I am experiencing severe grumpy cat syndrome and I am starting to wonder if this time the attack of the grumps will be permanent and incurable.
I woke up this morning feeling really sick and I have been really dizzy and sleepy all day with a really sore throat but after four months in Sweden I am getting quite used to being ill and getting on with things so I decided to go along to the days activities. Unfortunately none of us got any sleep last night as there was a problem with the alarm system so every forty minutes or so the fire alarms would go off. Malwina went down to ask them what was going on and if they could fix it but typical Israeli style they just shrugged her off!
To make everything a little bit more depressing our first stop of the day was the World Zionist Headquarters. I have to tell you that I have never ever seen anything like this and it is one of the single most surreal experiences of my life. We spent just under an hour going through a half-museum half audio-visual display narrating the life story of Herzl the 'founder and father of Zionism and the State of Israel'.
It was such a blatantly exploitative and unsubtle attempt to blend fact and fantasy, I actually felt like I was in some kind of comedy and Ashton Kutcher was going to jump out from behind one of the giant Israeli flags and yell 'Punk'd!' At any minute. Im really struggling to describe to you what is was like because it was absolutely the strangest thing... It was like one of those incredibly low budget made for TV movies that you sometimes end up watching late at night when you can't sleep. I'm not going to try and explain the whole 'exhibition' simply because I don't think I have the literary talent to put it into actual words but the overall impression was; Europe is bad, Israel is the noble homeland. They created us a collage of imagery including our hero Herzl struggling with the fat uncaring European kings and bureaucracy travelling the globe desperately trying to secure a home for the 'Thousands of Jews starving to death in Russia' and then the rows and rows of gleaming zionists marching forwards with unfurled Israeli flags and crisp white uniforms. Meanwhile our now all most saint-like Herzl is compared to the messiah and 'the modern miracle of the Jewish people' as we are shown his actual desk, and other belongings... The crescendo, and it really felt like it, was the final short film depicting all the achievements of the state of Israel as 'an example to the rest of the world of an open and free society'... At which point I almost started crying tears of shame.
Interestingly during this presentation was the first time since we have arrived that anyone (and in this case it was the magical voice-over man) used the phrase, or one like it, 'Arabs as an oppressed minority' and acknowledged that Israel is not completely perfect. Yesterday we drove past an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank and E5 the plot of land that Netanyahu has approved for more illegal construction as a retaliation for the rocket attacks perpetrated against Israel from Gaza. Our official Israeli guide pointed these locations out to us and all he had to say was "this is an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, a lot of people imagine the word settlement as a bunch of tents, but as you can see its a proper city and very nice!" And "on that hill is E5 the recently approved piece of land that the international media has a bee in the bonnet over". The self same guide however, did manage to condemn the Arab neighbourhood built without permits over the last hundred years by displaced Arabs (i.e. who had lost their real homes due to war/being kicked out) as an illegal settlement with disgusted incredulity.
Add to this all the comments about how Arabs can't look after their land, the land was empty anyway so why shouldn't Jews have it, the bible is the all the Deed we need to prove our ownership, why should we let Arabs buy houses in Jewish neighbourhoods when its not like a Jew can buy a house in an Arab neighbourhood, all the Palestinians are in Syria and Lebanon anyway now, and my particular favourite 'Jerusalem Arabs are sort of half-citizens, no I wouldn't say they are second class citizens... just a different kind of citizen with no voting rights'.
Its very stressful, we have sort of been warned off by our Dean against complaining or arguing which makes me really mad. Today we were dragged around the Zionist Headquarters and the Knesset for 7 hours without a break, without, snacks or water or any free time. When I tried to address it with our guides and the Dean who are responsible for our schedule I just got shouted at for complaining. It really upset me because it wasn't about complaining and being difficult, it was about us not coping with the intensity of the schedule, people feeling faint and dizzy and not able to concentrate on what we were doing. This is the first year our school have been sponsored by the government for this trip and there is this huge pressure on us to 'be good guests' which means we are being constantly watched and monitored for good behaviour and none of us really feel like we can talk freely with our guides, I said "this is truly racist, I can't believe we have to listen to it" and the response was "well if you don't like it close your ears and don't listen! Be quiet and try to enjoy the trip".
On the flip side there probably isn't that much point in trying to explain to the guy why what he is saying is racist, I mean he isn't going to change... I understand that its about picking your battles and that I am stuck on this trip and have to 'behave' myself but something inside me just will not be quiet when there is a man in front of me being a racist and a biggot. The pressure of behaving myself is making me crack a little. I think even worse is that we are constantly micro-managed and that we get maybe one or two hours a day to ourselves but we are so exhausted from being dragged around all day that none of us have the energy to do anything.
I feel very miserable, its not what I expected to feel, but after everything I have seen and heard I feel like I hate Israel now.
I really really hope I can find the strength to restore my equilibrium and figure out how to feel less miserable because i cant imagine the next three weeks like this.