the political implications of travel

Tel Aviv– seaside city in Israel; cultural hotspot; beach town with amazing food and a liberal, laid back culture; a great place for music, cafes, people-watching and funkiness. excellent street art. bikes! — it was a great place to spend a long weekend.

yet, my best friend in Jordan won’t travel there. one of the girls i did travel there with asked that we not mention that she had come with us when talking with students. before i left, i was chatting with the guy who does the copies in the academic building, and i told him i was traveling to Jerusalem instead, not really knowing why; just figuring it might be better for that interaction.

why such sensitivity about a weekend abroad?

as we discussed on the way home today, sometimes travel is a political act. you’re supporting a government implicitly when you travel somewhere, and often explicitly by paying fees or taxes. some people in this part of the world don’t believe that the nation of Israel should exist (in whatever incarnation, or in its modern one), let alone this particular city. going there and spending your money is indicating that you disagree, and, however lazily, support the nation’s existence.

and there is a kind of cognitive dissonance to the fact that we could laze around on the beach drinking beers while less than 50 miles away (Gaza, West Bank; take your pick) people were enduring their daily struggles of restricted movement, restricted access, and restricted rights. were we supporting their oppression by giving our money to Israeli businesses and people?

colleges and companies in the US are being called on to divest from Israel. protestors I regularly saw in Harvard Square continually call attention to Israel’s extreme militarization, its policies and its treatment of Palestinians, and its disregard for previously stated boundaries. yet i also know and am friendly with Israelis who live and work there and abroad. i know several who have sought out information and experience to better understand their own country and the many nations within it. i don’t want to ‘divest’ from my interactions with these people.

on the personal level, i am convinced that great change can happen just with conversation and connection. when people actually meet, and are able to each be heard, and are able to listen, it is incredibly powerful. what is harmful is when the many people who have experiences that relate cannot meet, or cannot be heard by each other, or are not able to listen.

this issue is not really mine– yet i do want to listen.


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