Israel: A week or two challenging my preconceptions, railing at injustice and dreaming of peace

Armchair traveller
6 min readApr 27, 2024


Art by Merny Wernz who says “Liberator / oppressor. Terrorist / freedom fighter. Winner / Loser. All depends on who you listen to. The real loser is always the innocent civilian.”

With 35,000 Palestinian civilians dead, as well as 100+ Israeli hostages still separated from their families, it would be impossible for me to conduct this week’s armchair travel in the same way as I’ve done others. As a friend recently said “you take tourist trips to each country and it is a pretty strange time to be a tourist in Israel.” Having said all that, I am also aware that a huge amount has already been written about the conflict and the intergenerational trauma it’s inflicting and the last thing anyone needs is for me to armchair philosophise about my interpretation of a complex and depressing situation. And so, below I do my best to outline what I found and what I understood when I spent a week, reading, watching, eating, drinking and listening to the culture of Israel…

Vegan beef bagel — apparently not very Israeli. Borscht for the win.

Borders are an insane and relatively new concept. There are borders splitting islands, borders in the sea, borders around borders, borders set by colonialists to divide and rule and borders designed by multinational entities to keep warring people apart. Borders lead to wars, borders lead to walls. Ten feet walls lead to 12 foot ladders. Weak leaders like borders, corrupt leaders like borders, right-wing leaders like borders, the USSR loved borders. The State of Israel is, I think, unique in that it established itself without even announcing its borders, and they are still being fought over today.

Challah bread — real nice. Real real nice.

Within the present borders there are nearly 10 million humans, 73% are Jews, 21% are Arabs (or Palestinian citizens of Israel) and 6% are others. To find out how this demographic has changed over the years, I started the week by reading the United Nations publication The Palestine Question, which aims to at impartiality. In 1919 the land was the Ottoman Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem and the population was 10% Jews and 90% Arabs. In 1920 it became Mandatory Palestine which the League of Nations “gave to Britain” to run. At that point, everything began to change… to find out how much things changed, I listened to the excellent three-part radio show The Mandate which portrays the British as both hapless and murderous, and as putting in place policies that harmed Arabs, Jews and the British themselves. By 1939 the population was 70% Arabs and 30% Jews, at which point the British started to refuse Jewish refugees, holding them instead in Cyprus…

Vegan salted beef pretzel — Israeli? I’m not sure.

To get a perspective of what Mandatory Palestine was like at that point I turned to this week’s book “A tale of love and darkness” by Amos Oz. It chronicles Oz’s ancestors and his experience of the founding of Israel in a way that humanises while not shying from the tragedies. The books spins around the central trauma of his mother’s suicide, but along the way he details the rightists, the leftists, the Kibbutzists and the Zionists who populated his life. It’s 500+ pages and is a family story at its heart, but it also tells a tale of a country’s founding, and of the lives of his parents who did all they could to stay in a Europe whose graffitied walls which went from saying “Jews go back to Palestine”, to saying “Jews get out of Palestine” in one generation. He outlines the lofty talk of how Israel would “always treat minorities well because it would be a country made up of people who knew what it was like to be persecuted”, and acknowledges that the reality has been the opposite. I was particularly struck by how the various Jewish refugees from Yemen to Latvia learned to live together and to understand the level of anti-Semitism they were escaping, not just in Germany and Europe but in Iraq, Morocco, Aman, Aden, Eritrea and many other countries where they feared for their lives.

None of this, of course, justifies the 100+ years of appalling Palestinian mistreatment, but I truly believe the more we learn about others’ experience, the more we can understand, that understanding leads to compassion, that compassion creates hope, and that hope can lead to solutions and healing. For it seems that we humans will not be enlightened enough to lose our borders any time soon and so we need to learn to live… and that is what this week’s film Here we are is about. Released in 2020, it’s the story of Aharon and his son Uri. They have lived a joyous life together but Uri is autistic and they now face different opinions about how best to help him transition to adulthood. Aharon needs to tread the delicate path between looking after him and letting him grow away from him. It is a beautiful, if simplistic film, with an Israeli backdrop in which kind hearted humans are just trying to get on with the complex experience of living their daily lives.

One of the complexities I had to deal with was how I would try Israeli food and drink whilst also supporting the boycott of Israel until it meets its obligations under international law. The answer, I decided, was to buy bagels, which I did, only to find out that very few bagels are actually eaten in Israel. It turns out that Israeli food is an amalgam of all of the different Jewish cultures that came together escaping persecution and the middle Eastern food of the region. Because bagels originated in Poland and many Polish Jews escaped not to Israel, but to the USA, claiming bagels as Israeli food is somewhat of a faux pas. They were delicious though and went well with the Borsht that I’ve been informed that you do actually get there. In addition I made vegan shawarma and tried Challah bread from Gails with an amazing filling of crispy squash fritter, chipotle aioli, avocado salsa and cabbage slaw.

A shot saved from gathering dust in my cupboard

As I buy the alcohol and books for this blog months in advance, I already had a shot of Milk and Honey Israeli whisky in the cupboard waiting to go, it was fine but nothing to write a blog about!

And so to the music… as always I made a playlist, but for the first time I began to worry about the lyrics that were being sung… they sound like songs of peace, but other than in tracks Jerusalem which is in English, I have no idea what is actually being sung. I would love to hear feedback if you have any.

And so I come to the end of this most difficult blog, I hope I have not offended or upset anyone and I stand in solidarity with all those working towards the ceasefire and reparations we so desperately need. I look forward to reading and learning from a Palestinian perspective once I get to the P countries and I’d like to end by mentioning that there are wonderful people out there like the Palestinian peace organisation ‘Women of the Sun’ and the Israeli organisation ‘Women Wage Peace’. Both seem to be exactly what we need right now and both have suffered terribly since 7 October. Perhaps I should therefore close with the words of the Peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh: “There is no path to peace. The path is peace.”



Armchair traveller

Near-zero carbon travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.