Israel/Palestine Preparations

28 February 2017 – Tara Kleponis

After planning for months of traveling to Israel and Palestine, the trip is finally days away, and I’m struggling to fathom just how soon I’ll be abroad. As soon as I learned about an opportunity to travel to an area with a culture so rich and a conflict so deep that the only way to understand is to go, I knew I had to be there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip where I will experience religion and disdain, homestays and hotels, bussing and hiking, new foods, new oceans, and so much more. I’d never imagined that my senior year would include a journey to a region brand new to me, yet here I am, packing my suitcase and gathering my passport.

In Israel and Palestine, I will be speaking to locals to hear their stories and learn about their cultures. As there is conflict ongoing in the area, I will be sure to hear stories that contrast with one another in belief and action, yet every single one will be true. Why is that? Each person has had their own experience, and some have dealt with situations which have caused them to look at the world and their neighbors in different ways. While abroad, it is not the job of us Westtown students to draw conclusions about what we encounter, but to listen respectfully and learn from those we meet.

I cannot wait to explore a place so different from the one I know, and hope to see the world in a new way, or a bigger way, upon my return. Here I will share my personal experiences from Israel and Palestine–talk to you soon!

A Hopeful Cynicism – Mike

First off, I should apologize for not posting sooner. I came down with some kind of nasty infection about 3 days ago, and while I feel better now, nobody wants to read posts about how long it took me to read Lolita(quite a while) or how fun being sick is(not very).
When I wrote my resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict last year in Hiroshima-9/11, I thought I had everything mapped out. Two state solution, path of the Wall/Border/Fence, resource allocation, etc. What I forgot were the people, the ones who have the power to put my resolution into action. While I have immensely enjoyed speaking to a vast array of people with a vast array of views, it hasn’t brought about the impact that I thought it would before I took off in Philadelphia. Namely, it hasn’t made me hopeful that a solution is possible any time soon.
Before you scream at me through your monitor, I will explain. What I mean to say is that by hearing almost every imaginable viewpoint from either side, it has further complicated the conflict in my mind. Two quick examples:
1.)The definition and implication of the word Zionist. Even some of the most “progressive” Israelis that we talked to, i.e. Arik Ascherman and Lydia Aisenberg call themselves Zionists. Zionism is a big, confusing word that in my opinion does not merit a specific definition. Google it and come to your own conclusions, as I’d be foolish to even attempt to define it. What I do know is that Zionism has huge implications and a wide range of impact. What’s concerning about the word itself and its many definitions is the fact that most Palestinian “progressive” groups who we talked to are completely unwilling to work with Zionists. Their reasons range but their conclusion remains the same: they won’t work with Zionists. Clearly, you can see the problem. If even the most progressive groups are unwilling to collaborate, then, put simply, who will?
2.)The disunity of the Palestinian people. This issue is a bit more hard-hitting because it’s one that I hadn’t heard about until David Mendelson educated us about it in one of our many meetings. Until that time, it had been my belief that the Palestinian people were only in a conflict with outside forces. I now realize that the Palestinians have each other to deal with us well. Besides the obvious split of Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively, the Palestinians are divided into different ethnic groups, religions and viewpoints on the conflict. While they all want peace in some way or another, the catch is in the details.
These two issues alone could spark a novel(and I’m sure they have). Unfortunately, they are just two of an ever-growing mental jigsaw puzzle I have, and they all must fit together if there is to be any hope of seeing something beautiful when the puzzle is put together. While it is appalling to hear kids my age say that they hate all Jews(!), I have been able to draw some hope from these jagged puzzle pieces.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum came as a all-too-solemn reminder of where I come from, and it was an experience that I’d prefer not to blog about in great detail. And while it was a bleak reminder of a bleak past, it had a hopeful message: Even the Holocaust ended. So I’d prefer to approach the rest of this trip with a hopeful cynicism, to draw every last bit of hope out of everything we hear, but at the same time, to remain realistic.
I hope to post something lighter(sorry to depress you) before I leave, as there is quite a lot of good to share. Until then, I shall react and reflect.

Mike D.

A Transformation of my Ideals (in under 48 hours)


Let me just start out by saying that the two days since I last blogged have been emotionally exhausting and it is past ten at night here, so my train of thought may be a little off. We have been staying a Ramat Hashofet Kibbutz in Israel, and talked to mostly Israelis about their perspective on this conflict. Yesterday we spent the day with a man named David. He was not born in Israel, but has spent a large portion of his life here. He works with an organization called Givat Haviva which is a learning center in Israel that works with both Israelis and Palestinian to break down cultural barriers. David is a brilliant man and I learned so much about cultural history of the Jews. He also took us into a town called Barta’a which is an Arab town that was split in half by the green line in the late 40’s, making half the town citizens of Israel and half citizens of Jordan. This, of course, creates an interesting dynamic within the town and taught us a lot about the tensions for Arabs with Israeli citizenship between both Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

Today we visited a Kibbutz about ten minutes away called Mishmar Ha’emek. We spent our time there with a woman named Lydia who has lived in Israel for 45 years and also works at Givat Haviva. We toured the Kibbutz and learned that a Kibbutz is basically an intentional socialist community. All members live on the Kibbutz, the work they do is to benefit the Kibbutz, and all the money they make must be given to the Kibbutz. In some ways, it is similar to communes that we hear about in the U.S., but a Kibbutz is much more accepted and part of the Israeli culture than communes are in the U.S.

Since I began learning about the conflict, I have also looked to Israel for blame. And here I am, in the middle of Israel proper, spending two days with Israelis who very much believe in the State of Israel. One of them served in the Israeli army and would willingly go back if called to protect Israel, and one is a self-identified Zionist. You can imagine my initial rejection of their ideas. But getting to know them and listening to their ideas showed me that it wasn’t so easy to paint them into this stereotypical “bad Israeli” corner. Both spend a large amount of time working with Arabs in both Israel and the West Bank. When we visited the town of Barta’a with David, we met someone who he considered his brother. They both clearly care about Palestinians, and are actively working towards peace and equality among Israelis and Palestinians.

You may be able to imagine my confusion. A whole new side of this conflict was opened to me in just two days time. I wrote the following paragraph a second ago to describe how I have been feeling. It came out as a blabbering mess, but I am going to leave it in that form to show you what has been going on in my head for the past two days:

Of course Israel should exist! The Jews need and deserve a homeland! But at the same time, I don’t think what Israel is doing is right. The Palestinians were already here. Someone can’t come and take someone else’s land. Israel has no right. But they do! They have been oppressed for thousands of years. Hell, six million of them were murder less than 100 years ago! They need a place where they can express their own culture in beliefs safely. This is where their origins are. Of course they would be called to move back to this land. But, it isn’t safe here. No wonder they have been the aggressor. But that doesn’t excuse their actions. They have still pushed thousands of people out of their homes.

And it goes on…

Hopefully now you can see how, after two days, I am thoroughly “pooped”. There was a point this afternoon where I wanted to go back to my room, watch a stupid movie, and not even think about the words “Palestine” and “Israel” ever again. It is just so overwhelming. I never thought that it would be like this. I knew I would be challenged, but I honestly couldn’t foresee just how pushed I would be. Just imagine taking something that you think you understand pretty well, and having it flipped completely upside down in the course of 48 hours is mind blowing. Before coming here I didn’t consider myself “anti-Israel”, but I did mostly side with Palestine. Now, I have been exposed to the richness of the Jewish culture. It is truly impossible to understand without experiencing it firsthand.

While I am totally confused and turned around by my revelations of the past 48 hours, I have nothing to say to David and Lydia but “thank you”. Without them I would still be blind to half of this conflict, and I am extremely grateful that they opened my eyes.

Now that I have rambled on for a really long time I am first going to apologize for doing so (sorry) and then I am going to sleep.

לילה טוב (good night),