“No Jews allowed.” As I walked through the tunnel to the Dome of the Rock, the sharp caveat-not signed by members of the Muslim faith, but rather from the Chief Rabbi of Israel-seemed almost aggressive, demeaning, self-righteous. The irony of the situation was shocking. For years, I was taught the conflict in the Middle East was a result of the Arabs’ refusal to create a solution with the Jews rather than the Jews’ refusal to recognize and appreciate the humanity within the Muslim religion. I am a Jew, a citizen of Israel, and a supporter of the right to a Jewish homeland. I am also a humanitarian, advocate for world peace, and good friends with a Mahmud, Anwar, and an Ibrahim. From a strictly outsider prospective, the hate seems one sided-the aggressor differing in each political view. The reality sheds a new light: the abhorrence is ubiquitous across the board. My friend Ismeal has declared his readiness to kill the Jews; my uncles in Jerusalem have expressed the need to “nuke ’em all.” Both fail to recognize the people, the living, breathing individuals, they are so easily prepared to eliminate.
Because I have always attended a small, private, Jewish school, immersed in daily lessons from the torah and play dates with primarily Jewish children, conflict stands far from my daily life. This past summer, in attempt to escape what I’d recently labeled a sheltered life, I spent three weeks in Israel with twenty Jews and twenty Arabs: different groups, different cultures. Though I left the program with an unnerving feeling of defeat, I walked away with a sense of understanding. Amidst conversations-even enraged arguments-a clouded yet undoubtedly present sympathetic appeal was made on both sides. For the past several years, the question of “how are we to live” has consumed my lessons from its initial theme of my ninth and tenth grade humanities courses to my science studies, to my Jewish ethics class. My summer trip echoed the same question-the query of life’s meaning in its relation to human interaction. While the media depicts the Middle Eastern conflict as a political war, the truth is closer to home-closer to the villages, the kibutzim, the wila-yah. The citizens-both Muslim and Jew-feel turmoil on a daily basis, not yearning for religious supremacy or political dictatorship but rather peace and safety for themselves and their children. Neither holds the entire blame, for both the Israelis as well as the Arabs spread the hate, bias, and propaganda.
Throughout the summer, a turning point in my understanding of the conflict occurred on our bus rides from city to city, for they gave us a chance to talk candidly with each other about our views and the stories that validate them. As the conversations deepened, I realized how similar we were, not necessarily on a surface level but even more so on an innate platform that defined our beings as humans. We all love, hate, and fear. We all think, feel, and act. Our ability to do so is what separates us from any other species. The seemingly obvious rationale further diluted an understanding of the reasoning behind the ever-enduring conflict.
I live in a world where my reality is slightly sheltered yet the world is morbidly multifaceted. I lived in Israel. My older cousins are soldiers; my room was a bomb shelter, and I had even decorated my own gas mask with pink Barbie stickers. I know what it’s like to live in Israel, breathing in its sweet air as the Tzevah Adom bomb sirens go off. Yet, as I thrive here in America, I know what safety is, and I expect a world where everyone-man and child, Muslim and Jew-can experience well-being and comfort, dignity and respect. I’m a social activist who is skeptical of human motives but idealistic for revolutionary change. I live in a world where I expect a future filled with peace; our world is simply evolving too quickly into a technologically-advanced realm to withstand such irrationality. Through my unparalleled experience this summer, I’ve begun to recognize the most pressing purpose of life, which, ironically, is the most difficult challenge facing my generation: that is, to familiarize ourselves with the facts, separate ourselves from the wave of bias that so often clouds our judgment. My world is convoluted yet I hope for lucidity in the future despite the cultural barriers we currently parade.