posts are personal. open-mindedness is essential.
who am i
Tuesday, December 30, 2008 @ 12:23 pm
I don't know if I still have the writer's touch because I've been suffering from a massive writer's block ever since I returned from Israel. More than that, I've also been quite hesitant to connect myself to the outside world. I've not checked my emails. I've not surfed to my regular websites. Basically, this laptop has been lying idle till now!
How was Israel you may ask? Well... it was... interesting. My eagerness to explore the biblical land went out the window as soon as we landed at the Ben Gurion International Airport. Ipy and I have heard how fanatical the Israelis are towards their security. But that was to be understood considering the petty wars they've gotten themselves involved over the years.
But never in my life had I imagined that I would be pulled aside by security because of my name and my faith. Despite travelling in a group, Ipy and I were detained for about 45 minutes because our names sounded Arabic. We were asked individually about our cultural background and personal details, which I saw no relevance to the reason we were visiting their country in the first place.
Singapore may have the best airport, the best city, the best government and whatever, but I think the Singapore Tourism Board should invest millions of taxpayers' money on educating the world that Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-cultural country. Singapore isn't part of China!
I was so annoyed at having to explain to the officer that Singapore isn't a Chinese society that I was tempted to give her a brief run-down of our history from the day Sir Stamford Raffles stepped onto our shores! At that point, I didn't care if we were sent back home because then, Chan Brothers would be 110% responsible for our expulsion.
We were finally released but to our horror, we found out that we were detained because they couldn't believe that we would choose Israel for our honeymoon! Since our itinerary included places of worships other than Muslims, they were suspicious of our intention. Till then, I never knew how narrow-minded people could be.
Here's another tip for those interested in going to Israel other than for pilgrimage reasons. Go to Israel only if your passport is expiring, because once you have that Israel visa on your passport, the book's not good for anything else. Alternatively, you can make a new passport specially for Israel.
After all that drama, it took me awhile to regain my touristy mindset. The other members of the group empathised with us but they stopped short of criticising the security. All they could say was that we should respect their way of doing things. All I could say was that they weren't there to "respect" it.
Our first stop was Tel Aviv, the cosmopolitan city of Israel. Whatever you've read in the news about Israel, Tel Aviv isn't it. It's just like any other city. Our hotel was near the beach. So as soon as we dumped our luggages in our room, we headed out to the beach. It was cool and tranquil and just what I needed after that morning's incident.
Ipy and I at the ancient port city of Jaffa
Dinner at the hotel was disappointing because I couldn't eat anything. They were Mediterranean-like but somehow my appetite just closed when I looked at the dishes on display. I realised it wasn't just dinner. All throughout the trip, I just couldn't eat anything. I ended up snacking most of the time on nuts, sweets, chips, etc but not real food.
Ipy and I at the Bahai' Gardens
On the way to Jerusalem, we visited several churches of biblical significance. Since Ipy and I weren't that knowledgeable about Christian history, we tried to appreciate the beauty of the churches and the history behind them. After 3 days of visiting churches, there was only so much appreciation we could do.
Of course there were places that sparked my interest like Bethlehem and Nazareth, places which I think the whole world knows about. It's interesting to see how certain insignificant places in the past, like a sheep's stable, have been turned into places of worship. And how faith, over the course of history, has become a tool for power.
Also, Bethlehem, right in the heart of the West Bank, where Israeli Jew citizens are not allowed to enter, isn't what the news made it out to be. Yes, it has seen better days. Yes, it's a war-torned city. But it's a city where what its people want is only peace. It doesn't care if you're Christian, Muslim or Jew. It wants peace and progress like any other city!
Ipy and I at Banias National Park
Then that got me thinking. In Israel, the tension wasn't between Jews and Muslims. It's always Jews and Arabs. Now why is that? It sounded like one is fighting for faith, the other, national identity. That's like apples and oranges to me.
Also, the Israeli Jews didn't seem like a friendly lot. Not because of the airport incident, but in Tel Aviv and more so in Jerusalem, they always looked so sombre as if they're always carrying the burden of their ancestors on their shoulders. The Arabs on the other hand, aggressive as they may be, were very warm especially towards other Muslims.
Ipy and I at the breathtaking Masada
Ah... Jerusalem... What can I say about Jerusalem? The city which is still being conflicted even after 2,000 years. As much as I wanted to see the wanders of Jerusalem, all I could see were fallen stones and rocks. The Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque... all stones and rocks to me.
Ipy and I were lucky to have been able to visit the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque on our own. We were the only Muslims in our group anyway. Non-Muslims were not allowed to enter these sites except on Sundays I think. We were given a personal tour of the site by one of the security officer. At the end of the day, grandeur aside, they were still stones and rocks to me.
Me at the Dome of the Rock
I am one who believes that faith should be within oneself, not confined to a piece of structure or emblem. So as much as I want to believe that the wars that have been raged in the city over the centuries were about faith, deep in my core, they were just politics hidden in the disguise of religion.
Me at the bazaar on the way to Al-Aqsa Mosque
Just like in all my travels, this was one of those trips that I couldn't wait to get home. The flight to and fro totalled 26 hours and that itself was enough to make me want to stay at home. Of course all these wouldn't be so discomforting if I hadn't found out I was pregnant during the trip.
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