coughed and cried my way through Spring Break. Why did I cough so much? I got sick the day before my trip. Why did I cry? Because, for 10 days and 9 nights, I glimpsed briefly into a devastating conflict which is far more complex than our world of binaries makes it seem. I had the opportunity, along with 24 other student leaders, to visit Israel and the West Bank through the Fact Finders trip, an educational experience organized by Mason Hillel. When our flight touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport, I knew nothing except that I had bronchitis and I needed to sleep ASAP. As I boarded my flight 10 days later, I was overwhelmed with information and emotion; I had a passion to share the narratives I’d discovered about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with my Mason community. The Dome of the Rock (Courtesy of Shabrina Parikh)
Whenever someone asks me to describe my experience, I respond with one word: moving. Sometimes, we were tourists, floating in the Dead Sea only to turn into researchers that met the Mayor of Bethlehem hours later to discuss the conflict. We visited bomb shelters, refugee camps, and the Syrian and Lebanon borders. A few days in, I realized this trip was never meant to help students decide which side of the conflict they are on, it was meant to provoke questions; it was fascinating to see everyone on our trip have expressions of doubt as they critically observed their own beliefs. However, something I know with absolute certainty is that this conflict is so complex that there’s no possible way 10 days can do it justice.
Before I went on the trip, I asked some people on campus what the conflict was about. Most people casually answered that it is a land conflict between two groups of people. While that is correct on a surface level, it is so much deeper than that. There are more than two groups of people involved, and it is much more than a land conflict. It is a fight for religion, freedom, and human lives.
I realized that we–citizens of the United States–are extremely privileged to not have to worry about attacks and war breaking out. Two days after we left Tel Aviv, the second biggest city in Israel, rockets were fired towards the city from Gaza. Two days before we went to the Gaza border, there were incendiary balloons sent from the strip towards Israel that were meant to explode over the Israeli land. The war truly felt tangible while I was there. I was safe at all times but always on edge. I constantly worried about what I would do or where I would run should we be attacked. I left after 10 days. The citizens there won’t. I get to sleep knowing my roof will still be over my head when I wake up. They don’t. I can detach myself from the conflict whenever I want. They can’t.
Coming back, I feel like it is my duty to at least be informed of what is happening on the other side. We have become so desensitized to news of bombings and attacks that we simply reduce them to a headline buried 7 pages into the New York Times. I hope after reading this article, you feel the urge to do some research about the conflict. Not necessarily to form an opinion, but to be informed about the horrific and heartbreaking events that are occurring on the other side of the world. In an era of globalization and cultural diaspora, the world is becoming smaller and smaller. In such a time, being aware and informed is vital to our duties as global citizens. However, most importantly, we need to be empathetic. Regardless of what side one may be on, they cannot disregard the fact that innocent lives are being lost at no fault of their own. Unfortunately, this violence is not going to die down anytime soon. The least we can do is acknowledge the lives being lost.
Mason Hillel did a wonderful job showing us all aspects of the conflict. We spent time both in Israel and the West Bank. We met people from different backgrounds, narratives, and ideas for solutions. We met mayors, government officials, journalists, veterans and many more. As the director of the trip, Na’ama Gold puts it, “The trip is about learning the facts on the ground, meeting people of both sides, learning about the diversity [of those involved] and coming back with more questions and a passion to learn.” If this intrigues you, make sure to visit the Hillel office on campus and get more information about the trip! I recommend it to anyone that is remotely interested in learning more about the conflict and the cultures involved. Here’s what some alumni of the trip have to say:
“It was an amazing learning experience that taught me much more about the conflict than what the media could have taught me” – Autumn Norton
“I learned that understanding everyone’s humanity is a step towards finding a solution to any problem. As one of our speakers said, “love is the only way”. – Emmanuel Kwakye- Dompreh
“I believe the quote I read at the holocaust museum sums it up perfectly: “Whoever enters this place once will not remove a thing from it. Not even his ashes”. -Neuteyshe Felizor
“This trip gave me 10 days that were filled with culture, joy, and knowledge. I know I would not want to change anything about the trip. Except for the fact that I was coughing my lungs out every day. Bronchitis sucks.” – Shabrina Parikh