>Israel: Contrast, Conflict and Compassion


Contrast.  From hip, young Tel Aviv to the ancient feel of Jerusalem, from the beach at Haifa to the desert mountains of Ein Gedi, from the tattered Palestinian capital city of Ramallah to the wine country feel that surrounds the Sea of Galilee, Israel and the Palestinian territories is a land of startling contrast.  And that’s just the places!  To describe the people . . . the word “contrast” barely begins to explain.  It is a place of Muslims, Jews and Christians, the down to earth and the radical, peacemakers, protesters and tourists.

With so many vying factions it almost makes sense that conflict should arise.  I think about it like this:  When you mix black and white, you get gray  . . . or sometimes you get zebra stripes. But what is it they are all vying for?  Is it simply the delineation of where those stripes fall? Perhaps respect?  Autonomy?  The survival of a culture?   It is probably all of these and more.  Whatever the reasons this is a land of contrasts and an adamant refusal to blend into gray.  It’s the age old dilemma of the salad bowl or the melting pot, except that here it is a salad with a very bitter dressing cast over everything. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that I have always tried to remain neutral on.  So intricate is the history of the situation that both sides (in my opinion) have valid points.  Here is the Wikipedia version of that history.

(Read more…)

However, I will admit, that after having traveled throughout Israel and into the West Bank, my sympathy for the Palestinians has grown. Bethlehem, Jericho, and the Palestinian epicenter, Rammallah, (all in the West Bank) simply feel like they are oppressed, especially when compared to some of the nicer places in Israel.  In the Arab areas, there just seems to be a tension, a certain sadness, lingering in the air.  This is a picture of the infamous Separation Wall:

And beyond it, Ramallah:

While I was in Jerusalem, two news events occured.  One of these was the death of 9 people aboard the flotilla at the hands of Israeli forces. Here’s the CNN story.  The other was the deaths of Palestinian divers off the coast of Gaza. Here’s the NY Times story.  This is a picture of a Palestinian prayer protest outside of the Damascus Gate in response to the actions of the Israeli military: 

A few days later a different protest occured.  The Temple Mount is a place very important to the Jewish faith, that refers to the actual land.  Under Muslim occupation though, the Dome of the Rock was built on that very land, as a shrine to the place where Mohammad is to have ascended into heaven.  The Dome of the Rock is the third most holy place in Islam.  In this photo, Orthodox Jewish women are protesting and chanting, “We will take the Temple Mount!”

But there are always two sides, and in this case, far more.  It is not simply Israelis versus Palestinians.  Many Palestinians in the West Bank are at odds with the much more extremist and violent factions in the Gaza Strip.  Regarding the polıtıcs of the situation, the possibility of an improved situation for the West Bank is hampered by the instigating actions of Hamas.  In kind, there is contention between Jewish Israelis as well.  I spoke with one woman who explained that most Israeli Jews are completely opposed to the actions of the Orthodox (Hasidic) Jews, describing them as violent and unwilling to compromise while their actions impede progress toward a peaceful state.  She went on to say that the Orthodox Jews are given special treatment from the government in that they are not required to serve in the military as the rest of the country is, and are given welfare, simply for being Hasidic.  Meanwhile, their extremist political views constrain progress. 

So.  What is to be done?  What is the solution?

One of the things that has kept me optimistic concerning the plight of human kind, even though we exist in a world where many terrible things happen, with a seemingly overwhelming array of conflicts, is that in each of those areas of strife, in every bad situation, there are people working for good.  In my time in Israel, I was lucky enough to meet some of those people.  I was really excited to meet up with a fellow student in my graduate program at GSPIA, Laura Smith, who is interning in Jerusalem this summer at the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture.  You can follow her blog about her experiences in Israel here.  
I also met a pro-basketball player for a Palestinian team and some of his friends who spend their time volunteering at Peace Players International, an organization in Jerusalem (and elsewhere) that brings children of different and conflicting backgrounds together to bond by playing basketball, in this case Arab and Israeli kids.  Perhaps the next generation wıll be on better terms with each other.
Another friend I met in Israel is a Dutch girl, Dee, who has been working for the last five months at the Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconcilliation, yet another organization devoted to acheiving peace between Arabs and Israelis.  
Despite the enormity of the situation in Israel and Palestine what these people are doing speaks volumes about the human capacity for hope and kindness.  To (appropriately) quote Anne Frank, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”  I suppose the only thıng we can do is try.