I realised some time ago that my perception of the world is different than the majority of my fellow folk. Different does not mean better. There are so many reasons for this I will not bore you with listing them. One thing which sets me apart is that I have been to the middle east as a traveller rather than as a tourist.
It was 1991 when I arrived at an Israeli port with my UK registered vehicle a Talbot horizon, in blue, thinking I could gain entry into one of the heaviest guarded countries in the world on a whim. Oh yes, you can’t beat stupidity, confidence and youth.
In my defence my passport was in date, I didn’t have a criminal record, I wasn’t intended to work there so I hadn’t looked into a work visa. Although, whilst in England, there had been some talk of pulling up to a kibbutz and volunteering I had enough money to see myself through a month or so if I lived frugally.
As I had been educated within the English school system, I knew all about the Jewish battle for a homeland to call their own, how the Jews had been persecuted to almost extinction during WWII and the horrors of the Jewish fight for continued survival during the six day war. I rolled up there ready to pull up my sleeves and help, if I could.
Perhaps I should mention that Sunday school lessons, my history classes and religious education had helped me achieve full patronising mode. I had a map with campsites marked on it. I was very impressed with myself for choosing to bring my car with all the equipment I’d need. As a armed forces brat – term affectionately used for children of soldiers – I felt I was savvy enough to continue.
The Israeli border force at Haifa were less impressed and even less convinced.
Up to that point, I was twenty four and quite well travelled, the most aggressive border control I’d witnessed was at Kennedy airport. Well Americans have nothing on Israeli forces for aggression and fear tactics. To say I was proper shitting myself is an understatement.
For eight hours I waited at Haifa after getting off the ferry. The car was taken to one side and I was gestured to follow. Men with automatic machine guns stood over me whilst customs officials emptied the car. A fearsome female Israeli soldier demanded papers. She was shouting at me in Hebrew which I couldn’t understand. For those eight hours they took my car apart. Impressively even taking the car wheels off to x-ray them.
They threatened to take off the car doors too but it was getting late and dark. There were no artificial lights to work by so they discontinued searching. In the darkness the car was repacked in silence. I was stunned for the first time since leaving England. Driving to the campsite in the dark with no road signs was the first of a scary lot of driving.
But I did gain entry to Israel and I did drive my car through to the Egyptian border.
I came back from the middle east a very different person. Some one who realises that what we see in the media often isn’t the truth. I learnt to see both sides of difficult situations. Mostly, let’s be frank, I discovered that my education had been biased.
An interesting change happened regarding my hobbies. Perhaps it was floating in the dead sea or swimming with tropical fish in Eilat or noticing the sea level signs along the old dirt roads. Whatever it was, upon my return to England, my fondness for science grew at an exponential rate and I realised a need to educate myself constantly if I were to view the world as it truly is rather than as others would have me see it.
The plight of the middle east back in 1991 was one of hatred and entitlement from the Israelis and Christians towards the Palestinians. It was very hard to witness. It’s emotionally difficult to recall many things about Israel, if I am being honest. However, all memories have a home within me and make me who I am and richer for it.
Thank you for reading. I will have to dig out some photos to show you.