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Winter in Israel, Part III: The Challenge of Pluralism

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This is the third in a series of three articles written by Aly Cash 16, Jaih Hunter-Hill 15 and Amrita Rao 15 reflecting on their experience traveling to Israel over winter break on a campus leaders mission sponsored by The David Project.

In the first two parts of this series, we talked about some issues concerning Israel that are important but little discussed. We close by exploring the issue that, although packaged in various ways, is the most prominent problem concerning Israel today: the relationship between Israel and its neighbors.

Israel commonly receives criticism for its fences and closed borders, which are sometimes even compared to the Berlin Wall. However, to many living in Israel these barriers and border checkpoints exist as a necessity for Israeli security. It is no secret that these checkpoints are burdensome for Arab Israelis and Palestinians who desire to cross the border, but when considering that there are still planned terrorist attacks caught at these checkpoints, it is clear that they do hold a security purpose.

Critics cite the low number of terrorist attacks that do take place as proof of excessive paranoia and repressiveness in Israeli security measures, but in reality it actually speaks volumes to the security system’s effectiveness. Israel developed this tight security system after the Second Intifada, which ended in 2006 after thousands of casualties. These checkpoints are physical embodiments of Israelis’ lasting fear and paranoia, and they are the manifestation of the victimization of the Palestinian people due to the actions of a few. We encourage further investigation into the purpose and possible solutions to the checkpoints.

Amjhed, a Jordanian doctor in the residency program at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, lives in the West Bank and travels through a checkpoint on his way to and from work every day. According to him, the process takes about an hour and a half. He considers it similar to going through airport security—something that people get used to and willingly endure for their own safety.

Amjhed considers it an honor to work at Hadassah, not only because of its international prestige but also because of its moral philosophy of non-discrimination.

When we walked into Hadassah, the diversity of people within the hospital—of both patients and professionals—was striking. We saw an Orthodox Jewish man with his black hat and pe’ot (sidelocks) sharing an elevator with a Muslim woman in hijab. Barbara Sofer, Hadassah’s director of communications, told us this juxtaposition reflected the essence of Hadassah’s principles. Hadassah refuses to tolerate discrimination. Jewish and non-Jewish doctors treat Jewish and non-Jewish patients alike.

The ultimate test of this ideology came during the Second Intifada, when people affected by the violence were flown in from all over Israel for treatment at Hadassah. Doctors opened ambulances to find their children lying in the gurneys and nurses combed through wards for their family members. In Barbara’s words, at that moment everyone—Jewish, Muslim or Christian—could have exerted the right to say no, but they understood that as medical professionals they served people, not an ideology.

But even Hadassah could not escape the hatred present in the region at that time. The synagogue within the hospital has a collection of stunning stained glass windows by Marc Chagall depicting the 12 tribes of Israel. The violence during the Six Day War destroyed three of these windows. Chagall reportedly told the hospital, “You take care of fixing the people, I’ll take care of fixing the windows.” That violence is not alien to the Israelis and Palestinians of today.

These places and experiences merely sample the varied itinerary of our trip. The people we heard from came from all sorts of backgrounds in relation to Israel and gave us an incredibly assorted set of perspectives to reframe our thinking about the country. The 33 of us also represented a wide spectrum of views on Israel based on our individual backgrounds, some of us vocally pro-Palestinian and others veteran Israel advocates. But after hearing the truths of these individuals, we as a group now share a new understanding that to be pro-Palestinian, you also have to be pro-Israeli and vice versa. Until mutual respect between the two communities and their advocates becomes the status quo, progress towards peace and a lasting solution will remain in a frustrating deadlock.

What we bring back from this trip to Stanford’s campus: For everyone else with an opinion on Israel, we challenge you to question the completeness of the perspectives that inform your own viewpoints on Israel. It’s easy to sit in America and hear all the media buzz about human rights violations and decide that Israel is the bad guy. It’s also easy to go on one of the many Jewish, pro-Israeli trips that present a manicured view of the country and form the opposite viewpoint. Neither of these situations affords you enough knowledge to form an informed opinion.

In order to form a fully informed opinion, you must go out of your way to look beyond what you think you know. You must practice compassionate listening for those with whom you’re sure you will disagree, such as when David Project took us to hear from the prominent Arab-Israeli Forsan Hussein.

So the next time you’re sitting in Arrillaga watching a CNN report on Kerry’s negotiations in Israel or walking through White Plaza past a demonstration accusing Israel of being an apartheid state, make sure you remember the people behind the place. Be aware of your biases and remember that there are limitations to what you can know. Don’t mistake the clarity of the one cell you’ve analyzed through the lens of your microscope for the reality that affects millions of real people living across the body of Israel and Palestine.

Contact Aly Cash, Jaih Hunter-Hill and Amrita Rao at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]

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