After studying abroad for six months in the heart of “the holy land,” Jerusalem, I would like to share some insight into the real situation on the ground in Israel. Most students with busy lives have very little time between sips of beer and Four Loko (R.I.P.) to read the extensive histories of every modern conflict. Instead we must rely on the media to give us the SparkNoted version. Unfortunately, the media sometimes fails to act responsibly in delivering the “big picture” of a conflict to unsuspecting readers. The point of this article is not to be condescending, but to share my account as a foreigner witnessing firsthand the Arab-Israeli conflict.
I have studied and toured extensively Israel/Palestine and some of its neighbors, much to the chagrin of my parents (My mom every other week: “You went where?!”). I have seen riots unfold in the Old City and near my dorms, as well as witnessed bomb squads blow up suspicious packages from my window. I have walked and driven through hundreds of Israeli checkpoints and spoken with many Palestinians and Israelis. I have tried my hardest to get the most out of my experience here in the Middle East, both intellectually and emotionally. I can confidently say that the situation here should be viewed with great optimism, but also with sensitive empathy.
When I sit down to eat lunch in the (awesomely delicious) student cafeteria on campus, I cannot help but feel strong emotions as I see a growing line of students waiting for their bags to be searched by an Uzi-wielding guard before they can eat. The cafeteria had been the site of a horrific bombing no more than eight years ago during the second intifada, killing nine students and wounding almost a hundred.
It is hard to imagine someone wanting to kill the very generation that is trying to study and bring about peace. Palestinians and Israelis try to avoid speaking about those times, as the horror experienced by both sides is almost beyond comprehension. Listening to stories from Israelis about their near death experiences from suicide attacks is equally appalling as listening to Palestinians speak about Israeli tanks firing on the guerillas shooting from the home next door. Try to imagine a bomb exploding at the dining commons if the student population of the university were reduced to just the two towers of FT (also R.I.P.) and not 25,000. Paranoia and fear are still very much a reality on the streets in Israel as each resident is reminded of these emotions every time they pass through a checkpoint or a metal detector (which is often).
Over 80 percent of Israeli citizens have or are serving in the Israeli armed forces and 100 percent are related to or know someone in the armed forces. For the aforementioned reasons, it is practically impossible to withdraw yourself from the greater conflict in Israel, yet the perseverance of the Israeli and Palestinian people has allowed them to attempt to lead relatively normal lives.
Israeli and Palestinian media is overwhelmed with headlines about the conflict. The U.S. and Europe, however, are guilty of not caring about peace. Obama’s current political plight is a prime example of this as people generally care more about the federal deficit than his accomplishments in the international environment. Just checking the front page of an Israeli newspaper, such as Haaretz, an Arab newspaper like Al-Jazeera or speaking with an Israeli or Palestinian, will show the dedication of both parties to studying and solving the conflict.
Asking if Israelis OR Palestinians care about peace is as ridiculous a question as asking if a homeless person cares about his next meal. Let’s try to be more vigilant discussing other cultures, conflicts and histories. Let us step out of our bubble and intentionally put ourselves in vulnerable positions for the sake of understanding cultures different from our own, so that we may gain some much needed perspective that is not spoon-fed to us by Time, CNN or Fox News.