When I had the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time, I realized how dangerous that particular thought process was. I had an idea about Israel, but I did not know Israel. Many of my ideas were formulated from misconceptions brought to me from the media, politics, and society. We prejudge people and situations before we ever get the chance to truly encounter them.
In my journey to understanding Israel, I came across a poet named Yehuda Amichai. His poem Tourists made me reflect on my actions and beliefs about the country.
Tourists by Yehuda Amichai Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust after our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms. Once I sat on the steps by agate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see
that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
“You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”
I read so many of his poems, and it gave me a different perspective on Israeli culture. Although I am not an expert on life in Israel, I want to believe that the humanities has taught me to not just be a tourist. It is violent and unjust to walk in and out of someone’s culture without attempting to see it from their perspective.