In the next few days, I will post several blogs compiled of postings from my students who were asked this week to reflect on what they learned from the trip to Israel (earlier posts on our trip can be found on the blog starting here). I’ll start tonight with third-year student Katie Bricco’s overall take on the trip and understanding of the “other”:
We had the opportunity to meet some extremely bright and influential people in the Israel-Palestinian debate. When I think back to the speakers we heard from, my mind turns to the three Arab men that we met. [Ed. note–We met with Justice Joubron of the Israeli Supreme Court, Ali from the Parent’s Circle, and Youssef Jabareen from the Arab Center for Law & Policy.] Many of the Israelis (Jews) that we met were committed to the concept of peace and, likewise, were very open minded and tried to present fair assessments of how the conflict affects everyone involved. I felt that I got a very good sense of the conflict from the Israeli perspective, but we often got the Palestinian and Arab Israeli perspective through the lens of an Israeli Jew. There was something about hearing these concerns from people within the affected community that made me want to pay attention. For me, understanding the human rights concerns that the Arab population in Israel faces helps me to understand a facet of war that I have never been able to relate to.
Essentially, Israeli (Jews) are concerned about safety.
They have a fully formed and functioning country based on Jewish ideals . . . exactly what they envisioned when they fought for independence in the 1940’s. My impression is that Israelis don’t care much about whether Gaza and the West Bank become part of Israel . . . IF turning over the land would mean peaceful borders and interactions between the residents. I can relate to the desire for safety. I’ve lived in a post-9/11 world filled with Level Orange Alerts and near-body cavity searches to board airplanes.
I have much more difficulty relating to a systematic cycle of discrimination and segregation that I liken to conditions in the South pre-1950’s. The closest comparison I can make is to the segregated inner-city neighborhoods that populate the schools I’ve been privileged to teach in. After championing myself as a forward-thinker in the area of diversity, the most surprising moment of self-awareness on the trip was walking through the Arab markets in Jerusalem and realizing how tense I felt. I was hyperaware of cars with a junk-loaded back seat. I felt nervous when I heard Arab shop owners yelling to each other in Arabic. I think this anxiety stemmed from a combination of being among a culture that was completely unlike my own and thinking of all the images of terrorists I’ve seen on TV and in the movies.
When I took a step back and began meeting our Arab speakers, I could see that there was no need to be afraid. These people wanted the same thing the Israelis do, a good, safe life. Suddenly, I could see the cycle. Not knowing and understanding another culture makes us afraid. Fear encourages us to separate and discriminate. Discriminating creates anger. Anger causes acting out. Acting out causes fear. This cycle fuels the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also racial, religious, and class tensions here. The only way to break this cycle is to remove the fear, and to remove the fear, we must understand. Now, I can’t honestly say that a week in the Middle East has made me fearless, but I can say that I am committed to continuing to try and understand.
Cross posted at Indisputably.