Jonathan Hadad (Israel, AC 09-11), Dani Goral (Israel, UWC-USA 09-11), Asar Goldberg (Israel, UWC-Norway 09-11)
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East is far from reaching a long term solution. The Israeli army still has control over land promised for a Palestinian country in the future. There are also illegal settlements, supported by the Israeli government, where about half a million Israelis are living today. Strong hatred and fear have been present for decades in both sides, along with racism, religious bigotry and ignorance.
In the different colleges of the UWC, this conflict has had a much stronger presence in Israeli students lives. Living in the same house with our “enemies” and hearing the horror stories of the condition of living and violations of human rights are strong enough to doubt our support in our own country. This is never easy, as Palestinian voices are never heard in Israel. We also all have to, by law, go back to Israel after we finish our UWC experience and get recruited to the army. Normal Israelis our age would normally get reinforced and taught about how positive the impact of the army is to our country, Israel, which as Jews is supposed to be our only hope to survive in the world. These are the ideas that are preached at school, at home and in the media in Israel. Throughout our lives we are taught that Israel’s military actions were always defensive, that compared to other countries we have “the most humane military force”, ignoring the complete oxymoron.
We are never surprised when Israel is criticized and attacked for its actions, but sometimes criticizing Israel’s actions is interpreted by many Israelis as doubting the Jewish people’s right to exist, bringing back the memories of history lessons about the holocaust. The letters below were originally written in Hebrew by Israeli students to their friends back home to try to explain what they were going through as Israelis while Israel was criticized at the college.
Dani Goral from the UWC-USA wrote this letter to his fiends in Israel after operation Solid Lead in the Gaza strip:
“Before we even got to the college our Palestinian second year sent us an email to update everyone at the college about the horrible situation in Gaza. He wrote how many people had died and added articles to support his claims. Of course he ended by writing that ‘I wish for world peace soon’. In the beginning it was quite irritating but I understood what we meant. Another email was sent out to the entire school from the conflict resolution coordinator to invite whoever was interested to come to her house and talk about the issue.
Me and my Israeli second year got to her house worrying about what will happen and the place was completely full. We thought a few people from the Middle East would come but there were many more who came. The Palestinian second year started speaking about how many were murdered, how life is horrible, kids are being killed, pregnant women, mosques and hospitals bombed, and he ended by saying that 70% of the people who were killed were innocent civilians. This infuriated me but only on the inside because how could I explain that these innocent civilians were actually hiding explosives in their houses? It’s impossible. I froze, my heart was beating rapidly and I couldn’t speak. I was just hoping that the two Israeli girls who were with me had something good to say in defense. The room was quiet. And then the Palestinian teacher started talking. Of course he sided and supported what was said before and explained who much they are suffering from the Israeli occupation and the attacks. He explained that the Hamas was not a terrorist organization but the hero, fighting for freedom of the Palestinian people. He showed how Israel was the terrorist, occupying Gaza without any reason, ruining millions of lives.
At this point of course I couldn’t say anything. There’s obviously another side to this conflict but I just couldn’t speak in front of all these people and explain the inaccuracies. And then the Israeli first year started talking. She said that she just got back from Israel where people are not enjoying the war either. No one could get to the south of Israel, houses exploding, people killed and lives destroyed! Then the Jordanian student asked how many Israelis were killed in this war. She had tears in her eyes from all the tension in the room and the defensive position forced on her (and could anyone defend Israel well enough?). she said she doesn’t know exactly and that there were many more Palestinians killed but it doesn’t matter because a death is a death.
It went on like that, a Ping-Pong game of accusations between the two Israeli girls and the Palestinian teacher and students, and I still couldn’t say anything because I didn’t feel like I could explain Israel actions well enough. I started asking myself- did the Israeli committee make a mistake by sending me here? How could I not do what I was sent here to do? I was disappointed in myself! After a while other people started talking and asking irrelevant questions. But then an African-American girl started speaking. ‘I’m hearing this and I don’t understand! This is not the first time a group of people were oppressed. Black people were slaves for hundreds of years. They took our children, our rights, hit us, raped us, spit on us, and here we are now with an African-American president. And who has heard about an African-American blowing up a bus with white people in it? there are better ways of solving things. I look at the Jewish people after the Holocaust, building their own country with hard work and determination. It’s not a secret that the Jewish people have been persecuted and hated by everyone and that they had a very hard life, but like the African people, they rose up and took charge of their own future. And the Jews didn’t have to explode in German restaurants. Terrorist attacks won’t lead to any good’.
This made me feel much better with myself, and also increased the tension in the room because in other words, she called the Palestinians terrorists. But then again, just a few minutes ago, a teacher! A teacher at an international school that promotes peace and understanding said that Israel is a terrorist! At this point the women who invited all of us to her home said that we were brought here to share our thoughts and feelings and maybe find something small that we could do here about this issue. Then she asked the room who believed that there could be peace in the Middle East. There wasn’t one Palestinian with his hand up! The other Israeli first year had her hand up and other people who weren’t from the area. I thought it was a pointless question, so I didn’t raise my hand. Then she asked who believed there couldn’t be peace and all the Palestinians and the teacher had their hands up! Again, I didn’t raise my hand. But just a moment ago the teacher explained to us that the terrorist were the people who lost all hope, lost their families, their houses and they had nothing to lose. And then in front of all the Palestinian student, and his 11 year old son, he said that there’s no hope. This made no sense.
I couldn’t say these things out loud, but I did realized something, and I started speaking- ‘I’m listening to these horrific stories by my fellow students, my friends, from enemy countries, and for every argument that was said, I learned an opposite argument at home, at school, by my family, in my country. I could make the Palestinian side look wrong, but what for? I’m sitting here angry and frustrated, unable to take a stand, but why should I? I didn’t come here to justify what my country is doing. I don’t even know if it’s true. I understand that all of you (outside the middle east) want to know what’s going on, but so do I! I really don’t. No one does. This conflict has been going on for decades now, and I was brought up by a family that told me that we are the good side. Parents, grandparents, teachers, all telling me that we came to Palestine and fairly founded our own country, that we were in favor of the separation of the land and that it was the Palestinian people who rejected the agreements. And they went through the exact same thing raised to believe that they were always on the good side. But nobody can tell what really happened. I didn’t raise my hand because I really don’t believe that this can be solved in discussion. I don’t think that war could help either. We can’t go to court and decide who is right or wrong. This is the story of two nations. They both think that they’re right and by that they’re wrong. On the other hand I don’t think that it’s hopeless when I sit here with my Palestinian friends and we can live here together in peace, leaving the conflict behind us.’
After this event, I’m not sure who I am anymore, what my country is, if what I learned in school was right, if we really did just take over their lands from the beginning. How could they hate us so much for nothing? Was there really ammunition in those mosques that were bombed by us? Or is that just what they want us to believe?”
Astar Goldberg from Nordic College was shocked by a conversation with a fellow student from Palestine. She wrote about her thoughts in her blog:
“Please keep in mind that I’m in a different situation from most of you right now and that it’s making me react differently. There’s a difference between being here at an international school than being in Israel.
I’m proud of my country and I love many things about it, not the occupation and the military actions. I recently read about Israeli aid in Haiti which made me proud.
I was born and raised in Israel for 17 years in a feeling of pride and an understanding that the Palestinians’ suffering comes from the need to protect my family and myself and to insure a safe life for us. I always thought that when I would be 18 I would happily join the army and do everything that I can to protect my country from a constant threat from Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries. I knew that Israel is a developed democratic country that seeks peace and does everything to achieve it. In recent years I realized that this democracy and peace keeping was actually a disguise set to constantly silence the abuse of the Palestinian people. Now I see things differently.
After going to Poland and seeing the horrors that the Jews went through, I cant understand why anyone would want to join or support something like the occupation and the Israeli army. Israel is obviously stronger, which means that we have to make the first step toward peace. We have to evacuate the settlers because that land is simply not ours.
I know that the situation is not my fault and if it was up to me non of this would have happened but I still feel bad and ashamed because this is where I came from. I don’t really know how to deal with all of this. I read newspapers and heard about how much the Palestinian people suffer but I always denied the truth that was in front of me.
I imagine that most of you don’t share my opinion and I also have a difficult time accepting it. But right now I don’t think that arguments supporting Israel’s actions could convince me anymore. It was always important for me to defend Israel but I found myself saying to my Palestinian friend that she’s completely right and that I have nothing to say.”
-United World College Student Magazine-