red scares that were employed in America, or the modern day war on terror. If you are young, the occupation is often something that you struggle to keep from defining you. It crops up in all kinds of conversations, especially with foreigners, and while many people are radicalized by it, some just want to be normal. “It’s a horrible situation for them, and I am sad to say this, but I am not really involved in it.”
Yoav, a 28-year-old sculptor living in Tel Aviv, is the kind of guy who does as he feels. He throws parties and works odd jobs, avoiding a daily routine so he can focus on his art and relationships. I swear he knows every good-looking artist in Tel Aviv. To keep his life simple he moved into a crumbling second-story studio where he promptly broke the zoning and built his own shower and kitchen, routing pipes from the plumbing outside. We spent a weekend scrubbing out the flooded basement of the place for an art party, only to be rewarded with a threat of eviction when the landlord stopped by. He rides a flat-bar Principe road bike, a nimble urban combination of speed and casualness that would be right at home in Berlin or Chicago. Last summer he flew to Europe, bought a $75 bike in Amsterdam, and rode it to Berlin, drawing and thinking along the way. He’s planning on meeting up with the bike and riding it to Athens this fall, leaving Israel for a while to study in Europe.
It is exhausting being an apologist or justifying your existence constantly, in a country that burdens you with its highly tense legacy from the moment you are born. Yoav, like many young liberal Israelis, fluctuates between being sympathetic for Palestinians, disgusted with his country’s obsessive militarism, and feeling the whole world misunderstands and simplifies Israel. There’s a desire to improve things, but also dejection. Before the Arab Spring revolutions we talked about which direction things would go. “Every year Israelis get more, Palestinians get less. There is a true passion on the Israeli side to win this conflict and unfortunately that stupid brutality actually works. It worked in the US. Ever think the Native Americans will be successful in kicking you off their land?” In his art scene, most pieces are decidedly apolitical, staying mute on the issue of their future with the Arab nations. The problem is tired, it is not their fault, and they would rather think about something else.
Deferential, religious Ibrahim and thoughtful, driven Yoav will probably never meet each other, though they have both expressed interest in sneaking across to the other’s side. The division wall ensures that to each other they remain stereotypes, one a voracious oppressor and the other a murderous fundamentalist. Yet when I am in the company of each I am struck by their carefree nature, their love of bikes, the desire to hurl themselves into pedal adventures in order to meditate, take risks, and see new people and places. Their simple common grounds and shared futures are kept apart by an imposed idea that they belong to separate narratives, where one cannot exist in the presence of the other.
Alone I take the bike ride on which none of my aforementioned friends can join me, from Tel Aviv to Nablus, straight over the mountain, watching the placid, suburban developments of Ariel settlement give away to farmland, water tanks and minarets, another culture. They are here, side-by-side, one atop the other, Israel and Palestine. Though people are overworked and disillusioned and wishing to change the subject, the situation remains. A checkpoint divides the two, curtailing commonalities, dialog, progress. After a moment of guns, harsh concrete, scared young soldiers, and dispirited oppressed families, I am across and away, spinning frustration through the cranks and out into the dust, pedaling along on a human scale, turning the fear around in my head, over and over, and trying to pull a lesson from it.
Davey Davis is a journalist, writer, and bike nerd who spent six months teaching filmmaking and bike touring in the West Bank. See more of his work at dadarobotnik.blogspot.com.