Today I am told “Bethlehem: No.” I am in Itai’s home in Israel, in the middle of a very European breakfast of pastry and espresso, flipping through scribbles of itineraries I had taken from my guidebook. Bethlehem was definitely on the list. “I’ll get shot, you might be okay,” he says, translating his father’s headshake:
Bethlehem lay within Palestinian territory, and with border-town Jerusalem being tense enough from the Arab-Israeli conflict, it was best not to tempt fate.
Life, as Usual
The apartment is an hour north, however, and here, it’s life as usual. We head to the mall. Besides the trunk being inspected for weapons, it is like any other mall: elevators, stairs, a parking lot, and what I came here for: an ATM. The machine spits out crisp colorful bills, polymer banknotes slick to the touch, with transparent windows in the shape of the Star of David.
There are men in head wear – the “less religious” in knitted patterned kippahs, the orthodox religious in hats – but otherwise, it is just like home: mothers browsing with strollers, teenagers loitering in the food court, an Aldo.
Living under a Travel Advisory
Itai teaches me about the Israeli Defense Force and Judaism; so much more than unrelated facts, they form a complicated, and often unbalanced, relationship where one is necessary largely because of the other.
Later that evening, we sit on the beach in the neighboring town of Herzliya. Itai is candid, more accepting than solemn. It shocks me to realize that to him, this situation is real: the possibility of his country being blown up by its enemies is a real one, and a daily one.
What I take under consideration as a travel advisory warning is his reality, and that living with that reality is just what it means to be an Israeli person living in Israel.
It is a reality that seems so far from the malls and the beaches and the five-lane highways. “I didn’t expect to be in Israel so soon.” I say. “One day, definitely, but not this year, not yet.” “It’s good.” Itai responds. “We might not be here in five years.”