So I’ve decided that I can’t encompass all that I am learning everyday here in one blog post. It’s all so interweaved and “complicated” that it is literally impossible for me to communicate to you my experiences. From now on I’m going to try and communicate to you the themes that I encounter. The theme that I’ve brought from today was that everything is grey. People come to this area knowing the black and white. The agreements, disagreements, political documents, etc. What is impossible to understand or recognize until you get here is the human element. The emotions of the land are truly remarkable. So much love, so much pain, so much hate, and so much happiness. Today we talked to a woman named Lydia who lives on a Kibbutz and is heavily involved in the peace process. We were talking about the conflict and she told us that her conclusion was that one side needed to make the first move. I then asked her, “Who do you think is in a better position to make that move?” She paused, looked me right in the eyes, and smiled. She said,” twenty years ago I would have that answer for you, but today I don’t.” Lydia then went on to tell me about how one day, 20 years ago, when she was driving to work she witnessed a Palestinian car pull out and smash into a public Israeli bus. That day she saw six Israelis burn to death in front of her eyes. She then said a few years later her son, who was in the army, was in a coma at a hospital because of a gun wound that he received during the war. She said a few days after her son entered the hospital a Palestinian man who was also fighting in the war, but on the other side, entered the same hospital. She said the shot Palestinian man lay next to her son for days and received the same service and care that he did. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. When we study the conflict it is impossible to account for the emotions of the people who live here until you come here. Not everything is black and white, in fact most of it is grey.
Today we talked a lot about Israeli stereotypes and what it means to be Israeli. Israel was established as a religious homeland for the Jews, right? So next we have to decide: “what does Jewish mean?” According to the Israeli government you have to be at least 1/8 Jewish because that was the rule for Nazi persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. For some it means you have to study the Talmud and devote yourself to Judaism. And for others it might mean you go to temple once every week. The definition for what is a religious Jew varies from person to person. Some people in Israel aren’t religious at all and use Jewish as a racial identifier. From that racial identifier stereotypes are developed; Jews have big noses, curly hair, etc. Then I can’t help but think “was Israel established as a state for a specific race?” That doesn’t seem fair to me. No where else in the world is there a state for a specific race that isn’t perceived as an oppressive society. This type of conversation continued throughout the day. How is Israel so radical and stubborn about its own policies towards another people when they don’t even know who they are? The man that we met and talked with about all this, and more, today was named David Mendelsohn. He is a professor at a local university and teaches linguistics. His voice and opinion was amazing and opened up more doors to the conflict than I had previously considered.
The next question that was forced upon me was “What is Palestinian?” Many, as they are called, “Israeli-Arabs” live in Israel with full Israeli citizenship even though they would consider themselves Palestinian. They were “trapped” in Israel when the wall was constructed in 2002. Palestinians had to choose between their current families on one side of the wall and their extended family on other side. Even today there are villages split on the green line. One half of the town is considered West Bank and the other Israel, but there is no wall between them. Today we visited a village Barta’a where this situation is most prevalent. Half of the town is in Israel with Palestinians living in it. The streets are clean and the houses have tiled roofs. We literally walked over a water grate and passed into the West Bank and the change was immediate. The roads were bumpy, there was trash everywhere, and the houses were rather undeveloped. The Palestinians on this side of the water grate were in quite the predicament. They were technically still in Israel based on the borders created by the wall, but also technically in West Bank based on the border set by the green line. So here were these Palestinians who were living in limbo. The village was in fact a hub of stores because they don’t have to pay any taxes. The Palestinian government can’t get to them to collect taxes and the Israeli government is too lazy to collect taxes because they technically aren’t Israeli citizens. So here were these Palestinians who didn’t know who they were. Once again I cannot stress how hard it is to describe what I’m learning in words and my time restraints. So the question that I was left with was who is who and what is what?
AHHH! Just got to my first blog entry today. Sorry for the delay Westtown! Anyway the 10 1/2 hour flight yesterday ran relatively smoothly. Sleep came in fits and bursts, but I still managed 5-6 hours on the cramped plane. When we stepped off the plane into Tel Aviv the first thing that struck me was the different culture. I was surrounded by Hebrew everywhere I turned. In other countries that I have visited there is usually a language spoken that sounds relatively familiar, but Hebrew is completely different in its written form and guttural essence. Anyway, we all managed to grab our luggage, pass through customs, and get on the bus with relative ease. That night for dinner we were invited to Remi and Orna’s, T.Melissa’s friends. The food was AMAZING. Everything was fresh. From the pita, to the cucumbers, to the tomatoes it was all magnificent. And then to top it all off was the best humus I’ve ever had in my life. After dinner we discussed the conflict a little and learned some of the “Jewish” side of it all. The most interesting part of the discussion was when our Arab bus driver chimed in and had a small disagreement with what Remi was saying. Remi and the driver got into a little bit of a spat and it was the first time that I could see the conflict playing out right in front of my very eyes. That night we checked into our hotel and I couldn’t believe it, but I managed to get a restful night’s sleep.
Today we toured Old Jerusalem and met with a man named Jeff Halper. In the beginning of the day the most striking thing for me was when we were walking along the Via Dolorosa and seeing groups of tourists carrying fake, giant crosses down the same path that Jesus walked. There were usually four of them carrying the cross while their group followed and some one would lead in the front reading the bible out loud. It came across to me as an almost extreme way to show faith in your religion and it just wasn’t something I was expecting or accustomed to coming from the States. We also saw the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock, which were some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. The blue and gold of the Dome of the Rock made it stick out from the mostly tan/white hue of Jerusalem. The second half of our day we met with a man named Jeff Halper and learned all about Palestinian house demolition. We then took a tour of East Jerusalem and that was the first part of the trip that has really provoked emotions from me. It’s impossible for me to put into words what I saw and what those things meant. Touring East Jerusalem and seeing the Palestinian desolation in comparison to the Israeli luxury was sickening. One moment we would be in a Palestinian neighborhood and there would be trash everywhere, run down buildings, demolished houses, people begging, and a slew of other awful things. Then we would turn a corner and be in one of the wealthiest Jewish settlements. There were pools, clean streets, working lights,etc. What struck me most was the water. There were Palestinians down the street who barely had enough water to get by let alone thrive, and then there were Israelis who were flocking to pools and abusing their luxuries. It just didn’t seem right. I’ve got to give the computer off now because my fellow bloggers are getting impatient, but I’m eager to see what else this place has to show me.