Jaffa beach, Tel Aviv
Earlier today I was sitting in Jaffa in the highly rated – and rightly so – hummus cafe, Abu Hassan. It’s a lively place with a nice buzz where both Arabic and Hebrew can be overheard aplenty. Getting stuck in to my generous portion of falafel, hummus, raw onion and pita bread I noticed something about a reaction I had or, rather, a kind of non-reaction: when two soldiers came in to eat, a man and woman who barely looked out of high school, I didn’t take a second glance.
This is my fourth visit to Israel in two years and the military presence must, finally, be starting to seem more familiar. I don’t want, and I don’t expect, to ever arrive at a place where it seems normal, but I think I’m finally finding it a little easier to be here. And that’s good news, as I want to keep coming in order to make new friends and visit old ones in both Israel and Palestine.
Tomorrow I’m going to the West Bank with an international group, including Israelis, that I’ve volunteered with before – and written about here – to help harvest olives alongside Palestinian farmers. It’s an enriching experience, full of challenges and threaded through with wonderful group support, meditation and great discussions under the olive trees.
Last year we were chatting while picking olives and the conversation turned to the beach, to swimming, to the joy of being in the water. I felt uncomfortable as many Palestinians are unable to make it to the sea, even though it’s very close, due to the military occupation.
This afternoon I went to the beach in Jaffa. It’s the first time I’ve been swimming here, even though it’s the seventh time I’ve stayed in Tel Aviv. The surf was strong, the water surprisingly warm, and I stayed in for a while, enjoying being buffeted around by the strong waves. I felt something wash away, a numbness or some kind of fatigue that can get under my skin when I’m here. And I felt incredibly lucky, hugely grateful, for the experience of being immersed in such a soothing element.
Hoping and acting
Everything changes, nothing lasts forever. There are new peace initiatives happening all the time. At the weekend, Women Wage Peace, a Jewish-Arab movement which began after the 2014 war on Gaza, converged in the desert in the West Bank, and then at a rally in Jerusalem. This was the culmination of a two week peace march. A friend of mine attended and I’ve yet to hear about it from him but it sounds like a deeply meaningful event, born from an organised and energised movement.
Soon I’ll be under the olive trees again, getting hot and dusty, drinking strong coffee and sweet tea with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. I won’t talk about swimming in the sea and this feels painfully sad. But I will talk about, and we will talk together about, family, friends, food; and the journey to peace.