Now that I am fully immersed in my life as a graduate student in Haifa (as evidenced by the time that’s gone by since I last updated this blog), I have been surprised by how rarely I think about aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that disturbed me the most when I was here in previous years. It’s quite easy to forget about occupation when you live on a liberal campus and your trips into the “outside world” are for the sole purposes of buying groceries or drinking beer. I have begun volunteering several hours a week for a local organization that aims to promote Palestinian identity, democratic values, and social engagement in Palestinian Arab youth in Israel – even working with these issues is possible without remembering that Israel occupies the West Bank and holds Gaza under siege.
Thankfully, my social awareness was rekindled by a weekend trip to Jerusalem two weeks ago. Jerusalem is far less removed from overt conflicts than Haifa – just to get off the bus in West Jerusalem, you have to go through a security screening. The city is far more religious than Haifa, and it’s impossible for me to walk around the Old City without thinking about the complex claims these groups have to the same holy place.
The Western Wall is the holiest site in Judaism, and being here at sundown on Shabbat is a straight-up PARTY. But it’s not all fun and games…over 100 Arab families’ homes were demolished to build the plaza in this photo when Israel annexed the Old City in 1967.
There is an ominous $3 million gold menorah in view of al-Haram al-Sharif (the third-holiest site in Islam), waiting to be transported into the new Jewish temple “when” al-Haram al-Sharif falls. Rumor has it that some Israeli-run archaeological excavations beneath the Haram al-Sharif are expediting this process by weakening the dome’s foundations.
A local Muslim family holds the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because none of the five Christian churches that administer the church trust one another with the keys.
The conflicts in Jerusalem aren’t just religious – they permeate many aspects of secular life, as well. Since I was last here in January 2011, the Jerusalem light rail has been completed – sounds like a great infrastructure project, right? It’s actually a great example of disproportionate municipal spending on the city’s Jewish population – it connects Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem to the rest of West Jerusalem, and of the 23 stops, only 3 service (municipal tax-paying) Palestinian neighborhoods.
At the Lutheran World Federation, I was able to help harvest olives on the Mount of Olives (that has to be a bucket-list experience!). Even this much fun has to be understood in the context of conflict: these trees were planted in 1967 as an attempt to keep nearby Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem from encroaching on LWF property, a threat that still looms today.
Since getting back to Haifa, I have been struggling with how to remember the systematic oppression that takes place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as I go through my daily routine. I’ve started with paying more attention to signs of Israel’s conflicts, from the Patriot missile interceptor that was next to campus a couple weeks ago (I could see both the interceptor and Lebanon from my front door!), to the security fence surrounding campus and the number of Arab empowerment organizations in Israel. Instead of just accepting these phenomena as facts of life, I am trying to make a conscious effort to always ask myself why they are a part of daily life in Israel.