Departures / Arrivals: Eran Needed to Study in London to See the Palestinian Point of View

Janne and Yunus can't quite fathom a Saturday with no public transportation.

Eran Zucker, 33, from London; flying to London

You’re sitting here with your parents, and they look somewhat displeased.

They are displeased. It was a short visit, just a week. I haven’t yet got on their nerves.

Do you live in London?

Yes. I work and am doing a master’s degree there.

Where do you work?

I work for a company that is involved in initial public offerings on the junior stock market in London. We raise funds and do IPOs for small companies and startups. I am also doing a master’s in economics at the London School of Business.

How long have you been there?

I left Israel nine years ago, when I was accepted to a scholarship program called Olive Tree.

What sort of program is it?

It’s a program for Jews and Palestinians, and I was part of the first group. Israelis and Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority live and study together in a neutral place, like London, in the hope that the encounter and the joint residence will help forge social ties, and also professional ties after graduation.

Did you live together?

I did my undergraduate studies for three years. In the first year I lived with two Palestinians, an Irish girl and an English girl. The second year I lived with a Palestinian guy and two people from other places.

Did it work?

That’s a subject for a long conversation, but overall, personal interaction changes your perspective about the conflict. To hear how the Palestinians live, and that there are Palestinians who get stuck at checkpoints – it doesn’t matter what your political viewpoint is or who you think is to blame for the situation, the moment you hear a human story it draws you closer. The Palestinians were surprised, for example, to hear that there are some Israelis who don’t necessarily want to serve in the army but have to do guard duty at a checkpoint day and night. And the Israeli side learned about the suffering of the Palestinians. It’s what’s known as a grass-roots movement. Thanks to these ties, connections will be created between the Israeli and Palestinian communities.

But you don’t live here.

I came back to Israel after getting my bachelor’s degree and then decided to try my luck in London again. I was accepted to business school and found a job, and one thing led to another. I admit that I’m not sure what will happen after the master’s. The desire to return to family and friends is always there, but then you come for a visit, hear the news and think: What the hell is going on here?

Well, that’s just the point.

Quite a few people have already gone through the Olive Tree program, including Stav Shaffir [a leader of the 2011 protest movement, now a Labor MK]. I don’t know if she would be where she is today without the program. If an opportunity arises [if there is peace or other possibilities] – for me the psychological barrier won’t exist, thanks to the program.

It might take a little time for an opportunity to arise.

A conflict is like an iceberg: 99 percent is under the surface and the 1 percent above it is the war-like interaction we are familiar with. Even if we sign a peace treaty, there will not be love, cooperation and understanding vis-a-vis the other side – which is why this program and others like it are important. Once there is a peace treaty, people (Israelis) who took part in these programs will be the first to visit Gaza and Nablus and maintain business relations with the Palestinians – and it’s from there that the true resolution of the conflict will come about. Leaders who sign an agreement are of no consequence. Being capable of thinking about a joint future – that’s the thing.

Are you still in touch with people from the program?

There are still meetings organized by the program, but ironically, many of the participants stayed in London, and we meet for birthdays and parties, even though I am extremely busy and have no time for anything.

What does your typical day look like?

Pressured. But I like the pressure. I leave for work at 7:30. We start at 9 and work until 8 P.M. Later in the evening and on weekends I study. In the time that remains I meet with friends and I also find time to dance.

In clubs?

No. I dance the Lindy Hop, which is a type of swing. There are courses in this all over London and also parties. It’s a serious scene in London and it’s getting hot in Tel Aviv, too. Google “Holy Lindy Land” and you’ll see. People don’t realize what it’s like.

Sounds interesting. What does a Lindy Hop party look like?

There are a lot of people, of all ages, and everyone dresses in 1930s’ style and dances.

Do you dance with people you don’t know, too?

Sure, that’s how you meet people. It’s a social thing. Just think, you go over to a girl and ask her if she wants to dance with you – that’s something you don’t see today anymore. For sure not in clubs. It’s a different style of dancing, a different style of people. It attracts a certain type of people, who are more interesting, more artistic. And it’s fun to dance. It releases tensions.

Janne Von Seggern, 22, and Yunus Efe Tuntas, 24, from Berlin; arriving from Berlin.

Hello, have you come to celebrate the beginning of the new year here?

Yunus: Yes, and this is our first time in Israel.

What made you decide to come here, of all places?

Janne: It was a last-minute decision. A good friend of ours is working in Israel now, and she told us interesting things about the country, so we just bought tickets.

Do you already know what you’re going to be doing here?

Janne: We don’t have an organized plan. I’ll be happy to hang out at the beach. The sun was shining when we landed, which was nice.

Yunus: We’ll visit Jerusalem and Nazareth, for sure, and maybe Nablus, too. The truth is that because it was such an last-minute decision we didn’t have time to look into things. We don’t know how hard or easy it is to get around in Israel. Is it true there’s no transportation here on Saturday?

It’s true. From Friday afternoon until Saturday evening.

Yunus: Not even buses?

No. But the truth is that it’s easy to get around. This isn’t Germany.

Yunus: I actually grew up in Turkey.

Where did you meet?

Yunus: We met in Antalya, four years ago, in the most touristy area there is – Side, where I lived. A lot of tourists visit there, including from Israel. Janne was there on vacation with her family; they come to our village regularly. We met, but then I had to leave right away, because I had to guide a group in Turkey. I am a tour guide.

And then?

Janne: And then I went home. I was living in Hamburg at the time. We didn’t actually plan to meet up again, but when I went to Berlin to visit some people I remembered him and thought he might be there. And then we saw each other and it all started.

Why did you think Yunus might be in Berlin?

Yunus: I was living and working in the two countries. In Turkey I am a tour guide and in Germany I sit in an office and plan trips, then sell them to people online.

So you were switching places all the time?

Yunus: I like to be between two cultures, it makes life more colorful. It was easy for me, because I was born in Germany and I have German citizenship. Otherwise, it’s not so easy for Turks in Germany. Many Turks are there semi-legally. In general, the foreigners in Germany still experience many difficulties, but in Berlin life moves differently: Things are more open there and there are all kinds of foreigners: Buddhists, Tibetans, Chinese, Arabs.

I think there’s no shortage of Israelis, either.

Janne: You know, we have an Israeli neighbor!

Yunus: There is prejudice in Germany about Turks, but also in Turkey about Germans. I know both sides. My maternal grandmother moved to Germany in 1967. They were from a very poor region and moved there to improve their quality of life. Fifty years later, I am the third generation there, and more than 20 members of our family live in Germany. If there are so many of us, that means we are getting along. I moved to Germany two-and-a-half years ago, and since then we have been living together in Berlin.

Janne: Because I started to go to school in Berlin, it’s a nice place, and also … let’s say, it’s a little more of an adventure than Hamburg.

What are you studying?

Janne: European ethnology. It’s a little like anthropology.

Does this also involve research?

Janne: Yes, I am doing research about Parkour.

What’s that?

Janne: An urban sport. The goal is to get from one point to another in the fastest, most efficient way, making use of what the city gives you: You jump over walls, climb over obstacles.

Where is it done? What types of equipment are used? Ropes?

No, it’s all your body. They usually train in a large space in the city, where you can jump over something. It’s a kind of Jackie Chan-like sport. These people jump off walls.

Did you ever try it?

Janne: I trained with them a little. I did some balancing on a low pipe and jumped over a small obstacle. You start gradually, of course. The truth is that it takes something like six or seven years before you can really do Parkour. You have to be very strong and in peak physical shape.

I’m not sure I understand what the goal of the sport is.

They try to find the fastest way to move about in the city. It’s not necessarily the easiest or the most practical way, because it’s easier to walk on the ground. Their goal is to be the fastest person in the urban jungle.

Yunus: What I like is the idea that the government tells you, “Go around this in order to get where you want to go,” but the Parkourists will say, “No, I will jump over it instead.”