Starting Point

In just a few days, I will be moving to Haifa, Israel to begin a one year MA program in Peace and Conflict Management Studies at the University of Haifa.  My decision to attend this program has been simple in some ways (it is perfectly suited to my academic interests, and it’s in a part of the world I love), and extremely difficult in others.  On a personal level, spending a year away from my family and friends is daunting.  More broadly, however, I have some serious misgivings about living within Israel’s internationally recognized borders.

I have visited the West Bank twice – once for a week in 2009 following a semester traveling in Turkey, Morocco, and Egypt, and again for six weeks in 2011.  My first trip helped me gain an elementary understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the purpose of my second trip – an independent research project – was to understand how Arab and Israeli women utilize non-violent resistance to occupation.  These experiences talking to and living with the Palestinian people are the foundation for my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which, I should qualify, is amateur at best).

As of right now, I have spent a negligible amount of time within Israel’s internationally recognized borders which, on paper, do not include any of the West Bank or Gaza (from now on, this is what I refer to when I say “Israel”). I know that  this means my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is biased – logically, learning about a multifaceted issue from one side is inherently, well, one-sided.  I also know that unshakeable personal biases are tremendous barriers to any peace process because they give way to hatred.  Accordingly, it would seem that a person who preaches about peace as much as I do would at least be able to acknowledge her own biases.

It was alarming to me when I realized I couldn’t do this.  Not because I don’t know what I think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but because I believe my understanding is “the truth.”  I want to lay out a bit of what my understanding is in the interest of full disclosure, rather than for the sake of argument (I’m sure I’ll do lots of arguing about this in class next year – don’t worry if you disagree with me).  First, I accept Israel’s right to exist today out of practical necessity, but I don’t believe it had a right to exist when it was established in 1948.  Second, “security measures” like the siege on Gaza and the buffer zones around settlements in the West Bank have nothing to do with security – they are an attempt to eradicate Palestinians.  Finally, the government of Israel intentionally supports policies that are racist, paranoid, and undemocratic.  To read about some of the observations that have informed these beliefs, check out the blog my friends and I kept on our trip to the West Bank in 2011 – Falafel Hotdish.

In case it isn’t obvious at this point, my problem with living in Israel is that I have very strong negative feelings associated with the state.  (I challenge anyone to witness life as a Palestinian in the occupied territories and not have the same reaction).  But this is precisely why I want to live in Israel for a year: how can I argue that people who have spent a lifetime in an entrenched conflict should tolerate opposing viewpoints when I can’t do that myself after a mere six weeks in the West Bank?  My hope is that after spending  a year in Israel with an open mind, I will not only be able to respect Israeli and Palestinian perspectives equally, but also understand how respect and toleration contribute to transforming conflicts around the globe.  The primary purpose of my blog, then, is to keep me accountable to these goals.  Its title, which comes from a poem by Rumi, a Sufi (mystical Islam) poet and theologian, reflects what I believe is the best hope for toleration amidst conflict:

The way of love is not
a subtle argument.

The door there
is devastation.

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.

Yours in peace,




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16 responses to “Starting Point

  1. Excellent beginning. It is a mark of true maturity that you are not content to accept anything less than holistic knowledge on this subject, and I’m so very proud of your for challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. We should all be so lucky to take a page out of your book. Good luck as you start this next grand adventure — we’ll all be thinking about you back home!

  2. This is wonderful, Nora! I wish you the best in this endeavor & very excited to read about all your adventures in Israel & Al-quds 🙂 Please stay safe habibti, Inshallah hope to see you when you get back!

    ma salaama,
    Najaha Musse

  3. LeAnn L-S

    Nora, we will miss you! Glad you will have this blog. LeAnn

  4. Linda Staley

    A very interesting goal for the year. We will follow your life there with great interest, but that still doesn’t mean we won’t miss you terribly.

  5. Nora, I look forward to your experiences and insights. I wish you a rich and challenging time….and hope to witness your deepening throughout the year.

  6. Hal Staley

    Those are lofty goals but I believe that you are looking at them correctly and will continue to challenge yourself in a meaningful way. Always remember that to keep an open mind means the willingness to grow, change and mature. Never feel the need to apologize to anyone for that growth or change, especially to yourself. I am proud of you but like Linda said I will miss you terribly.

  7. Linda Kopping

    A very insightful beginning to a long learning adventure. I know you will make the most of every second. I am so proud of you and love you very much. Mom

  8. Hi,
    I happen to read all the three posts you have made and they all are really good. I enjoyed reading each one of them. Keep up the good work

  9. Rick

    Well done. You are young, beautiful and intelligent woman.

  10. I saw your blog in a “Freshly Pressed” mailing from WordPress and was very impressed. May I re-post it to my blog ( Just one “correction,” though – the air-raid sirens you heard the other day were not Jerusalem’s first since 1970. They were a regular occurrence during the Gulf War of 1991, when I lived in Jerusalem–even though no one was admitting that anything actually reached that far (there are unofficial reports of hits outside the city).
    My very best wishes to you. Keep blogging! It’s important for the world to know that there are thoughtful and compassionate Israels, still.
    Maxine in Canada

    • Of course – thank you for asking. And thanks for the correction. Until the rocket attacks a few weeks ago, I actually had no idea that Saddam Hussein had fired rockets at Israel during the Gulf War – makes sense that there would be alarms in Jerusalem!

  11. Dear loving Nora,
    Thank you for your comments, your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable. I have great faith in all you young people. Yes I too saw the big holes missiles fired during the Gulf War had made far too close to homes (a street width away) near Haifa. The entire situation is tragic on both sides and only love can heal it. My opinions are not always popular but despite that, say I am constantly amazed at the patience the Israelis have had. After the war, survivors of the Holocaust, kept in the British camps were killed trying to reach their relatives in Israel – relatives that had lived there since the 1400’s. I was told accounts of how the first Kibbuznics lived on potatoes for a year, as it was the only crop they had. The story was told me by a suvivor from Vienna – a highly cultured and educated woman. A friend who did missionary work in among the Palestininas discovered that many of these families were originally Jews who had been forced to convert to Islam under threat of death. I could go on but I am sure you yourself will hear others similar. This does not deny the tragedy of mothers losing children (Isreali mothers have too) and the escalation of hate and despair, mistrust and self-protection. It is not easy to be a policeman, a protestor, civilian or peace-maker and this situation is of immense importance to the world morally more than politically. That is why it exists.
    You have a good heart and seek the truth, and those who seek, always find even though it may take a little time and only arrive when you least expect it.
    I share with you a poem I wrote many years ago in Johannesburg, but it is apt here too. It is also in the book ‘White Witness’ I wrote about an equally tragic situation that is still not resolved despite what people are led to believe i.e. South Africa. Your generation has a very difficult but great task ahead. Face it with courage. You may win and you may not, but to have tried is all that God asks of you. Much love to you all from Rome, Marianne Winter
    Here is the poem I share with you today:


    How long will it be
    Man understands
    Which makes him separate
    But one
    With all other men?

    How long will it be
    We understand
    God is not glory but Divine?
    That man
    In not difference divine
    But Divine and Different?

    How long will it be
    We see
    That unity
    Is not a law
    But a state of Being

    Where all things flow
    Because they are
    And that Harmony
    Is whole
    As Logos IS

    But one thing
    And all creation?
    “La chaim – to Life”
    But what is that
    But God?

    And darkness hung on the human world
    And God hid His face in the Deep
    For understanding could not prevail
    While humans sacrificed to Gods
    That are not real.

    We use Death
    To pay for Life
    What madness or
    What Logic this?

    How long will it be
    Man sees
    He is God
    And stands
    In the human race and
    Minds not

    The transcendence
    Of difference
    Between himself
    And another man
    How long will it be!

    With love to all, Marianne Winter

  12. I am the director of Musica Mundi Trust and am constantlytouched by the desire of this younf generation to love, live in peace and above all, to understand. There is hope yet. Marianne Winter

  13. beautiful poem at the end,
    terrific work.

    • Dear Umniakhan,
      Thank you. It was and is very felt. I included this poem in the book I wrote on South Africa which has gone up on Subscrbd. com but with a reading choice of only the most banal link passages and not this kind of material which is the theme and substance of the book. I feel betrayed and not only me but all of us who try to love and understand and who fought and fight for awareness I therefore doubly appreciate your comment. It has been a long uphill battle. It is nice to know one is not alone. Thank you.

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