My memory of Israel

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I once worked on a scuba diving boat in the holiday resort town of Eilat on the border of Israel and Egypt.

This was in 1993 during a lull in hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians and  just before Yitzhak Rabin was shot.

I met Israelis who were nice people and some who weren’t.

I visited the old city of Jerusalem and thought it had a bad vibe. I didn’t like the claustrophobic, dark streets and oppressive atmosphere. I didn’t like being hassled by Arab men because I was a white woman travelling alone.

I didn’t like the Christian fanatics who said the Lord could save me. I told them if they were an example of being saved then I wasn’t interested.

After a week in Jerusalem I took the bus to Tel Aviv. I didn’t like the way the army reservists arrogantly pushed past passengers with their guns slung below the waste.  I don’t feel safe surrounded by people with guns.

But I liked Tel Aviv. It was a younger city than Jerusalem with a youthful population.

Tel Aviv had thriving markets, bars and restaurants and there were no religious fanatics on every street corner.

I stayed in Tel Aviv for a week and went swimming, shopping and socialising before returning to Eilat.

In Eilat I met fighter pilots and their wives. They booked a five day trip on the scuba boat and they dived out in the Red Sea. I watched them every day having fun and then I’d cook and clean for them.

I liked one of the fighter pilots’ wives. This was her second marriage. Her first husband had also been a fighter pilot but he died after being shot down in one of the wars between Israel and Lebanon.

She was intelligent and interesting. She told me I spoke good English. I replied that I was Australian and came from an English speaking country and she laughed at her mistake.

During that week the skipper asked if I would like an introductory dive. I kitted up in heavy diving gear and the deckhand took me out on the reef. The fighter pilots wife told me later that she swam above me during my dive to make sure I was safe.

That was 21 years ago. I hope that she and her second fighter pilot husband are alive and happy.

I wouldn’t want to be Israeli or Palestinian. I couldn’t imagine having to spend a lifetime in violence and conflict.

I think of Israel as a doomed winter garden unable to bear fruit.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to work and travel through Israel.

I am also grateful that I don’t have to live there.

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About the author

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.


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