An Israeli in Tunisia by Tom Dolev, Israel

imageI had been thinking of traveling to Tunisia for quite some time.

Ever since becoming an active YaLa member more than two years ago and meeting a bunch of amazing Tunisian people, and since visiting Morocco a year before and having had an absolutely awesome experience, I had been playing around with the idea, but hadn’t actually thought it would come to life. With all that the MENA region has gone through in the past three years, a process which started in Tunisia – I wasn’t really sure what to think. I knew that the media tends to blow things out of proportion, as does the travel warning Israel places on almost every Arab country, and I knew that Israelis travel to Tunisia only in arranged groups; but I had discussed it with my Tunisian friends from YaLa, who assured me that so long as I travel with my German passport and play down my being Israeli, things were rather calm. And so it was one afternoon, in most spontaneous fashion, I ordered my ticket to Tunisia. And when I stared at the confirmation mail, I could hardly believe it – I was going to Tunisia!

I must admit, I arrived with concerns, if not to say fears; but these thoughts soon faded, as I started discovering a beautiful country and a warm and friendly people. In Tunis I hung out at the coolest cafés and restaurants, and explored the old city with its great mosques and old palaces; at Carthage I walked amongst thousand-year-old ruins; at the Island of Djerba I spent most of the day at the beautiful beach; at Tataouine I saw ancient ksars which inspired the Star Wars movies; at Douz I gazed upon the vast Sahara desert; at Touzer and Nefta I bathed in oases and saw the vast palmeries where the best dates in the world are grown. In the week-and-a-half I had for travels, I found a country that is vastly diverse in its landscape and culture, and easy and comfortable to explore – a real traveler’s heaven.

The thing that left its strongest impact on me, beyond the country’s great beauty and diversity, was its people. I was travelling alone, at a time when tourism is at an all-time low, and thus encountered no other backpackers to travel with (all foreigners I met travelled in arranged groups), as I had in previous trips. This meant that almost all my interactions and friendships were with local people – and the Tunisian people were so kind and helpful to me, so open to talk about their thoughts and impressions with me, and so interested in mine, that it was a real joy to travel. And though the people working in the tourism industry in Tunisia are going through quite a difficult time since the beginning of the revolution, I was never haggled or hassled, and was always treated with kindness and dignity.

The undoubted highlight of my trip, however, was meeting a fellow Tunisian YaLa’er whom I had known for some time through Facebook, but had until then not had the pleasure of meeting. The feeling of having a true Tunisian friend there, someone who is so likeminded and with whom I could talk like best of friends from the first minute, is a gift that YaLa has given me which I will never forget, and one which strengthens my conviction that the relationships we make on YaLa are genuine and of real importance and uniqueness.

It is not the greatest feeling to travel while having to hide certain parts of one’s identity, and I often felt a certain pinch of the heart when I had gotten closer to someone on my trip, someone with whom I couldn’t be completely honest. And yet I had to remind myself that rather than the typical reasons which come to mind when thinking of concealing one’s identity abroad – being some sort of undercover agent with alternative and dubious motives – I was doing it for the exact opposite reason – so that I could experience Tunisia as if everything were normal. I was there to get to know and understand the place and people, something which sadly, I would have no opportunity to do otherwise.

There is no substitute in my mind to experiencing a place first-hand, and this experience and understanding are part of the process we call peace. When we feel familiar with a place and people, and when we understand one another, the fear between us diminishes and our ability to work and live together doesn’t seem like some far-off fantasy, but rather like something completely attainable, and a reality that would benefit all of us – politically, socially, economically, culturally, whichever way you look at it. I am not sure when this day will come in the MENA region – but in the meanwhile I encourage you to travel wherever you can. Tunisia, if possible, is a great place to start.

Tom Dolev,

YaLa Young Leaders

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