I’m not sure how to describe the emotions coursing through me in this moment. All I know is that that is exactly what they are doing, coursing. I can feel them in my skull like a headache that won’t go away. They inhale and exhale with my breath. They make my knees tremble and my cold feet colder. While I’m sure I’m overwhelmed I can’t say quite with what. Is it the frustration at how each piece of information makes the conflict seem a little bit more unsolvable? Is it the fact that my mind so badly wants to be able to pick a side while I know there is no right side to pick? I see Israelis living in fear after hundreds of years of persecution, living with the mindset that it is them against the world, that they must fight first and empathize later. In what feels like the blink of an eye I see Palestinians living in the constant oppression of occupation. I see them desperately trying to hold on to the land that has been in their family for generation all the time knowing their existence on it has been deemed illegal. Most of all, however, I see a loss of hope, a creation of hate, and an unbinding sense of ignorance.
“I hope one day there is no need for the existence of an Israeli state.” were the words of our Canadian born, Israeli guide, David with the implication that, for now, a Jewish state is deserved and necessary. He uttered them in that matter of fact way that made me certain he believed them. Do the Jews have the right to a solely Jewish state? If so what does this mean for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are currently living has half-rate citizens? They have been separated from their families by a concrete wall twice the size of that which separated the Germans in Berlin. They are forced to abandon land, lose jobs, leave schools because a 15 minute commute suddenly turned into an hour and half. “Welcome to apartheid” they graffiti on that concrete that so definitively changed their lives.
Here I am experiencing this with the certainty that lives are being lost and rights are being denied. Here I am on my oversized and over-comfortable tour bus looking down at the people whose suffering I can’t even begin to understand. I am privileged in ways beyond my comprehension and as I look through that glass and look into the curious eyes staring back at me I wonder what I am doing here. Not that I’m too uncomfortable or too out of place or too overwhelmed. I am simply wondering what I am going to do about it. And as I sit and stare I am brought back to my previous trips to Bangladesh. I may be four years older and innumerable experiences wiser than when I went on those trips but I am just as helpless. More than anything I saw suffering. I saw children maimed on the street in Bangladesh that I knew had been purposefully harmed so that they would make more money begging for the sick adults who “cared” for them. Images like these, though four years old now, will never be far from right behind my eyes. My third day attempting to understand the Israel/Palestine conflict by witnessing it first hand and I know this trip will be the same. What will I do for them? How can I help? Most importantly where can I find hope?