Recently, I traveled to Israel with a group of 40 student activists ranging in political affiliation, background knowledge, color, gender, and creed. We trekked from Tel Aviv, to the North, to Jerusalem, to the border of Gaza. Along the way we spoke to journalists, professors, past IDF officers, and Israeli citizens, hearing each of their perspectives on the state of their homeland, the state of the Middle East, and their outlook on the future.
It’s all about perspective
Israel is constantly shown in a negative light in the media. Headlines, reporting, and images, all depict Israeli actions as aggression rather than protection for her people. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions; however, perspectives may need to be shifted. David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel, believes that the American news services need to provide a more nuanced image — they don’t need to be 100% pro-Israel but they shouldn’t be 100% against it. For example, on February 3rd, 2016, a CBS News ran the headline “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on.” This headline did not include that the attackers had killed an Israeli border officer and stabbed another. CBS News changed the headline three times and it was not until the final headline that the slant against Israel was corrected — but that image of Israel as the aggressor was already formed. We need to fix the bias. Our opinions can only be as accurately formed as the information we receive.
While traveling through Israel for 10 days, I learned to reevaluate the way I look at the world. As a Westerner, I saw the world in the viewpoint that everything has a right and wrong answer — that things are black and white. In reality, nowhere in the world do one-size-fits-all solutions work. The otherness of the other doesn’t fit inside the bubble as perfectly as we hoped. But that is okay. In these peace negotiations, Israel and the Palestinians know how to approach and forge the agreement. Our westernized plans don’t always match the area that we try to fit it in; the United States should be engaged in the fight for peace, but we cannot dictate. As evidenced, our one-size-fits-all approach has not worked in other countries, so why should we try it again? Let Israel and the Palestinians compromise and sort out their differences.
On Friday evening, we paraded to the Western Wall for pre-Shabbat prayers. After I finished praying, I stood with a small group from my trip and absorbed the ambiance around us: families praying together at the Wall, rabbis leading evening prayers, and the many circles of people dancing. Until 1967, Jews and Christians could not pray at the Western Wall. Now for almost 50 years, all religions have the opportunity to come to arguably the most holy site in the world and pray; that is something to celebrate. As we discussed the amazing sight in front of us, a rabbi came up to me and grabbed my arm:
You don’t have to be Jewish to dance with us!”
He whisked us all into his circle, and I danced and sang “Am Yisrael Chai” (“the people of Israel live”) with over 40 mixed-ethnic and religious individuals. This experience was eye-opening: in Israel, it does not matter who you are or where you come from, everyone is accepted. Look at this experience as another reason to support the State of Israel — where else can such an eclectic group sing and dance together in peace and happiness?
So where do we go from here?
In the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, “repair of the world,” it is our job to better our own lives, as well as the lives of others and future generations, creating progress the world. From our own two hands, it is our job to repair the world in which we live and to start a cycle of change — from smiling at a stranger at the local coffee shop to sitting down at the mediation table to forge a peace agreement.
One afternoon while shopping in the Christian Quarter, I went into a shop and chatted with the Arab-Israeli shop owner. He asked about my work as a pro-Israel activist on campus and posed one simple question:
Are you an activist for only Israel or are you an activist for peace for both sides?”
I stood silent for a minute. The realization that sometimes my cause, the security of State of Israel, is not seen as one of peace was shocking to me. I finally responded that I advocated for peace for both.
He smiled and shook my hand, and then quoted one of my favorite pieces by the 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”
I’m working as an activist — right now, that is how I am trying to mend the world. It is our job as activists, especially us student activists, to educate ourselves on these issues and to be the ones to bring back to our campuses, that peace is the answer. We also need to remember to look at situations through someone else’s eyes. Israelis do not want war. Palestinians do not want war. What they want is the ability to live happily and safely — together.
Jake traveled on the AIPAC Milstein Family Foundation Campus Allies Mission to Israel with 39 other student activists from across the United States. Participants on this trip are not Birthright-eligible. While in Israel, they experience the biblical land, gain a deeper understanding of strategic and social issues facing Israel today, and examine the challenges and opportunities associated with being a supporter of the U.S.-Israel alliance.