My cursor hovered over the flight itinerary, Vienna to Tel Aviv. It was $31. That price was hard to beat, but Israel wasn’t high on my travel bucket list. In fact, I was tentative about even traveling to the country for tourism. On one hand, because of my Judeo-Christian religious traditions, I felt a deep connection to the land and its holy sites. To Jerusalem and Bethlehem. To Nazareth and Galilee. This land and these places traced the history of my faith. On the other hand, though, I felt deeply conflicted about the present-day Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The relationship between Palestine and Israel is super complicated politically, and I don’t pretend to be an expert. What I do know is this. The two states claim overlapping territory, the same capital, and some of the same holy sites. After wars, political agreements, and international diplomatic interventions, the boundaries of the territory are still in contention, and only one side is officially recognized as a nation entitled to autonomy and self-direction, Israel.
Although cities like Jerusalem date back thousands of years (and appear in biblical narratives), Israel, as a country, did not exist until the late 1940s, after the second world war. Most, if not all, of what presently comprises the Israeli state used to be Palestinian territory. And, over time, the political territory of Israel has been occupying more formerly Palestinian territory. So many Palestinians call Israelis “settler colonialists”, and say that they want their territory back. In social justice circles, you will see a lot of people advocating for a “Free Palestine”. Because Palestinians want autonomy. They want recognition. They want freedom.
And so my cursor hovered over the flight itinerary. Vienna to Tel Aviv. I was still conflicted, but I resolved that I had to see the situation for myself. So I clicked the link and bought the ticket.
My visit to Tel Aviv began with a series of transportation shenanigans. I arrived on a Saturday morning, which is when the country observes the religious day of Shabbat. When I saw the Shabbat itinerary, I was actually excited because I thought it would be cool to experience the Shabbat there, in a place where it was so widely observed. It was a nice idea, in theory, but it turned out to be a logistical (and financial) fiasco. Public transportation from the airport to the city of Tel Aviv does not run from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday in observance of the Shabbat. Which, on one hand is kind of cool (Like, shout out to your religious observance). But, on the other hand, it is also WILDLY inconvenient (and expensive!). Because whereas the public train from the airport to Tel Aviv would cost about $4, a taxi (the only mode of transportation into Tel Aviv during the Shabbat) costs around $43.
Because I was busy gallivanting in Madrid and Vienna just prior to my flight to Tel Aviv, I didn’t realize my costly miscalculation until the morning that I arrived at the airport. I was frustrated, and concerned about the magnitude of the hit to my pocket. “This is preposterous!” I thought at first. “This is exploitation!” But then I thought, maybe this is what I deserve for being a gentile who travels during Shabbat. So I resigned myself to my private taxi fate (the alternative would have been to wait until after sunset for public transportation to resume) and decided to make the best of the situation.
I checked with my Airbnb host and confirmed that I should expect to pay 150 shekels (approx. $43 USD) for a cab ride into Tel Aviv. So I walk out to the taxi stand, and the attendant tells me that the ride will be 170 shekels. “170 shekels??” I repeat. Does he think that I’m made of money? (The difference in fares was about $6). The next taxi driver in the queue chimes in, and we proceed to negotiate a bit.
Cab Driver: This is the price. Do you want to go or not?
Me: My host told me that the fare should be 150 shekels.
Attendant: That’s upstairs.
Driver: *Whispers harshly in Hebrew*
Me: Upstairs it’s 150?
Attendant: Yes, there are reduced price taxis upstairs.
So I go upstairs to the discount taxis (which are indistinguishable in any way from the full price taxis), and yep. They charge 150 shekels. I hop in the cab and ask the driver to take me to church, because PLOT TWIST! I am a Sabbath observer, although I am not Jewish.
Boom, we’re on our way. My driver’s name is Amir. He’s hilarious. We’re laughing and talking. We pull up to the address on the GPS, and … there’s no church. The address is some sort of motorcycle store. We double and triple check. This is the address that appears on the church website. It’s 11:45 am, and my Airbnb check-in time is at 3:00 pm. So I ask Amir if he can take me to the beach instead. “Which beach?” he asks. I have no clue. I’ll be staying at the Carmel Market, so maybe somewhere near there.
Amir shows me to the beach and to the neighborhood where I’ll be staying. He accepts my euros and gives me change in shekels. I thank him and hop out of the cab (wearing a dress, for no reason now since I never found my church 😕). When Amir dropped me off, I walked to a nearby park where I could hear the waves breaking against the rocks. I was eating a melted/melting chocolate bar and trying to figure out how to kill three hours without spending ALL my little shekels. I decided to enjoy a beach Sabbath and made plans to track down the BEST hummus in the world the next day.
I walked over to the beach and sat down on a bench in front of the large rocks that lined the shore. At some point, an old dude named Ben sat down beside me and tried to mack.
No, Ben, I don’t want your number. No, I don’t want to give you mine. And no, I don’t want to meet you nowhere. No, I don’t want none of your time.