Reflections on my Trip to Israel/Palestine

2019 writing competition
 
- by Dorit Miles - 

As an Israeli born, curious about the Palestinians for years, I never expected to be able to go to the “other side”. The opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it. In January of 2016, I joined a group of interfaith travelers to Israel /Palestine. I decided to go because I wanted to find out for myself how the Palestinians live and to hear their individual stories. Yes, I was scared. The trip had an enormous effect on my emotions and knowledge. Meeting the other demystified the stereotypes. If I could have brought half of the Israelis with me, I think we could have the beginning of peace.

It was fascinating to listen to our Palestinian and Israeli guides. They presented their historical and current perspectives with utmost respect for each other. At times I would get upset internally with Hussam and without fail Natan would address my concerns by saying: “wait a minute, let me tell you the Israeli story”. What I saw on the West Bank defied my expectations and previous perceptions. I expected the Palestinians to be all living in dire poverty and be helpless. What I saw was a people building a nation with goals and aspirations.

The Palestinian family I stayed with in Bayt Sahour by Bethlehem, could have been an Israeli one. They looked like one of my Israeli friend’s family, with their three teenage daughters with long beautiful black hair. Family is central to their lives and their children’s education of utmost importance. I heard how check points make their lives miserable and how caged they feel. The father told me in Hebrew what an ordeal it was to cross the checkpoints daily on his way to work in Jerusalem. For a trip that normally would take 20 minutes, it took him 2 hours and sometimes more because of the wait at the checkpoints.

The peace builders on both sides touched my heart. Most Israelis think of Palestinians as murderers. Each side, Israeli and Palestinians, has strong stereotypes of the other that is reinforced daily by the media and general public attitudes. On the streets in Israel and Palestine people say they don’t hate each other. But I heard hostility. In Hebron young children sang: “We will push them out”. Palestinians see all Israelis as soldiers and occupiers. Israelis think Palestinian mothers raise their children to be terrorist.

I was amazed to hear the transformation of three Palestinians from prisoners in Israeli jails to guiding their people in nonviolent resistance. One recalled how he heard for the first time about the Holocaust while watching a movie about it and he cried. The Palestinians are asking the Israelis to acknowledge their Nakba, which is their pain.

I saw the extremes of Palestine, beautiful modern Ramallah and Dheisheh refugee camp outside of Bethlehem. I was transformed on this trip. I saw and felt the humanity of the Palestinians. I truly believe that individuals from both sides meeting each other will make a big difference in the region. There are thousands of Israelis and Palestinians that are making the effort.

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