Doing Couchsurfing of both sides of the Wall was one of the most challenging experiences for me because we met people with strong opinions about each other side and I had to be just a witness that records their statements without having comments or sharing feelings. After all, they were my hosts and I was just an outsider receiving their hospitality, not a judge evaluating their answers or beliefs.
In Palestine we had hosted in Bethlehem, the three of us had to split between two hosts and in Israel, we did Couchsurfing in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. If I would have to choose, I felt safer and more welcomed on the Palestinian side but gestures of kindness we had in each place where we stayed.
I enjoyed a lot the Bethlehem experience as a couch surfer, the host was so open to be our guide around the city and to offer us a description of the situation through his point of view. “We live in a prison, my sisters!” – we heard often this from him because he loves to travel and for Palestinians traveling is not as easy as for us. Even if the country is not fully recognized around the world, they have a Palestinian passport and they can apply for visas to Europe but the process is really slow. In order to fly to their destination, Palestinians from West Bank have to travel by land to Jordan, travel that costs more time and money. He has a brother in the USA who built his life there, he thought to leave the country too but he prefers to live with his old parents in these insecure times in Palestine.
About his care for us, I mentioned in another article but we found it very kind his way to ask us every time we met him if we are hungry, tired or ready to see something new. He talked very nice about Palestinians people and he wanted to introduce us to the food and sweets from Palestine. He is a person with many friends and every time when he needed a ride, he knew who to ask. In this way, we were able to speak with his friends too, one of them had an interesting story related to the restriction of freedom in Palestine. This man without any explanation found himself on the blacklist of persons interdicted to enter in Jerusalem. Even if he hired lawyers in order to lift the ban to travel to Jerusalem, he couldn’t solve this situation in court and he is still on this list. He told us smiling: “I’ve traveled and I can still travel oversea to Europe but I can not go to Jerusalem, less than 10 kilometers away from here.” Talking with friends of our host, driving from area B to area C and showing us the electric fence as a continuation of the Wall, during the night, all these experiences we’ve done it because we chose to do Couchsurfing.
When we arrive in Jerusalem, we supposed to have a host on the west side of the city but Couchsurfing had a lesson for us and we left that host because it didn’t seem safe to stay there. Why? Because space was way too small for us, the host and his friends invited to a party without telling us anything. In one little room with two matrasses, the host wanted a party with his friends, inviting us in a persistent way to drink with them. After realizing that these people could become more persistent, we decided to find a hostel, so I advise you to be prepared for this experience too when you choose this type of accommodation.
But we didn’t give up and this time by paying more attention to all the references, we tried again and we were accepted in a settlement in East Jerusalem, called Talpiyot. In this neighborhood, the US moved its new embassy last year, to understand more which type of zone we were located in. Jerusalem is in the center of this conflict between Israel and Palestine because it’s claimed by both sides as a capital. Why? Because is one of the oldest cities in the world, considered sacred for the biggest religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Today, Jerusalem is divided between Westside where are living Jewish communities and Eastside where are living 300000 Palestinians in different quartiers but where are also built settlements like Talpiyot. These 300000 Palestinians were living here before the war, they are considered citizens of Jerusalem, but they don’t have Israeli citizenship, instead, they have a permit of residence. That’s why Jerusalem is also claimed by Palestinians and in order to deny these pretentions, the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved its embassy in this settlement in the East Side. Here we had an American Jew as a host with strong opinions regarding this conflict and European media which is “clearly sympathetic to Palestinians”.
On one hand, he was saying that this conflict is still going on because Palestine didn’t accept any kind of offer of peace and reacted violently through terrorist attacks each time when there were peace initiatives. On the other hand, he was against building the settlements in the West Bank which were so confusing for us because he is living in a settlement too. People have mysterious ways to think…but having his perspective put me more to think about different nuances of this conflict. For example, the refugees camps are established for 70 years, these families are passing their status of refugees from generation to generation. Why the Palestinian Authority or UN don’t succeed to manage this crisis? Has Israel any kind of interest in maintaining these refugee camps?
Doing Couchsurfing in Tel-Aviv is relatively easy, people here are not so close to the conflict and they seem more open-minded. For me it was a cultural shock to see this city, it’s really modern with nice beaches, hotels, skyscrapers. I couldn’t be getting out of the previous experiences so I remember Tel-Aviv only like a dispositive short movie, without being truly connected to the place.