In December, I embarked on a trip to Israel and Palestine, to explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and immerse myself in the culture. Going into the trip, I was quite uninformed as to what the conflict surrounded, and I had no idea how incredibly tense the situation would be.
It is true, obviously, that both Israel and Palestine have good reason for the way they feel about one another. But something that struck me during one of the many talks that we had with members from both the Muslim and Jewish community was the fact that dialogue is quite absent within this conflict. We met people who had never met a member of the other side until adulthood, despite the fact that they had grown up or worked right next to each other. At first I thought, how crazy is that? That you can somehow manage to interact only with those of your same opinion, despite being so close in physical proximity to the other narrative.
But I realized over the course of the trip that it is not just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which this is present, because this situation is often paralleled in groups everywhere, even on campuses around America. Liberal, conservative, black, white, even north campus, south campus, the list goes on and on and on. We, as humans, are inclined towards what we know and what we believe in, but we often do not take the time to truly hear out the opposing side; we often shut out the narratives of those that we do not agree with because of our own negative experiences with them, which is a completely fair and valid response. I’m slowly learning, however, how incredibly parasitic and detrimental an attitude like that can be, because how can we ever expect to overcome adversity when we have no desire to even look the other person in the eye and see their humanity, and the value of their opinion?
We met people who were pro one-state solution (for those of you who don’t know- I had no idea beforehand- a one-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves integration of both the Israeli and Palestinian states to form one unitary state) and pro two-state solution (this stance takes on the creation of “two-states for two different people,” i.e. the Israeli and Palestinian people would remain separate). To be honest, after meeting with people from both sides of the proposed solutions, I left even more confused on what should and can be done to solve this issue, so for those who have asked which narrative I agree with more, I cannot say, because the situation is ever-complicating. In a way, I feel at peace with the confusion I feel, because it only means that there is so much room for growth, and I am so hungry for knowledge now, not only for this situation but for all of the things I do not understand.
Anyways, additionally at the heart of this conflict lies the tension over Temple Mount (Jewish term), or Haram esh-Sharif to the Islamic population. Prior to my trip, I had no idea how incredibly raw and emotional the situation over this space is; Jewish people are not allowed to call the area Temple Mount without being asked to leave the space, and they are also not able to pray upon it. This causes issues, however, as Temple Mount is a sacred space for the Jewish faith, as it is where the second Temple lay after its first destruction, as well as where Herod expanded his kingdom. On the flip side, people who identify with the Pro-Palestinian viewpoint are afraid due to the Jewish prophecy inciting the building of a third temple, which would destroy the Il-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, which are both extremely important and valuable in the Islamic faith, thus they would like to preserve their area by keeping it strictly to Islam. It was painful to see my Jewish friends not be able to pray on a land that is so important to the core of their faith, and it was painful for me to see my Muslim friends who wish to see a united space between both faiths, and feel guilty for a situation that they have no control over. There were many moments within the trip that honestly felt hopeless, because of the amount of damage I was seeing that had been done on both sides. I found myself wondering if any of us would live to see the day that both communities could be in harmony.
The moments that gave me hope, however, were found in the times that we would meet with members of both the Israeli and Palestinian communities at the same time. I found hope when I saw parents of fallen soldiers and children on both sides of the green line be able to call each other dear friends, and talk about their pain together, as a shared experience instead of pointing the finger. I found hope in Noor, a man from Palestine, whose family had been displaced from their area in Israel and our chaperone, Lipaz, an Israeli woman who grew up in the same area, being able to look each other in the eye, empathize with one another, and embrace. I found hope in meeting with Kids4Peace, an organization dedicated to educating children on the conflict and building friendships with Palestinian and Israeli children. I found hope within my own group, who have become some of my dearest friends, in the way that our members of the Jewish and Muslim community interacted. They were able to get to each others’ levels, foster deep friendships with one another, and communicate effectively. I found hope as I stood at the edge of the Gaza Strip, looking at a towering wall with the words “Path to Peace” scrawled out in Hebrew.
I sincerely apologize for the rambling; if you made it to this point I applaud you, thanks for trekking with me. (: The biggest takeaway from this trip that I’d like to leave you all with is this: I spent 10 days in the heart of the conflict, and I still don’t know enough. I am still wrestling with so many components of our trip, even a month later. But what I learned, and what I know, without a shadow of a doubt, is that peace and communication are completely possible. I’m not saying it’s easy by any means, but it is possible. We spend so much time in adversity; we are unwilling to confront the validity in the opinions of people who don’t share our world views. But we don’t have enough time for that! We don’t have enough time to waste in adversity. We don’t have enough time to spend hating one another. I learned that life is so abundant; it offers so much when we are able to accept the things we dislike about one another and move forward with the intention of loving and understanding one another! I believe in the possibility of standing alongside one another, not in opposition but in resilience and solidarity. And I hope you do too.