Don’t take my word for it – listen to someone else …
Thursday 22nd September 2016 @ 4:34 pm
I am currently reading through the reflections of students I was recently with in Israel & Palestine. For me, it renews daily, the sense that what happened last month was truly part of something special. Here is part of one student’s reflection. I asked her if I could share it with you … she willingly agreed.
Waking up at 4:25 in the morning in my first few hours after arriving in Bethlehem to the lyrical recording of a man reciting a portion of the Qur’an was possibly the best welcome to Palestine I could have imagined. Cool night air played through the thin curtains, letting in orange glimmers of streetlights and angry honking sounds from the street below. I lay in the dark entranced by the call to prayer, reflecting on the desires and motivations that had brought me here, one of thirteen students and professionals on an eight–day interfaith trip designed to bring young people from contested spaces of conflict together to dialogue about their experiences.
As an international student at Trinity College Dublin for Hilary Term 2016, … [My] deepest concerns center on how people craft meaning and deal with difference; how we communicate and cooperate across inter–sectional boundaries of race, class, gender, nationality, religion, etc. without compromising our unique identities … I went to Israel and Palestine to listen to peoples’ experiences … I went to Israel and Palestine to put faces, names, personal histories to the news and books I had read.
I could not have anticipated the amazing trip that unfolded from day one. Eating hummus and cucumbers for breakfast was not everyone’s favorite, but it was one of my highlights. Every day was different, yet most days had both heavy and light elements. Visiting Jesus’ birthplace, singing in ancient churches, seeing Qumran and swimming in the Dead Sea were experiences I will never forget. Thankfully, though, they were tied to hearing from Palestinian and Israeli activists, speaking intimately with Palestinian youth about injustices they have faced, and dialoguing firsthand with a group of Jewish settlers. Space to Breathe was not a sightseeing trip, which is why I was so incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such a kind group. Our debriefing time ranged from joyous (after sharing seemingly endless meals topped off with Arabic coffee) to utterly distraught (after particularly difficult conversations). But it is sitting in this very tension – between wonder and hard reality, enjoyment and deep thought, love and fear – that made Space to Breathe so valuable to me. All of us were dedicated to taking an unflinching look at circumstances around us.
I do not intend to romanticize the countries, people, and experiences I was lucky to engage with on this trip – even the call to prayer was cited as an infringement on rights by one man I spoke to. What I saw and heard was just as often uplifting as it was difficult and complex. Hebron’s empty old city streets protected by overhead fencing, and barriers graffiti–ed with images of women and children in chains brought me near tears often. Just as eye–opening were the gleaming streets of Haifa, glaring red signs forbidding Israeli entry to Palestinian territories to protect their lives, and walled settlements perched on hills. But then there was also swimming in the warm beaches of Haifa, and Basil, one of the Palestinian participants, rapping Drake songs on our drive to Jericho. Some moments it felt like we were worlds apart, while others felt like we could have gone to the same high school.
Being a foreigner who has just barely glimpsed these places and culture, all I have is my narrow perspective, and I’ve tried to not make sweeping generalizations. However, I do want to pay homage to the brilliant people I met – Israeli, Palestinian, Irish – and their beautiful willingness to share their powerful stories. Sitting next to each of those special people as our bus zig–zagged across the rolling country, date palms and orchards and cities softening in sandy sunlight, is a sensation of profound openness that I will carry with me wherever my path leads next.
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