Chesney is part of a delegation of British pre-campus students who intend to be active in leading pro-Israel activity when they get to university. In Israel with StandWithUs UK, they are engaging in an intensive week-long summit prior to beginning their studies when they return home.
This is a daily diary of their experiences in Israel:
The end of our week’s stay in Israel was the most pertinent part of the trip for me. I began to decide what impact this programme has had on me and how I wish to continue my education, which now feels so necessary, in the affairs of the Middle East. Coming from London, where opinions concerning Israel are often heavily polarised and uncompromising, I have come to realise through meeting individuals from all perspectives of the conflict that it is acceptable to not fall into either extremist camp. This became apparent in our meeting with Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh on Saturday afternoon.
Khaled certainly does not sit on one side of the conflict. His brave and honest opinions were refreshing to me as they opened up new ways of viewing and perceiving the clash that has characterised and will characterise Israel’s past, present, and future.
The child of an Israeli-Arab father and a Palestinian mother, Khaled is in a unique position as an investigative journalist to have access to both sides of the conflict by penetrating the cultural and linguistic barriers that define it. Drawing on experiences made possible by this background such as personally interviewing Arafat over the course of past peace talks and travelling extensively within Gaza before the disengagement, Khaled spoke to us with authority on issues ranging from the future of the territories to the serious issue of the total lack of a ‘free and independent media’ on the Palestinian side, the very driving force for his confessed preference for Israel’s transparency and democracy.
Our discussion with Khaled ended with a sobering warning – the only time he has ever needed personal security as an Arab-Israeli reporter throughout his career was not in Gaza, or Israel, or the West Bank: it was on campus in the USA and UK, the very environment to which we return as advocates for the Zionist state.
In order to effectively defend Israel in a hostile environment like university back home, it is essential that one is confident, charismatic, and clear, and we were very lucky to be able to work on these traits on Friday morning in a three-hour workshop with communication experts. Our workshop consisted initially of deconstructing and analysing clips of interviews with prominent individuals involved in the conflict, and discussing what they did that was effective and what was not. It was made clear to me how essential it is that one communicates sympathetically and in an understanding manner, and this is what we proceeded to work on. We were interviewed on camera and grilled about a variety of topics. Although it was obviously entertaining to each other nervously try to deconstruct arguments and put our opinions forward, it was also extremely valuable to be put into an uncomfortable situation, in front of a camera, and to see how we coped under pressure. I found the workshop both enjoyable and useful, as I felt more confident in myself when tackling challenging questions about controversial topics.
We experienced a unique Shabbat dinner with an Israeli family in the heart of Jerusalem. Alongside a hearty five-course meal, we engaged with the members of the family and once again heard alternative perspectives on the conflict, as well as addressing the issues of religious beliefs and Israeli technological innovation.
With our trip ended, I look back and try to process what I have just been through during this hectic yet exceptional week. The people we have met and the stories we have heard have made me question, challenge, and explore the issues that affect the State of Zion and thereby the state of campuses at home. I feel as if my insight into the conflict has been coloured in where once it was simply black and white, as I can now say that I have experienced Israel for what it truly is, and not what people want it to be.
As I write this article, I sit in a sheirut cab from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, entering the ‘real’ Israel after our programme, and it is this Israel that I want to share with everyone using the tools and experiences I have gained. It is the Israel where I sit in between a Muslim woman and an Ethiopian man on public transport – us all having paid the same fare – freely expressing my opinions in the media, knowing that peace is a possibility, and that we all can have some part in it regardless of gender, colour, and religion.