Perhaps we have all heard the oft repeated joke; when an American tourist came to Israel with the intention of visiting the Kotel (the Wailing Wall) but he forgot what it was called. When he stepped into a taxi, he said to the driver,
Can you please take me to the place where all Jews cry? Do you know where this is?
The taxi driver answered,
Beseder – I’ll take you there.
And he drove him straight to the taxation office!
When I stepped outside the Easy Jet terminal on Tel Aviv International Airport, I felt chills travelling down my spine. They were partly due to the baggage of history being a British Pakistani entering Israel, perhaps the most hated place on earth in Pakistan, its ideological twin; and mainly, it was the weather.
Tel Aviv was almost bordering zero degrees with strong winds that made it feel even worse; I had left London basking in glorious sunshine that resembled more of spring than fall.
However my racing heart started calming down when we entered the modern airport building. It all looked like the usual business day. There were passengers trolling their luggage and scurrying around. The airport staff was amicable and polite. We were showered with smiles, which was quite unusual for immigration staff at an international airport.
Quite importantly, there were no armed policemen around; compared to the British airport we flew from.
Gradually I noticed my group members, mostly senior British Pakistani businessmen, easing up which might sound a little odd, us being in Israel and all.
Our next few days in Israel were spent on a rollercoaster.
We had been travelling, attending meetings, speaking at receptions, engaging in discussions and waiting for the most coveted moment of our lives; offering Friday prayers at al Aqsa Mosque which is one of the three holiest places in Islam.
My trip to Israel was myth-shattering in several ways.
Israel was not the garrison state it was branded to be in the media. No scary atmosphere. No guns totting policemen. No siren-blazing police cars buzzing around; as commonly seen in London.
Surprisingly enough, Israeli chefs at the Grand Beech Hotel, when they figured out my Pakistani roots, knew how to prepare the big spicy mother of omelettes for the hectic day ahead.
Amongst many of my discoveries, I found out that Zionism had a separate existence from Judaism. This, I found out, when two orthodox Jews criticised Israeli atrocities on my flight from London to Tel Aviv. I was also kind of shocked when I heard from a senior retired air force officer ’what America blundered by creating a jihadi industry in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Israelis floundered by supporting Hamas against al Fatah’.
I met Israeli businessmen who whined about Israel’s isolation in the global fraternity due to its Zionist movers and shakers.
We were invited by the Federation of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce and Industry to look into its technologically advanced market economy.
Being the 24th largest economy in the world, and ranking 17th among 187 world nations on the UN Human Development Index,Israel’s economy also ranks 17th amongst the world’s most economically developed nations.
I was shocked when a senior Israeli businessman mentioned that the leading Israeli manufacturer of tankers, aircraft refuelers, fire fighting trucks, armoured vehicles and special purpose trailers, Hatehof Ltd., provided Pakistan’s Air Force with military equipment under a clandestine contract through Turkey; which was used in the much acclaimed JF Thunder aircraft. An Israeli press television aired a similar broadcast as well.
As the trip was organised from a business perspective, we missed the chance of visiting Palestinian areas, particularly the Gaza Strip. When I contrasted the developed State of Israel with underprivileged areas of the Palestinian territory, the Israelis claimed that they had handed control to Palestinian authorities who wanted to keep it as it is to showcase their miseries.
They also blamed rampant corruption in Palestinian authorities as another source of underdevelopment. The construction of the wall to isolate Palestinian areas from Israeli areas, an act of raising barriers, in the 21st century, in which humanity claims to have come a long way from since demolition of the Berlin Wall, however, does raise questions;
I roamed Jerusalem donning a keffiyeh; a traditional Arab headdress fashioned from square cotton; a scarf made popular by Yasser Arafat.
Past the Wailing Wall, I saw two fully armed Israeli soldiers in an alert position for the first time and stopped there to recollect ourselves. As a memento, we took a photograph of the contradictory scene that captured us.
The photograph shows the three faces cracking wide grins, holding guns with barrels that reached the ground; a weird mix of guns and roses.
It made me wonder if roses will have conquered guns by the time I make my next visit to the Holy Land; which, I thought, was definitely spacious enough to accommodate all Abrahamic faiths.