I love reading travel narratives, because I until I win the lottery (ha!) this is the only way I can experience most of the places I want to visit (also, I’m a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to certain places, but I digress).
Martin Fletcher decided to take two weeks to walk down Israel’s Mediterranean coastline (110 miles), from the border with Lebanon to the Gaza Strip. Fletcher is a foreign correspondent for NBC News based in Israel, so he is not a traditional tourist in this country; but he wanted to take the time to see this part of the country at a leisurely pace. Throughout his journey, he manages to uncover some interesting stories about Israel and Israelis – Arab and Jew.
The politics of the region cannot be avoided in what he writes – Fletcher says “Here, history is not merely something you read about; it’s ever present.” – but it is not the main focus. Even though these stories aren’t likely ones that could be from anywhere else in the world, for me they were fascinating even without the backdrop against which they are told, and they provided perspectives on life in Israel that we never see on the news. For example:
- An Arab Israeli whose family’s home was taken in the 1948 War of Independence converts to Judaism and enlists in the Israeli army, rising to the rank of colonel and who bears no grudge toward the man who currently occupies his family’s land.
- The Holocaust was considered a taboo subject in Israel until testimony in Adolf Eichmann’s trial in 1961. (“The trial was the therapy that survivors had been denied.”)
- The daughter of a Holocaust survivor who lost her family to a terrorist attack in their home and yet does not hate (“… from the beginning I decided that what happened to me won’t make me anti-Arab or racist. I wasn’t one before. We must relate to people through what and who they are, not through race.”)
Perhaps it takes a journalist to write this kind of balanced story about a region that is so divided. But as a traveller, Martin Fletcher provides us with portraits of people – people who go about their everyday lives just like you and me, but under very different circumstances. Israel is on my list of scaredy-cat places, but after reading this book, it is a country I’d really love to visit one day.