Gaga about Gaga; Esther Goldsmith (3rd Year) reflects on a trip that was very nearly impossible (but not quite).

Summer holidays are a time for rest and recuperation. They are also a time for new discoveries and adventures far away from NSCD. Taking risks into the unknown can be difficult for me but this summer I took the plunge and travelled alone to Israel.

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Although it was almost four months ago, I still think a lot about the fortnight I spent in Tel Aviv, and the circumstances in which I went there. It was something I had planned for months, ever since discovering Gaga – a movement language created by Ohad Naharin. He and his dancers (Batsheva Dance Company) deliver intensives in Tel Aviv, the birth place of Gaga, twice a year. In Gaga I have found a way of dancing that I really connect to and am inspired by.

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Learning from these wise and talented dancers was an opportunity I am so thankful  to have had. The dancing brought me alive and I began to feel comfortable inside my body whilst taking the classes which is something I am normally challenged by. Everything that Ohad said made complete sense (which is quite something as he talks alot!). He talked about moving from ‘far away engines’. By this, he means using other muscles (or ‘engines’) to perform a movement. For example, to lift your leg, you don’t just use your leg muscles, but you think about the movement starting in your ‘lena (centre/core) and using your ‘pika’ (pelvic floor), your other leg, your arms… When I really connected to this, lifting my leg became easy and effortless. Back at NSCD I think back to this while I stand at the barre trying to initiate movement from my whole body rather than from an isolated muscle.

I made many friends on the course, learnt intricate and physical repertoire and was immersed in a dancer’s life. I spent free hours by the sea, wandering around the streets and eating beautiful and nourishing food.

But I very nearly missed out on all of this. I very nearly didn’t go at all.

The week before I was due to fly, Ben Gurion (Tel Aviv’s international airport) was attacked by rockets, fired by the Palestinian Islamic organisation, the Hamas. Many airlines, including Easy Jet, cancelled their flights to the city and the Government advised against all but necessary travel to anywhere 40km from Gaza. Luckily for me, British Airways did not cancel their flights, and Tel Aviv is 85km from the Gaza strip. I was set on going as long as my flight was, but I did get very nervous about what I might encounter. Friends and family also worried a lot, and some people even asked me not to go, despite them knowing how important the trip was to me.

There has been trouble and conflict between Israel and Palestine since before I was born. I am not an expert in the subject, but research tells me that it started because the Jewish people were given land after The Second World War. Many Arabs were already living on that land and refused to accept that it was a new country for Jews who had survived WWII. The two sides first went to war in 1948 and since then, both sides claim that it is their land, and so the fighting has continued.

By mere chance, the conflict was heightened at the time I was supposed to be travelling. Splashed across the newspapers and projected into our front rooms were images of despicable murders and war crimes. Unfortunately, most of what the various media corporations showed were atrocities on Israel’s behalf; pictures of Palestinian children who had been brutally killed, towns torn apart by bombs and guns. Some of the non-Israelis on the Gaga course said that people back home had tried to persuade them not to go to Tel Aviv because it would be ‘pro-Israel’. When I landed in London, I had an uncomfortable taxi ride home during which the driver asked me about my trip and then proceeded to condemn all of Israel and try to make me join a boycott of Israeli products.

You might wonder why I found this hard to deal with. Surely if the media report something, it must be true. But you see, the media only portrayed one side of the story, and although they report live form the action, the executives sit in their cosy offices, hundreds of miles away from danger, choosing exactly what to show us. I spent two weeks amongst people that were actually living through this. I talked to people who were deeply troubled by what was happening. Ohad himself gathered us to say that he is disturbed by the continuation of this war. The Israeli’s that I made friends with spent their evenings watching the news, anticipating reports of deaths and kidnapping of their friends in the army. When I talked to some natives about what was happening, one man said that it is not the Israeli’s fault that more Palestinians were dying; the Israeli government chose to spend money on protection (Israel has an ‘Iron dome’ which destroys missiles, and there are bomb shelters all over the cities), whereas the Hamas used money to dig tunnels in order to attack. I do not know to what extent this view point is true. I can say that Tel Aviv did feel incredibly safe, and the two air raids that I experienced were not scary in the slightest because I knew I would not be hit.

I would also like to say that I am not completely Pro-Israel. The pictures of ‘innocent’ Palestinian citizens dying are horrific, not something anyone can condone. However, neither am I pro-palestine. Neither side is innocent – both are guilty. However, I do not think it is fair to blame a whole nation. It is not the people of Israel that issued missile attack, but a few people with inherited animosity, anger and hatred, who send orders to officers of lower rank. It is like saying that we were responsible for the war in Iraq, when actually lots of people were against it. I believe in the right not express opinion but in this case I do not think we have a right to say that one side should ‘win’. We have not lived through what is actually going on, we are not presented with a fair argument and we are 2349 miles away.

If you get the chance to travel to Israel, I urge you to go. The way of living there is extremely refreshing. Most natives are kind, welcoming and open people, who value the gift of life and have a brilliant vitality about them. The country is beautiful too, and of course the dancing is liberating and completely worth it. Don’t give up experiences just because the media are telling you one side of the story – that goes for lots of things I guess. Take headlines with a pinch of salt and trust that you can make the right judgement for your own safety.

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