Conflict & Hope: Day 1, Speaker 1

Monday morning when I woke up I was not feeling too great. I couldn’t really swallow and I had an achy upper body. As the day progressed I wasn’t feeling much better. I came back to Rehovot, bought some groceries, cooked some dinner, and went to bed. I hoped I would wake up feeling better, but unfortunately I woke up only feeling worse. I just spent the last five days in the Jerusalem area attending an OTZMA education seminar entitled “Conflict and Hope.” It focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and it was, in one word, intense.

I rarely get sick, and when I do I have a hard time sitting still which is the most important thing to do when one is not feeling well. So although it sucks that I could very well have a fever right now, I am going to take today to sit back, relax, and reflect on all that I learned, saw, and experienced during this past week.

On Thursday a bus came to pick up my roommates and I in Rehovot. It was filled with other OTZMA kids living in Carmiel, Haifa, and Emek Hefer. It was nice to see and be with everyone again and it was great to see how happy and settled everyone is in their new homes. While driving on the highway our bus driver was going a bit to fast and almost slammed into the car in front of us. Fortunately no one was in the right lane and he was able to get over only mildly side swiping another car. He handled it well, and hit his brakes fast enough so our little bus didn’t topple over on the side of the road. After all sitting in anxiousness and fear at what was about to happen, we all got off the bus and sat outside for a little while our driver spoke with the woman he side swiped. Fortunately no one was hurt, but I should have seen it as a telling sign that the near-accident marked the beginning of the intensity of what was about to be the next five days.

Due to the accident and some traffic we arrived a bit late to the education seminar. Unfortunately we missed the introduction, and when we got there Neil Lazarus was anxious to begin his speech entitled, “Hard Questions for Hard People.” Neil Lazarus is one of Israel’s keynote speakers, and I have been fortunate to see him three times already. I once heard him speak on Birthright, and have since seen him twice on OTZMA. Typically he focuses on current Israeli news in general. But last Thursday he spoke more specifically on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I would say he, along with the two speakers we had after him, took the role of giving us an introduction to the conflict.

He started his speech by asking us, “Do Jews have a right to live in the West Bank?” The answer to this question brings us thousands of years back into History when Jews were living in Judea and Samaria. OR the answer to this question bring us back to both the years 1948 and 1967 when Israelis were given the West Bank. Although 1967 – today is not thousands of years, it is still quite a lenghty amount of time to be still disagreeing over the land. As the always dry-humored Neil Lazarus made it clear to us, he said, “’67 was the year I was born, and I am now middle-aged and fat.”

He then asked us if we knew exactly where the west bank was, followed by a map showing the ‘green line’ that marks it. Neil then proceeded to show us some news clips created from the Palestinian side to show us just how bad this struggle is. The first video was of Israeli’s attacking Palestinian Shepards in Susya. Another was a video saying, “17,000 children left behind. 4,100 homes destroyed by Israeli’s. This is cruelty.” He then showed us another news video from the Israeli side that was of a robot detonator detonating a bomb that was found inside of an ambulance. The robot moved it to the side of an empty road where it then blew it up. If this bomb was found inside a pizza hut it could have easily killed ten people. Neil then said how just yesterday in Iraq sixteen people died, and sixty+ were injured because of a bomb. He said how “This is nothing new, this is the Middle East.”

Let’s keep in mind here that in the Middle East Israel is the only democratic country. This means it is the only country that allows for free press. This means that any Arab country can come in, film whatever footage they want and choose to document it whatever way they want. This has worked to Israel’s disadvantage in the past, and it is becoming a growing problem.

Currently the four main issues in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are border control, jerusalem, the right of return, and a less important one — water. Dealing with border control a lot of the focus is on West Jerusalem which is currently all under Israeli control. However, in the settlements in the west bank a lot of Arabs think that Jews are living there ilegally. Jews say otherwise. Are you confused yet? After giving us this very basic background of what to expect Neil also gave us some advice.

He gave us questions to think about in the coming days which included:
– The realities on the ground
– The problem with evictions and evacuations
– When do you start your history?
– Humanitarian issues
– Does the fence actually work?
– Zionist attitude towards Arabs
– Importance of media and what they choose to show

Neil also mentioned to us how he feels a lot of people in Europe are currently more pro-Palestine because they are anti-colonialism, and Israelis are colonials. He also brought up the topic of anti-semitism and said that it did not just leave after the Holocaust. With all of this in mind I want to make note here that while I am obviously pro-Israel, I do not want to sound biased in my writings. The focus of this education seminar was to give us an opportunity to hear the argument from both sides, and I want you to keep this in mind as you read my blog entries.

Neil left us with a few last resonating comments and more advice. He said to not think American in the majority vs. the minority mentality. He also told us when talking to the speakers to, “Ask the hard questions — go for it, grab him by the testicles and go for it.”

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