From Vienna to Tel Aviv

Trip Start Aug 2008
Trip End Jul 2009

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

My last night in Vienna was quite enjoyable. I got to spend the last of my time w/ people I actually like from my group. We watched some movies and drank a little, all conveniently avoiding the elephant in the room - that we were all separating the next day :( 

Like a complete dumbass, I saved the last of my packing, checking my flight info/status, and trading the last of the pictures w/ my group until about 3:30 am on Saturday night. I wanted to get up at about 6:00 to shower and relaxingly pack the last of my crap, before Chris and Erin walked me to the bus to the airport. UNFORTUNATELY, I didn't hear my alarmS and was woken up by them knocking on my apartment door. Never have I been so completely panicked before!! Even now, my heart starts racing at the thought of it! Luckily I have some of the best friends in the world, and they helped me throw the last of my stuff into my bags and head out as quickly as humanly possible.

We weren't sure about the airport bus schedule, but luckily we had planned on getting there early, so we had some time to stand around and say our goodbyes. It was extremely sad leaving them b/c I really had a great time, especially with Erin and Chris, over the past 9 months. 

I got to the airport in plenty of time and even got to say goodbye to them once again over Skype. My flight to Israel was super easy, and I had no problems getting through border patrol. The rest of my study group was supposed to be arriving in Tel Aviv 2 hours after I did, so I had planned to wait around until I saw them come through baggage claim ... but after the crowds from Amsterdam had left, I started to get worried that I missed them. So, I caught a cab by myself to the hostel. When I arrived, no one was there yet.

I finally got to shower (since the morning was so hurried and miserable), and the rest of the group arrived about an hour later. They had been stuck in security at the airport b/c of a couple "questionable" members of our group. The entire group went out to a crazy dinner - they basically just brought us a group meal - the ENTIRE table was completely covered in various middle eastern foods. There was everything from hummus to salads, to soups and meat. It was incredible!

The next morning, our first meeting was canceled, so we had some time to walk around Jaffa. Jaffa was the most ancient city center and port within the Tel Aviv region. We saw the port and walked around some of the old city.

Later that day we met w/ the son of our Professor's friend. He is an Israeli who is against the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories. He was a really great guy. He protests (peacefully) every week against the building of the wall (which you will hear more about in later entries) and has been tear gassed repeatedly and even shot by rubber bullets a couple of times. It's quite a big deal for an Israeli to be that outspoken about the Israeli occupation ... and an even bigger deal/illegal for them to be in the West Bank protesting the wall.

After lunch we went to the Israeli "leftist" organization Peace Now. The organization that campaigns against the occupation and for the 2 state solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict by educating the Israeli population about the conflict/solutions. Peace Now received a lot of criticism from other organizations we visited, b/c although they campaign for peace 11 months of the year, they are still required by Israeli law to serve in the military for 1 month of the year (Jewish Israelis have compulsory military service when they are 18 - men must serve 3 years, while women are obligated to serve 2 years. Each year until they are in their 40s they must still be a reservist and participate in 1 month of military activity). So, people at Peace Now are essentially participating in  fighting the war they are campaigning against the other 11 months of the year.

After our site visits, we headed to the beach for some fun and relaxation. Karl, an Irishman on the trip, had heard there was a Tel Aviv soccer game not far from our hostel that night. So, after some drinks, we decided to see if there were any tickets still available  ... and there were! Thus, I got to see my first REAL soccer game ever. It was pretty amazing. The game was a little boring (not many points or much action), but the fans were insane! Hopefully the video I post will work!

The next day, about half of the group went to Neve Shalom, a community of 54 Arab and Israeli families that live in peace together (gasp!). It is the only community where Jews and Arabs are mixed by choice. It's a controlled community that only allows equal numbers of Arabs and Israelis live there at the same time. From what we were told, it is supposed to be a sort of example that coexistence is, in fact, possible. However, they still have some not-so-minor problems -- mainly that all government/community activities take place in Hebrew, which gives the Jewish members of the community a sense of power of the Arab community.

One of the kids in the community refused to fulfill his obligatory Israeli military service, and he met with us to tell us about his experience. Because he refused to serve, he was sent to a military prison. He told us that under Israeli law, technically he could have stayed there forever, b/c it is obligatory for all Israelis to serve their time in the military. However, he was eventually released for "psychological" reasons ... i.e. he had a psychologist write him a note to excuse him from service. He did, however, mention that not serving in the military has a broader consequence. Since EVERYONE serves in the military, the first question they are normally asked at a job interview is, "What did you do in the army?". If you didn't serve, then you are usually discriminated against ... LAME!

The next morning we went to the elementary school in the community. It is the first bilingual bi-national school in Israel. It was a really amazing place and was one of the only positive things we saw all week. They try to maintain relatively equal numbers of Arab and Israeli students. They speak in both Arabic and Hebrew at school. However, it is only a grade school, so once the kids get to a certain age, they are sent back into the "real" world of Israel where Arabs are heavily discriminated against.

After our last meeting at Neve Shalom, we headed to Jerusalem ...
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