“If you’re not Jewish, why on Earth would you travel to Israel?” seemed to be the question I received most frequently during my week-long visit to the Holy Land. I couldn’t tell anyone the real answer, “well, I used to watch this TV show called House Hunters International, and from the way Tel Aviv was portrayed on television, it looked like a wicked cool city to check out.” No, I would sound like the classic uneducated television-crazed American that everyone wants to ignore. Other than the fact that I was terrified yet secretly obsessed  with the Middle East, and, Israel was probably the only country I could visit without getting my head chopped off, I came up with an alibi, “I’m really interested in the Israeli/Palestinian situation and want to learn more about Middle East politics.”

The more I recited my “gold star” answer the more I began to believe it and lose interest in Tel Aviv’s poppin’ night life. I came into the country really knowing nothing about the occupation situation. Like most Americans I knew that the West Bank and Gaza were war zones and off limits and that there has been a huge push among American teens and twentysomethings to “free Palestine” and continually criticize the United States’ alliance with Israel. 

Once I got a taste and brief history of the actual situation through a Middle Eastern lens, rather than an American one, I was obsessed with learning more. I found myself constantly questioning every Israeli I met. When I should have been asking questions like, “what do you do for a living?” or "what kind of things do you recommend to see in Israel?” I found myself  inquiring about the daily bombings in Gaza and the mandatory army service  imposed among all young people. 

I spent hours upon hours discussing these issues with Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Atheists and Americans, and found everyone to be extremely open and willing to deliberate on such a sensitive topic. My trip to the Holy Land was different than any other part of my travels. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it, but I felt exhilarated, engaged and like I was getting to know the place on a much deeper level than any tourist ever would. My friend Alon finally put it into words; it is nice being in a place where you don’t have to make up problems

Traveling a country that has been at war with itself for years, is hated by virtually every country surrounding it (not to mention many more throughout the world), has a pressing water shortage and yet contains some of the most sacred and controversial lands in the world, is sure to guarantee a good dose of conflict. Each morning greets you with the threat of Iran nuking you off the map and the possibility of a suicide bomber getting a little too  close; now that’s a real problem. Figuring out how you will pay off the loan on your coveted PT Cruiser and worrying about the security of Facebook’s updated privacy features are not real problems. Our housing crisis, tanking economy and gasoline shortages are nothing compared to what is happening half way around the world, yet day after day our egocentric headlines are all local chatter of domestic hardship rather than bombs dropping, oppressed cultures and wars for freedom. Dear Western World, quit making up problems. 

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