Looking out from the northern most kibbutz, Misgav Am, to the border of Israel, Lebanon was the first time I truly felt like I was on conflicted ground. Simply seeing the hills, valleys, and white buildings just kilometers away in Lebanese towns, grounds history in present landmarks. Even the eucalyptus trees, near our jeeping trail on the western slopes of the Golan, are a physical manifestation Eli Cohen, the Jewish-Egyptian who spied in Lebanon for Israel. Before his death Cohen prompted the Lebanese army to plant the trees to grant shade to tired soldiers with the ulterior intention of creating easy to spot targets for the Israelis. While Cohen was publicly executed in 1965, the trees remain living history.
Something as simple as seeing a landscape can broaden our point of view, though it would be remiss to forgo conversation with actual people. Today we joined up with seven soldiers in the IDF (day one of five we will spend together) who joined us hiking in the Banias and jeeping to the border then conversed with us about their experiences and the current border conflict.
Though compelling, there are experiences I find incomparable to anything I have ever known. Experience shapes paradigm, so how can I understand what it is like to fight over land when I have always lived in a stable environment? (Albeit on land that was undisputedly taken from Native Americans centuries ago) Moreover, how can I even know Israel when the US media only covers this one aspect? I fear this need to ask basic questions comes off as ignorant. I’m terrified of saying something stupid (aren’t we all?) but if now is not the time or place, when is?