Israel Reflections 2013–It’s Still Complicated

As we wrote about the last Israel trip, noting the complications and contradictions of the country are crucial to also understanding it.  On the 65th anniversary of Israeli independence, this blog post from student Kristina Minor discusses the importance and implications of Zionism:

Israel is by far the most complicated place I have ever been.  There is no way to fully understand what is going on in the area without walking the streets and speaking to the people.  What hit me most about the trip was seeing the beauty and passion for life and harmony that has emerged as a result of hundreds of years of conflict and pain.

The very foundations of the Israeli are based on a painful Jewish history and promises waiting to be fulfilled. 

For example, the reason the Israeli Defense Force is not permitted to attack unarmed persons is because during the Holocaust millions of unarmed Jews were mercilessly executed.  And one of the reasons that there is such a strong passion for Judaism and tradition and for the Israeli State is because they were taken away from the Jews for so many years.  Despite my research on Zionism prior to the trip, I did not really understand what it meant until I saw the look in some of the Israelis’ eyes when they spoke about it.  Zionism is not just a political or even religious stance; it is truly engrained in the very core of Israeli citizens.  I think the level of conflict in the region is so different from that in the United States because the point of contention is a non-negotiable system of values and beliefs that are often directly opposed to each other.

This complexity is manifested in the Old City in Jerusalem, which is really the epicenter of three of the major religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Within less than a square mile lies a Jewish temple, a Muslim mosque, and a Christian church.   It was honestly a bit surreal to hear both the church bells signaling and the mosque “calling” its people to come worship at the same time, in virtually the same place.  And instead of an outbreak of fighting, which is what I expected given the skewed American media reports, there was this unspoken understanding and tolerance allowing everyone to worship God in their own way.  One of the most surprising structures was the gorgeous mosque that stood right in the middle of where the original Jewish temples used to be, before they were demolished by the Babylonians and Romans.  If ever there were to be an outbreak of violence in the near future in Jerusalem, I would expect it to start there.

“Zeh mesubach maod” means “this is very complicated.”  And there is really no other way to describe Israel and the surrounding areas.  We had meetings in Jerusalem and could see the giant cement wall blocking off Bethlehem.  We sat on a volcano drinking tea and at the same time listened to bombs going off in Syria.  While I think it is both necessary and admirable for Americans and other countries to get involved in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they cannot help while sitting in cushy offices thousands of miles away.  This is an experience that I think everyone should have at least once.

Cross posted at Indisputably.

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