Tuesday, May 1, 2012

There are always two sides... or more

It's my last full week in Israel. Surprisingly, though it will still be so hard, in the last few weeks I've felt an unexpected peace about leaving. It can only come from God, I think. I don't know how I could create this peace myself.

This past weekend, I had my last field study of the semester -- my 'Historical and Social Settings of Israel' class traveled to the Galilee and the Golan Heights to conclude our study of the modern state's history. It was the best trip possible to finish off the semester, I think -- we spent some time at look-out areas along borders with Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and had discussions about Israel's relationships with the neighboring nations. We visited some of the earliest Jewish settlements in Israel (typically, socialist communities called kibbutzim), learning about each of their histories. We toured the prison in Acre (Acco) in which the British imprisoned dissident Jews and Arabs alike during the years of British mandate before Israel became a state. Along the way, we were able to hear from some local Israelis (including the woman who gave President Bush a tour of the country a number of years ago!), which was really rewarding. 

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation, this semester has assured me, as I suspected, that the political situation is so deeply complex -- so complex that it's reductionist to pick or support any "one" side, because it seems that two sides -- two only -- don't actually exist. There are more. There are so many different voices within the Israeli and Palestinian populations -- too many and too different to add up to two distinct sides. But it helps as a framework for sorting all of it out, I guess. When we look at the histories as a whole of both groups -- the Israelis and the Palestinians -- I'm sympathetic to both sides, and I'm angry at both sides; realistically, I don't see how one could not be. 

The events surrounding Memorial Day & Independence Day here (celebrated last week) only reminded me of how difficult it is to figure out how to relate to each "side." Last week, as Independence Day drew near, I went out in the evening with some friends. We heard music even before we arrived at the Old City gates -- a concert was underway in anticipation of Independence Day, and we stayed and watched for a while. During performances, a group of young Israeli kids, all decked out in blue and white, began dancing and playfully invited those of us watching to join in their celebration. Even to join in their dancing would be a political statement; nevertheless, we joined in -- not to make a point of our political beliefs, but simply to celebrate with the people around us. It was so much fun. 

Fast forward a day: I visited an Arab Muslim woman on the Mount of Olives; Elham is the teacher whose classroom I've volunteered in this semester in my work at Princess Basma, a school for disabled children. When we arrived at her house, my JUC peer and I sat down to an afternoon meal with Elham and her husband, and we began asking about their home, their family, etc. As it turns out, most of their family members (less immediate, but members all the same, especially here in the Middle East where extended family ties are traditionally closer) are refugees in Jordan. While much of Israel's population anticipated celebrating Independence Day, this was my friend's reality (there's a reason that what Israel calls the "War of Independence," Palestine calls the "Naqba" -- 'Destruction')... My heart wanted to mourn with my Muslim friend and celebrate with the Jews who'd finally found a homeland at the same time. Possible? Somehow, I think yes... 

There's so much more to say concerning this topic, but for now I've got to do some studying... Finals week here in Jerusalem! 

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