Diary of a Cruise
I have visited most countries in the Middle East. I am familiar with the souk, the mosque, the wealth and the squalor. I have met thousands of Arabs and talked politics with more than a few. Those who dare to talk about their own back yards are divided in their opinions on most subjects, just like people anywhere. On only one thing are they united – in contempt for the state occupying a little dagger of land south of Lebanon and north of Egypt on the southern Mediterranean coast: Israel.
Whether they tolerate Israel as an ugly scar on the region, refuse to recognise its existence while dealing with its reality, or grudgingly connive with it as an enemy’s enemy, almost everyone in the Middle East sees Israel as a bad thing.
So when the chance came to pay a short visit to Israel as part of a last-minute cruise deal with my wife and two other couples, it was an opportunity to fill a big gap in my experience of the Middle East. The fact that we would also be visiting one of my favourite cities, Istanbul, and Athens – another city that has been a reluctant political epicentre for the past year – made the trip a must.
The next few posts are a series of postcards from a trip that only took place because of the Arab Spring. The original cruise schedule included Egypt, and was changed a few months ago because of concerns about the safety of a stop-off in Alexandria.
Ironically, the new schedule was subject to a last minute change even as the trip was underway. The cruise line cancelled a stop-off in Ashdod – the nearest port to Jerusalem – because the recent Israeli missile raid in Gaza raised concerns that Ashdod was within rocket-lobbing distance.
But the trip was not just about Israel. So what follow are some thoughts from the various stop-offs – starting with Istanbul – and reflections on the experience of spending ten days on a cruise ship, not something I do on a regular basis.