up with us, they would just start paddling hard to catch the same wave. Because after all if you know what you are doing and have respect for the other a collision can be avoidable.

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