I’ve had a really nice few days. I came back home to D.C. for my spring break — a plan that is much different from one before that involved me coming back to Columbia early — and after deciding to stay here the whole week, I really think it’s been a great time. I’m definitely in break mode. I mean, I’m channeling my inner gluttony, sloth and indulgence simultaneously. (I know this sounds bad. But you cannot blame me…everyone loves a good week where every day contains seven meals, shamefully long naps and overt —but discounted — spending.)
I only kid. I’ve actually been very, very busy the past few days. I’m not one to brag, but hey…living in D.C. is awesome. And I’ve really got my parents to thank for that. I do honestly miss Orlando sometimes. But D.C. makes up for it tenfold — except for my friends I regretfully have left behind!
It’s always nice to be in a city where it’s not surprising to read about a conference that’s happening right on the weekend you find out about it. That’s exactly what happened to me this weekend. J Street, a progressive-minded pro-Israel lobby in D.C., was hosting its annual Making History conference at the D.C. convention center, and I was beyond excited when I read about it online. (Ask my mom. I yelped when I saw it was this weekend.) I knew I had to go. It was focusing on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (as well as other things like the influence of the Arab Spring and the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions) and after learning recently about the conflict and due to my incessant obsession with the region, I practically grabbed my bag and ran to the convention center. It was also nice to see that the student price was super cheap.
(Note: I’m an American who was raised Christian. I’ve just been interested in the conflict and the Middle East region for a while, and as my learning grows, I’ve come to learn more about the complexities and the intertwining of the conflicts within the region. This conference provided a great opportunity for me to get short-term but very intensive and well-worthy knowledge that has helped me sift through the steep intricacies of the region.)
I learned many things at this convention, and I’m surprised at the number of events I was able to go to. I got a wonderful vignette into a Jewish perspective (albeit the progressive one) about the progress (or lack thereof) of the issue between the Israelis and Palestinians. It was two days of intense discussions and panels and films that brought together diplomats, experts, professors, progressive Jews, conservative Jews (although pretty few and far between), non-Jews and a surprising and exciting number of young people like me to talk about an issue that’s become the front and center issue yet has remained shadowed by taboo and conflict. I’d like to consider myself an outsider to the general debate, and that’s something I wanted to change. I spoke to some Jewish men who traveled all the way from Rochester, N.Y. about being a non-Jew and trying to figure out the whole issue and trying to understand it. I was blown away the whole weekend by the friendliness that I was greeted with by everyone. Now, I’m not saying I was expecting judgment or rudeness, but it was nice to see that people understood that I was still learning a lot and was developing my own perspectives.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has many facets. That’s clear. There’s land for peace. The settlements. Diaspora. Refugees. Security. The IDF. Relations with the U.S. Relations with the Arab countries. Oil. Water. Jerusalem. Temple of the Mount. Mutual recognition. A two-state solution (or…a one-state solution?). HAMAS. The Gaza strip. Lebanon (and Hezbollah). Egypt. Syria. Jordan. Iran. Nuclear power. Extremism. Violence. 1949. Gilad Shalit (and captives in general, on both sides). 1967. 1973. Oslo. Judaism. Islam. The PA. The PLO. 2006. 2008. Really, every year. Every day.
That’s just a basic few. There are many, many other issues and things that connect. (But that would go into a marathon-length post that I’m not even sure I could write because I don’t know enough.) It’s a terribly tangled web.
I can’t personally even begin to delve into it, because it’s so complex. I’m not going to take a side, because there are too many complexities, and I think I have a duty as a journalist not to. But I do think, as a member of humanity, and from what I’ve taken from this weekend, we need to open up talks between the two parties. But that’s so hard to do. How do you get two people to talk to each other who hate each other; who know what they’re going to say and what they’re going to disagree with; who have an indescribably long and complex history; who both, essentially, want the same thing? Can two people co-exist when neither will ever be completely happy? There’s a lot of stubbornness that’s pervading the air of the talks. There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of betrayal, loss, tension, hatred. A lot of this has come from families, from the media, from the culture of the volatile and heated region of Palestine.
So bringing these parties together is one of the most imminent issues that our world culture is still facing, half a century later and many, many centuries in coming. It’s been a conflict that’s been around since as long as we have and will continue to plague the region’s culture, society and politics (and abroad in all three categories as well) until we figure out a way to address this complex issue. And I’m definitely in no position to begin to start. But it’s those first steps that are important. I think those steps are possible, but they need to be taken on both sides.
Leaders at the event said they believe it’s possible to make progress. I think it’s possible as well. I just think that it’ll take a lot of strain and pain to get there. (But let’s not forget I’ve still got a lot to learn. Therefore I fear treading on any dangerous territory until I can rightfully claim a stake or at least form something with the likeness of an opinion.)
In a film I saw at the event, one Palestinian Christian girl described the situation in East Jerusalem after she returned from a camp aimed at helping Palestinian and Israeli girls talk over their difference in an American setting — which was the focus of the film. She described how constant bombings kept her on edge, as she bravely bought coffee from a Cafe Hillel through the tumult. Palestinians are killed. Israelis are killed. It’s a constant cycle of violence and unfairness, seen through this girl’s eyes — and many others — that seem to make no sense at times. It’s gotten out of control and the citizens of the region themselves often question what’s really going on.
Can there be a road map for peace when the roads themselves are the casualties of the conflict—from congested traffic to dirt v. paved? Or when the roads themselves may not be there the next day?
“The bomb isn’t gonna choose you if you’re Israeli or Palestinian,” the girl said. “It’s just gonna explode.”
I am going to stop myself before I tread down a long path into a long-winded rabbit hole about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Phew. What I do know is that I learned a lot these past few days. And it just felt right. I found myself being drawn into each panel and feeling each guest speaker’s passion about the conflict.
And aside from this (and this should NOT be the last thing I mention, because it’s really what I’ve been thinking about the most over the trip), I’ve landed a great opportunity for a summer internship. For some reason I don’t want to talk a lot about it. But I don’t want to underestimate myself, because I know I’ve worked hard for it. I have trouble being open with applauding myself, because it’s something I don’t like to see much in others. And that’s something I have to work on.
But I see people around me that work very, very hard and subsequently go very far. I know my colleagues will be successful. And this is something to reflect on. It’s very humbling. And moreover, it pushes me to work hard too. Being around motivation really helps me push myself. We push each other. And I can see the results. It’s really exciting, for all of us.