In 2009, Israel received over $2.5 billion in United States foreign aid. According to President Clinton, “America and Israel share a special bond. Our relationship is unique among all nations. Like America, Israel is a strong democracy, a symbol of freedom, and an oasis of liberty, a home to the oppressed and persecuted.”
According to Noah Bernstein, “The Western media’s fascination with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long overshadowed death and oppression in other parts of the world.” Why is it that we rarely hear about Sri Lanka, Darfur, and Rwanda? I agree with Bernstein’s argument that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a “proxy for a much larger ideological clash between the west and the Muslim world, (and that) a sharp escalation in violence in Israel or Palestine could spark a regional if not global conflict.” However, there is no excuse for the unfair media coverage of human rights violations. Bernstein concludes his argument by saying that “concern for human rights needs to stretch beyond a small patch of land in the Middle East.”
Our group participated in an orientation exercise, upon arriving in Israel, and I learned that I was the only student that considers Israel is a Jewish and Democratic state. One memorable experience was meeting Orthodox Rabbi (Philip) Glasser in an Israeli “settlement” in the West Bank. Rabbi Glasser grew up in a Reform Jewish home in New York. He felt a special attraction to Israel and remarked that something felt different in 1996 when he arrived in Israel. Considering himself to be a progressive liberal, Rabbi Glasser calls Israel his “real” home. I asked if their family believes Israel is a Jewish and Democratic state, and their answer was yes.
Another memorable excursion by our group was meeting our staff member Dina’s Palestinian family near the West Bank. It was really interesting hearing a Palestinian perspective and stories about their experiences causing a shift in their attitude towards the Jewish people. One story was about a family member going to an Israeli hospital and receiving equal/excellent treatment. Another story was about another Palestinian family member becoming ill in Tel Aviv and how Israeli paramedics immediately helped her by performing surgery on the side of the road. “Becoming allies means helping each other heal.” Neither of these stories surprised me whatsoever. In fact, I fully expected the Israelis to act professionally, fairly, and respectfully regardless of their patient’s ideology or ethnicity. I asked if their family is friends with any Jews and learned that some Jewish people are part of their extended family.
According to Robert Rotberg, “Conflicts cannot easily start, be consummated, or be resolved without an awareness and attention to the narratives of both sides to conflicts.”
I have a great amount of respect for the Dajani family for pursuing peace in search of the common good, trying to build bridges in the midst of an extremely divisive conflict, and being accepting while keeping an open mind. I was very impressed and left hopeful knowing that reasonable and very smart people exist on both sides of the conflict.
Expecting to hear a balanced perspective based on building an empathetic understanding of multiple narratives, I believe using words like holocaust, ethnic cleansing, we, they, us, and them are not helpful towards the conversation. Our group attended a lecture by a Palestinian in the West Bank where he compared Netanyahu to Hitler and Lieberman to Al Qaeda. Arguing that Netanyahu runs the Obama administration, the lecturer claimed the Jewish people have a monopoly on the Holocaust and are committing war crimes. However, locating common ground, discovering consensual values, and building bridges can only be achieved through meaningful and constructive perspectives.
Playing soccer and talking with some Palestinian refugees, I learned their perspective that the State of Israel will no longer exist within ten years. One of the refugees asked me to imagine someone forcibly kicking you out of your home. “You would call the police, but the person that kicked you out is the police. What do you do? Fight back.” Our group also met Women Against the Occupation and for Human Rights, which contend that the Israelis are intentionally attempting to demoralize the Palestinians, trying to force Palestinians to move/leave, and that Israelis think the Palestinians are terrorists. Attempting to provoke an emotional response through sad images and dreary music, the video displayed seemed unfair portraying only one perspective ignorant of any opposing narratives.
Our group also met Eyal Raviv, which founded “The Facebook of Peace” entitled Mepeace.org. This network for peace exemplifies peace, enables a movement for peace through the Internet, and empowers people and organizations with interaction, information, and inspiration. Mepeace.org has 125 events annually, inspires through Facebook, and provides information through an online resource center. Unfortunately, Mr. Raviv regularly receives death threats and was on a hit list.
Our group also visited the United Nations (UNTSO), Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, the Western Wall, and I spent Shabbat at a conservative Jewish Rabbi’s home in the German Colony (Western Jerusalem). Following the wonderful Shabbat dinner, Rabbi Schiff engaged his family in an educational conversation about true meaning behind that week’s Torah portion. Our group also visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial) exploring the extremely sad testimonials and historical visuals. Powerful messages emanate throughout the hall of remembrance including stories of layers of people (and) layers of wood causing the Jewish people to not even have enough strength to cry.