This past Wednesday and Thursday I participated in Encounter, a program "dedicated to strengthening the capacity of the Jewish people to be constructive agents of change in transforming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". In short, we spent two days in the West Bank hearing multiple Palestinian narratives, and stayed overnight in Bethlehem with a Palestinian family.
Before Kesher Hadash, I had never met a Palestinian person. Thanks to my sources of news in America, I had always equated Palestinians with terrorism. I am making an effort this semester to educate myself on the land I am currently living in. The more I learn, the more my Zionist upbringing is challenged.
Last Sunday, our Encounter experience began with an orientation. We got to know our group and went over expectations. I had no problem with most of the expectations- resilient listening, sharing airtime, etc. One rule of the trip stood out- we could not display external signs of Jewish identity when in public. In my life, I have been lucky that I have never felt the need to hide my Jewishness. I was sad that this was the reality in the Jewish State. On Thursday morning as I was leaving my apartment to meet the bus for my trip, I took off my magen david neckace. I hadn't taken it off since I had gotten to Israel in December.
Quotes from speakers that stuck with me:
"Education is the tool to change perspectives and values".
"No boundaries/separation equals peace. Peace is in your heart".
"Only women can change the future and the conflict (they raise the children and pass down values)".
-Eilda and Nimala, Christian Palestinian co-founders of Beit AShams (House of Sun) for Self Development, a community empowerment center in Beit Jala
"The price of peace is much cheaper than the price of war".
"We want people to be pro-solution, pro-justice, pro-life".
"Israel needs Palestine- it is a gateway to the rest of the world".
"Peace is two truths that fit".
"You don't make pace with friends, you make peace with enemies".
-Ali, a leading Palestinian activist at the forefront of a movement for non-violence resistance, building a center for nonviolence and bridge-building called Judur, or Roots on his family's land in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank.
"People need to reconcile their past to move on".
-Enas, Communications Advisor for the Palestinian Negotiations Support Project in the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department
"Palestinian neighborhoods are open air cages- movement is controlled by Israelis".
When asked what American Jews can do:
"I'm asking you to be Jewish. Social justice. Why are these values "checked in" in Israel? It's about the here and now".
-Sam, Palestinian-American business consultant and activist and founder of the Dalia Association, a Palestinian community foundation committed to mobilize, invest, and distribute resources according to local Palestinian priorities using community-based decision making".
We met so many incredible Palestinians working for peace and justice in their own way. I didn't always agree with their viewpoints. Their stories were often painful to hear. There were so many stories of lives being ripped apart because of the Israeli government policies that discriminated against Palestinians. I had never heard this narrative before. If there is truth to the stories I hear, then how can I support Israel? How is it okay for one people to kick another people out of their land? And yet, I want there to be a Jewish state.
At the end of March, I will be participating in a similar trip (in some ways) called Perspectives, which will expose us to multiple Israeli narratives. I am looking forward to comparing both trip experiences to gain a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.