You can learn a lot about a place by just reading about it, but book learning has its limits. There is something about physically being in a place, about walking its streets, breathing its air, talking to locals and eating their food. Visiting a place exposes you to it entirely, mind and body, there is nowhere to hide, no book to close… it is unlike any other type of learning.
Palestine was the epitome of this for me. I had heard so much about the conflict there, had been overloaded with information and opinions about what is happening, about who is right and who is wrong, about the constant violence and instability. I had an image of Palestine in my head. It wasn’t a very concrete image, not one that I can describe to you, but definitely something and that something wasn’t right. All that book learning didn’t prepare me for what I would feel when I got there, for the “real” Palestine. My book learning didn’t truly show me what Palestine is, it mostly exposed me to what it supposedly is not. Not safe, not stable, not pretty…
(“Welcome to Palestine”)
Instead we found beautiful churches, mesquites, and squares, drank good coffee and ate good food, admired art, walked on old stone streets… We also found water tanks in every single building for when the water is cut off, huge signs alerting Israelis that going there poses a risk to their lives and is also illegal, heavily guarded settlements on the outskirts, and of course a monstrous wall filled with beautiful art. Separating the haves from the haves not, for far too many years.
(The sign on the left says “This Road leads to Area “A” Under The Palestinian Authority. The Entrance for Israeli Citizens is Forbidden, Dangerous to Your Lives, and is Against The Israeli Law”. The picture on the right show hundreds of water tanks on top of buildings. )
(*If not now*)
But more than anything we found welcoming Palestinians living somewhat regular lives, longing for freedom of movement, wishing for a dependable source of water, hoping for a brighter future for their children… Just like anyone else.
I don’t have a solution to what it seems to be an intractable conflict, but my mental image of Palestine has now drastically changed. I can now close my eyes and see streets, and shops, and families laughing, and at the same time see and respect their agony and frustration. Traveling creates empathy but it also de-victimizes, it transforms victims in the news into real people with complex emotions. There is no better way to fight fear, ignorance, bigotry, and hatred than by traveling.
You must get out and go… and encourage others to do the same.