Outside in: One Foreigner's Perspective - Elections 2018

- by Alex Dunbar Jones -

While studying at university last year, I became almost unhealthily obsessed with all things related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When I wanted to relax after class and watch TV, I would watch Fauda.

When friends wanted to have a weekend away, I would suggest visiting Shuhada Street in Hebron.
Instead of reading Harry Potter like a normal person, I would reach for an academic tome discussing the politicisation of the geography of Tel Aviv and Jaffa.

Then just when you think that you’re finally beginning to understand what’s going on here, or when you think you see a viable solution coming out of the fog of distrust, you are reminded of how little you know. It seems as though every few weeks I learn something new about the conflict that totally changes my perspective! A chance meeting or visiting an unexpected place can open your eyes to aspects of the conflict you had never imagined. It’s also very humbling to look back on the things which were shocking to learn for the first time but which now seem tragically normal.

This happened to me again last week while on my first ever Green Olive tour. I joined Yahav and an engaged bunch of Kiwi and Swiss travellers for a full day Greater Jerusalem tour. We covered topics as diverse as the flagellation of Jesus and the settlement of Israeli Jews in provocative neighbourhoods of the Old City. But it was the last section of the tour which most challenged my perspectives.

Yahav stood us with a panoramic view of both East and West Jerusalem and broke down the differences in quality of life for residents of each side. The methodical way in which he described life for most East Jerusalemites was not judgemental but I was so moved that when we got back into the van, I put my sunglasses on to hide my eyes and needed a moment to compose myself! Between impossible-to-obtain construction permits and revoking residency rights, one of the points which most struck me was that people from East Jerusalem know West Jerusalem, because often they mow its lawns, build its houses and cook its food. But people in West Jerusalem might have never been to neighbourhoods walking distance from where they were born.

As an obsessively curious person I find this hard to imagine! Although every few weeks something seems to change my mind regarding one aspect or other of the conflict, I am a firm believer that exploring the world, meeting people and actually talking to them is a universally good thing. Whether you have just a casual interest in the Middle East, or if you think of you already know everything about it, I wholeheartedly encourage you to come and explore as many sides of this fascinating area as you can, for yourself.

Better yet, join Green Olive for a tour!
Alex is Vice-President of Administration for Green Olive Tours. He originates from New Zealand, has worked in tourism in several countries, and recently completed his Masters Degree in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University.


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Outside in: One Foreigner’s Perspective

- by Alexander Dunbar Jones
According to Israel’s Council for Higher Education (CHE), since 2011 the number of Arab students in Israeli universities has grown by 78.5% and currently just over 16% of the total student body is Arab.

At Tel Aviv University, Arabs make up a visible and large minority, yet to me, an international student at the university last year, it was shocking to observe the degree of social separation. While overall the campus was more diverse than I had expected, lunchtime cafés and library study spaces were almost strictly divided places. Although supposedly a secular space, the university is home to the architecturally splendid Cymbalista synagogue yet Muslim students, who must pray five times a day, make do with a makeshift-mosque in a classroom.

In May 2018, I was a Masters student in conflict resolution at TAU, and a group facilitation course required us to organise an event which involved some of the key concepts we had been studying. We decided to try and do something to bridge the divide - or rather shrink the gulf - between Jewish and Arab students on campus.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which sees a billion Muslims around the world fast during daylight, was just around the corner. Our programme director told us he thought an official Ramadan event had never before been organised on campus. At just the same time, I experienced the legendary Arab hospitality on a trip in the West Bank and started to notice how reluctant Arab students were to eat alone on campus. An idea was born.

The Iftar is the first meal of the day, eaten at sunset, and is a special time usually involving a feast with family. For many students living away from home for the first time, it can be a lonely time. An iftar which would be open to Muslims fasting, as well as Jewish students and anyone else, seemed to us like a great idea. As we began interviewing people to see how our idea would be received it soon became apparent that strong political currents invisible to us permeated student life as well.

We became aware that the Muslim Students’ Association was in fact organising their own events, separating men and women and not advertised to the wider (Jewish) student body. As I had decided to fast during Ramadan, partially in solidarity and partially out of curiosity, I was generously invited to the feast as well. It was a great experience but also a lonely one which strengthened my resolve to help host a more inclusive event.

At our event, we naïvely hoped that students of all backgrounds would simply eat together while learning more about each other, Ramadan and what it is like to be a fasting student in the Israeli summer. But much to our surprise, during our preparation several interviewees baulked at the idea of foreign conflict resolution students trying to bring together Arabs and Jews. A lot of people here cringe at the idea of another smartass from overseas trying to solve their problems and more than once I’ve been asked, “what does all this have to do with you, why don’t you leave us to it?”. For many Arab students, coexistence events are just a way for Jews to feel less guilty about the occupation, the full effect of which they don’t even understand. We had inadvertently stumbled into the complex world of ‘anti-normalisation’.

Even those who personally didn’t have a problem with our framing of the event strongly recommended that we be aware of this issue. Ultimately, we had to totally change the entire focus of the event. We removed any mention of ‘conflict resolution’. We removed any mention of ‘coexistence’. Our posters were in Arabic, Hebrew and English, but made no mention of the fact that we hoped plenty of non-Muslims would come. The focus was the food, leaving us to just facilitate conversations for any non-Muslims who came.

The event was a sell out several days in advance and in the end we received some really great feedback. Still, very few non-Muslims came. But I personally witnessed those that did becoming comfortable enough to have conversations about usually uncomfortable issues, wildly dancing dabke and making friends they continue to see to this day. Heartfelt thanks from Muslim students ended in more than more invitation to another meal together in the family home. Anti-normalisation didn’t put an end to the entire event but it revealed to me an aspect of the conflict that even studying conflict resolution hadn’t yet revealed

Ultimately, no matter what anyone feels about the merits of the movement, anti-normalisation is a powerful trend that so many good intentioned people both domestically and internationally don’t properly acknowledge or understand. It’s a feeling which won’t just go away on its own and as with everything, understanding why people feel this way is the first necessary step to do something about it.

Many thanks go to Professor Yuval Kalish, who preachers the power of conducting a conflict assessment before facilitating anything, in order to reveal precisely these kinds of important unseen currents; to Corey Gil-Schuster, who provided the initial inspiration for the event; and to Bassil Maroun, the legendary Arab Student Union representative without whom the event may well never have taken place.

Alex originates from New Zealand, lives in Israel, and is currently exploring a career opportunity with Green Olive Tours. He recently completed his Masters Degree in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University.


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Rosh Hashana 5779

by Fred Schlomka -
Rosh Hashana (ראש השנה) literally means the 'Head of the Year', and celebrates the birthday of the Universe, which according to Jewish tradition was created 5,779 years ago.
Known also as the 'Jewish New Year', Rosh Hashana is a time for introspection, to ponder one's lesser nature and to prepare for the ritual repentance of Yom Kippur - the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, which happens in one week.
The 'Days of Awe', as the coming week is known, can be used in a practical manner in order to cleanse the soul of the detritus of the previous year - acts of moral turpitude, sins, crimes, and suchlike.
Religious folks perform an ancient ritual known as 'Tashlich', that gives corporeal form to the essentially intangible notion of 'sin'. Participants find a body of flowing natural water to conduct the ritual. It could be an ocean, river, pond, etc. While praying, devout people symbolically throw pieces of bread into the water, representing their sins that are being cast off in an act of repentance. Try it sometime. Kids love the idea, and enthusiastically toss their sins into the water.
Many Rabbis tell us that more proactive forms of repentance must also be conducted, such as contacting people we have wronged during the previous year, and begging their forgiveness. I tried this once. Didn't work. The fellow had refused to speak to me for several years due to his offence at some behaviour of mine. It's so long ago that I don't even remember the exact nature of the slight, and I suspect he doesn't either. Anyway I phoned him and my invitation for coffee to let 'bygones be bygones' was spurned. He mumbled into the phone that he would prefer to ' . . . let things stand as they are', and hung up.
Oh well, I tried. I think that's the most important thing. I forgive him.
However on this year, the 5,779th year since creation, I appeal to all whom I have slighted, offended, sinned against, or otherwise violated the natural laws of this wonderful Universe during the past year. Please forgive me.
May the coming year be a time of sweetness for all, full of justice, peace and love.
שנה טובה
Shana Tova
Happy New Year


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