Last week, toured Israel through Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). The trip was meant to provide American students interested in media and journalism with a deeper understanding of Israel’s political, historical, cultural, technological, strategic, and religious contexts. I met with Israeli PR reps, journalists, broadcasters, military personnel, professors, activists, and more. I spoke with Arab-Israelis and Jewish religious leaders. I visited sites holy to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. I sampled Israel’s art, culture, and natural beauty. Obviously, I saw Israel through a particular lens: the Israeli-Jewish perspective. Regardless of who or what you think Israel is, this is its make-up and its national identity: Jewish. Somewhat secular. Democratic?
Part of this trip was based on my desire to understand and immerse myself in a place, as opposed to just act as a tourist. Granted, I did a lot of just touring. But through my conversations with the Israeli and Palestinian people, I hope that I gained a bit more insight into a) what the Israeli perspective is, b) who the Israeli people are, and c) how these people and thoughts shifted my own world view and compare to that of America. Israel is a locus of conflict; at this point, after my trip, I am slightly more knowledgable as to the different sides, but still utterly confused as to how a resolution can be made.
Some of the things I heard while on my trip:
“If Israel continues to occupy thousands of Palestinian people, it will no longer be a Jewish nation state.”
“Israel was a great act of self-defense.”
“[The Israeli Right] are transforming Israel into something the world cannot accept.”
“You cannot PR your way out of the occupation.”
“I will never say that this is a Jewish state.”
“This is a Jewish state, have no doubt.”
“If you are a good journalist, and you report what is happening [to Palestinians], you will create incitement.”
“This is my homeland, the place where I belong, the place where the Jews will never be driven out of again.”
“The situation continues to be unsustainable.”
“When there are no bombs, it’s paradise.”
“Welcome to the Middle East. You can go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow with a completely different reality.”
Hopefully, my coming months in France can help me digest all that I learned.