My biggest surprise when we arrived in Tel Aviv was how familiar it felt. Aside from the Middle Eastern style music playing on the radio and the Hebrew/Arabic/English road signs I felt as though I could have flown into southern California. As we continued to an Israeli friend’s house for dinner, my sheltered feeling didn’t alleviate. Their pronunciation of humus with the stereotypical throat sound was one of the few indication that we had left the United States and entered such a prominent region. As the night continued in conversation about the conflict things continued on a hypothetical and philosophical level. I could hear that they were experiencing intense conflict and had experienced great tragedy and violence in their lives yet I could not see it.
The next morning, as we toured the Old City in Jerusalem, I couldn’t shake of the feeling that I was a mere tourist avoiding the true purpose of the trip. While the buildings were beautiful and the history so wonderfully rich, the fact that we were in Israel had yet to sink in. That is until the moment I saw the Palestinian neighborhood. I was immediately met with dilapidated houses, hanging laundry, and piles upon piles of trash. Our guide told us the trash had accumulated in every corner because the Israeli government did not provide trash services to the Palestinians. The conflict continued to become a reality for me when we saw the wall up close for the first time. On it was graffiti that said, among other things, “When ignorance reigns, lives are lost” and “Welcome to apartheid”. Seeing these strong and charged words in black and white solidified for me the oppression and injustice the Palestinian people are living with daily. I also realized an Israeli teenager could easily ignore the conflict and occupation now that the wall has been constructed and the “acts of terror” have decreased significantly. A Palestinian teenager, however, lives in constant reminder that they are living are living in an occupation, that they are unwanted by many and unjustly hated by some. I am left with the feeling that as we heard during our discussion on the first night…”Life is complicated in this region.”