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
Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.
Yours in peace,