My time in living in Tel Aviv was one of the best and yet also most difficult travel experiences of my life. As a creator, I shared a lot on social media of what was happening at the time but I feel like I needed to write about it too. Because as much as I shared on my Instagram stories, there was a lot that I didn’t. So buckle up, because this is going to be a big one.
To kick things off, let me clarify that I am not Jewish. I have no personal ties to Israel other than I think it can be a lot of fun and I have some amazing friends who live there. I also have no personal ties to Palestine, although I have many friends who do and I have met some amazing Palestinians during my time there as well. I’m just a white, Christian (though non-practicing), Canadian who grew up going to public schools with Jewish and Arabic friends and classmates alike.
I also grew up thinking that this part of the world was dangerous. A war zone. Like most outsiders, I was (and still am) incredibly curious about the conflict. Again, I have no ties to either side but I would say that Canada and my personal network are very pro-Palestine. However, that does not mean that they are anti-Israeli or anti the existence of Israel itself. As the saying goes, the government does not reflect the people and while many people of the world do not seem to be able to differentiate between the two, I’ve ensured that my network does. I have no place in my life for racism or hate of any sort.
Still, the conflict has always fascinated me and while I planned to use Tel Aviv as my base, I also knew I would be visiting the West Bank and Palestine. Not to see churches and the history- I’d already done that on previous visits. I wanted the political tours of Palestine. Unfortunately, the same options for political tours don’t exist (at least on an easily accessible to all tourists level) in Israel, but during my time I also hoped for the chance to have more conversations with Israelis. I wanted to speak to the people or both sides. I wanted to listen, to learn, and to understand as much as I could knowing that as someone without a personal connection to this land I would never totally ‘get it’. But at least I could learn enough to help me form my own opinions and not rely on what media told me.
While the conflict is of a huge interest to me personally, on a professional level I wanted to show Israel and Palestine for how I knew them to be; amazing destinations with incredible history, great food, and friendly people. Not the war-torn land that I spend so many years thinking this part of the world was.
I did my best to go in open-minded and share with as few personal biases as possible. But as an influencer in this part of the world sharing my day-to-day life experiences, I got absolutely shredded apart.
An Eye-Opening Start
I arrived in Israel at the beginning of March. Covid-19 precautions for Omicron were still very much in effect and as such there were a limited number of tourists. At times I felt like I was the only one which had a lot of benefits but also some downfalls as well. Tourism in Israel and Palestine was slow. The number of tours running were limited with some things not running at all. Still, I did my best and booked what was available to me which, at the time, was 3 conflict-related tours within 7 weeks. For many people who took on the pro-Palestine side, it wasn’t enough.
When I originally announced that I would be spending 7 weeks (which actually turned into 12) living in Tel Aviv I was met with a number of complaints. I shared that the reason I chose Tel Aviv was because I had a number of friends there and after essentially 2 years of lockdown in Canada I wanted a social life. I also wanted warm weather, sunshine, and the beach. But people didn’t care that a huge part of why I chose Israel was for my personal mental health. Instead they felt the need to comment that I shouldn’t supporting Israel so much with my tourism dollars and that they hoped I would support Palestine just as much.
I kicked off my first visit to Palestine of this trip to Nablus. A Palestinian city with a rough history. It is home to the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, a beautiful Old Town, and what is said to be the best knafeh around. I took videos and notes throughout the day, listening to my guide and the people we met along the way share their life experiences and stories. When I got back to Tel Aviv that night I went through my notes and posted a series of stories about my day sharing a disclaimer at the beginning that these were not my opinions but rather of the stories I heard from people I spoke to throughout the day. On top of stories from the refugee camp, I also shared images of the markets, the old town, the knafeh (which is amazing), and just daily general life in this Palestinian city.
Within seconds the DMs started coming in from my Israeli friends and followers. Comments on what I was sharing and how it was incorrect and comparisons to issues that Israelis face from Palestinians. My friends were on the defense and some new Israeli followers were on the attack.
The random ones made me angry. Comments like “Palestine doesn’t exit”or “F*ck Palestine” were common. I had no idea who these people were, I assumed someone new followed me and shared with friends who essentially started a mini-war against me. I blocked them all.
The ones from my friends, however, really bothered me. As more and more messages came in I felt overwhelmed and upset that I had clearly triggered my friends in a way that I had never intended. For the most part, conversations were respectful and kind. I replied to everyone. I listened to what they had to say and I made note of the things that they found so offensive.
The conversations I had made me look at what I had shared with new eyes and I understood that I could have shared better. I could have been clearer. It wasn’t necessarily what I shared or showed but how I shared, often in terms of the language I used or lack of clarification. Of course, there was also the fact that what I shared was only one side of the story- a common theme, as I learned, throughout my 12 weeks living in Tel Aviv.
Towards the end of March, as Ramadan, Passover, and Easter started to approach, things started to get pretty tense. There were IDF raids in Palestine and terror attacks in Israel. Saying who started it is akin to asking “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” It was a continuous loop and something was constantly going on. While some times are quieter than others, the fact is that this is the way it has been for decades.
Living in Tel Aviv meant that my news feed was very Israel focused. For a couple of weeks, my news feed was filled with stories of Israelis murdered in the streets going about their day to day lives. One night, I was walking back from the train station when my phone went off with several messages from an Israeli friend.
“This is a 10 minute drive from you. I want you to learn”
He then sent me a series of photographs and videos of a Palestinian man shooting a gun, dead Israeli bodies, and blood running in the streets.
“You will never see it in your news” he told me.
And he was right. There were multiple attacks with multiple Israelis murdered over the course of a couple of weeks. Yet despite the number of deaths and brutal violence, it never made mainstream news back home in Canada. Not until the attack in Tel Aviv.
The Tel Aviv Terror Attack
On April 7th, 2022, I was sitting with two girls in a cocktail bar in Tel Aviv. We dressed up for the evening, ordered fancy gin cocktails from the friendly bartender and enjoyed out night out. About 30 minutes after we arrived one of the girl’s phone went off with an alert.
“There’s a shooter in Tel Aviv.”
Seconds later the fun atmosphere of the bar died completely and everyone was on their phone. Then came the sirens, the people running, the worried phone calls and texts.
My phone went off several times as local friends asked me where I was and if I was safe. “I’m okay” I typed back repeatedly as the messaged continued to flood in.
News alerts kept pinging everyone’s phone. The active shooter was at a bar less than 10 minute walk from where I was. Literally just around the corner and down the street. Reports said there might be multiple shooters and the suspect(s) were on the run. Possibly hiding in people’s homes or random buildings. Sirens continued to wail all around us and search helicopters flew overheard as the city locked down for hours, everyone hiding in safety wherever they could. We stayed in the bar for a couple of hours until police allowed buses to start running again. One of the girls’ fiancé rented a car2go to come get us and my friend came back and stayed with me that night, unable to get to her home safely.
The whole entire experience was surreal. For weeks, every time I heard a siren I would freeze and wonder what it was for. I never really panicked, but the sound was triggering. I had never been in a situation like that before and it was something that I discussed openly on social media.
To me, it made sense to discuss it. After all, I was there. It affected me directly. For the most part, my followers were amazing in making sure I was ok. But there were a few who messaged me telling me I needed to get over it. I talked about it too much. I also had a few comments along the lines of “well now you know how Palestinians feel”.
Yet as unkind as those comment were, my Israeli friends got worse. Comments like “good riddance” and “you’re next” from Palestinians and anti-Israel supporters alike were quick to pop up on their social media feeds after the attack. I read through the comments shocked and disgusted at the outright hate on display for everyone to see- and the support these types of comments got from others. Of course, I knew of the hatred for Israel and against Jews in general. However, seeing my Jewish, Israeli friends get dozens of death threats sent to them openly from complete strangers online was very eye-opening.
Acknowledging the Power of Media
The attack in Tel Aviv was not the last and, of course, with the attacks in Israel came more raids in Palestine. Rockets were fired from Gaza at one point although nothing really came from it while I was there. I learned that anything can happen at any time. It’s just a fact of life in this part of the world.
As the violence continued, I paid more attention to the media. Immediately after the Tel Aviv attack, videos circulated of Palestinians in the streets. Some were celebrating and handing out candy. Other videos showed hate speech directed towards Israel and Jews. The combined message my Israeli friends received was that all of Palestine was celebrating the attack. I’ll admit I got lured into this narrative as well. It was only when someone pointed out that it was also Ramadan that I was able to sit back and think. Ramadan is a holiday. Sweets and candies are given out at night. And while there absolutely was footage of some individuals cheering on the Israeli deaths, I realized that perhaps the footage being circulated across Israeli channels of Palestinians celebrating with sweets and candies was not linked to this at all. But rather just videos of people celebrating of their holiday that happened to coincide with the attack.
Similarly, when there were the riots and so-called ‘clashes’ at Al-Asqa Mosque, global media only showed the smoke grenades thrown into the mosque by the IDF (Israeli Defence Force). To anyone watching and seeing these videos, it looked like the IDF just randomly decided to launch an attack at a holy site while Palestinians were praying. What wasn’t shown were the rocks thrown by Palestinians over the wall at praying Jews down below beforehand, which is what incited the IDF to become involved in the first place.
I’m not making excuses for either side. But both of these incidents bring me back to the point that many of my friends made after my first day in Nablus; there is always more to the story. There are always two sides. But the media never shows that.
In fact, based on what I saw and experience, I would say the media works as an instigator when it comes to this part of the world. The selectiveness in what they show is frustrating enough but seeing the titles, words ,and descriptions used to describe the deaths and violence against Palestinians vs the deaths and violence against Israelis is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Violence is violence. A human life is a human life. Yet, without a doubt, global media downplays any acts of violence against Israel. In fact, one major outlet ended up retracting and changing the title after the lash-back for being so blasé in the coverage of the murders in Tel Aviv.
My experience with media while living in this part of the world was another reminder that, as consumers, we need to be more mindful of the biases before jumping in with our assumptions. There is so much more going on than the tiny, selective, bits that we are shown. And while I know this in theory, it became incredibly apparent as I watched the limited news that was shared and how the world reacted.
Sharing and Boundaries
In the end, I spent 12 weeks in the Middle East using Tel Aviv as my base. I did 3 tours of the West Bank and 1 of the Gaza Border Strip which offered insight both to the lives of individuals in Gaza, but also the Israeli towns along the border. I tried my best to share in as unbiased a way as possible yet I never got it right. No matter what I said or shared, someone was always upset or angry with me. I blocked several long-term followers and actually ended a friendship thanks to strong biases and prejudiced opinions. It was disappointing but I said earlier, I have no tolerance for hate and racism.
I also upset people by not sharing. One woman went off on me for not sharing any photos on my Instagram grid of Palestine. While her comments and reasoning was entirely inappropriate- I do recognize that my Instagram grid is incredibly disproportionate with a large focus on my time in Israel. However, the content that most people want me to share on Palestine can’t be summed up in a photo. I’ve been told by Palestinians that they feel like animals in a zoo when people come into the refugee camps with their cameras. Many also hate the graffiti on the wall in Bethlehem- disagreeing with turning one of the biggest symbols of their struggle into a tourist attraction. So, for me, Palestine was something to share in my stories and perhaps here on the blog. Not somewhere to post token photo of just to have on my grid (especially since limited people actually read captions) as ‘proof’ that I went. Quite frankly, it’s nobody’s business what I choose to post or not post on my grid anyways.
As a creator, I thrive on positive feedback and knowing that my audience finds my content interesting and helpful. And while the vast majority of the feedback I received was positive, thoughtful, and appreciative of what I shared (or was attempting to do with what I shared), I received more hate and angry messages during my time in this part of the world than I ever have in the entire span of my career as a creator.
It was exhausting.
While I wouldn’t change the things I did, there were days when I wished I had chosen not to share. Where I literally dreaded opening my DMs. When I questioned if whether maybe it would be best for me to just take a break and stop sharing anything at all. I was accused of being too “pro” from both sides and there were several nights where I lay in bed at night feeling hated by everyone.
I learned a lot in my 3 months in Israel and Palestine and had dozens of conversations and first-hand experiences that really opened my eyes to the reality of living on this land. From Israeli friends a couple years older than me who had fought and lost friends during wars to Palestinians who had grown up in refugee camps and had been blacklisted by Israel. I know that when I return (because yes, I absolutely will return) that there are more conversations to be had. One in particular with a friend who has spent years working in the conflict and is someone I respect very much.
Despite people’s expectations of me, I am not a conflict expert. I’m not a political journalist. I’m just a curious woman who took the opportunity to learn and share as best as she could. In the end, I have no answers. If there was an answer, the conflict wouldn’t exist. Because nobody wants this. I think it’s worth noting that everyone that I spoke to was hopeful that it would end, a few even thought there was a chance it would end within their lifetime.
What I can tell you after my time living here is that this land is full of trauma and PTSD. From all sides and from every age. I had a tiny taste of that during the terror attack but, at the end of the day, that’s nothing compared to what the people living here have faced over the years. This trauma is something that we all need to remember as we have discussions or watch media content about the conflict and the people who, willingly or not, are a part of it.
For those who followed my adventures in Israel and Palestine, I hope that what I did share and show you has encouraged you to consider visiting for yourself. Yes, it’s complicated. Yes, it can be heartbreaking. But it’s also beautiful, welcoming, and a whole lot of fun.
Despite the difficulties I faced here as an influencer and creator, as a traveller I absolutely love this part of the world and the people in it.
And I can’t wait to go back.