Israel and Palestine--Conflict Resolution and Co-Resistance
I applied to a short-term Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEUs) study abroad program through CGIS, thinking that a summer trip would be the perfect opportunity to have fun over the break while also building my resume. I had no idea what a transformative impact it would end up having on my life.
My program, titled “Israel and Palestine--Conflict Resolution and Co-Resistance,” consisted of a 1-credit course which would prepare us for a 3-week field experience in Israel/Palestine the following summer. The class was a discussion-based introduction to the region’s very extensive history, with one of the main goals being to dissect the sociopolitical biases that each individual would be bringing with them on the trip. This preparation phase turned out to be crucial for understanding and reflecting on my experiences during our travels, as well as building a respectful dynamic among a very diverse group of students.
Academic majors ranged from sociology to biochemistry; there were a variety of ethnicities and religions; some of us had been to the Middle East before, some had never even flown in a plane. Some students paid their own way while others relied on the university’s generous fund for need-based scholarships. Personally, there were a variety of reasons I never imagined myself studying abroad in college, including cost, chronic illness, and travel inexperience. It’s hard to believe it all started with a simple email to CGIS expressing my concerns!
These days, I have come to think of my life as consisting of two separate periods: pre-GIEU and post-GIEU. As a pre-med student raised in a majority white suburb, I had little interest in politics or social justice issues. I am ashamed to admit that I never considered my duty to examine that apathy. However, on this trip, I found myself struggling with emotions that I had never felt before. I saw things in person that I had seen a thousand times on the television screen but never truly understood the gravity of until now. I was confronted with questions and revelations that were so intensely emotional I simply could not reconcile them with the privileged worldview that I had adopted as a young adult. I will be forever thankful to my mentors and fellow students on that GIEU trip who helped me learn from those challenging moments and embrace them as growing pains.
When I think back on moments that broadened my perspective, one particular experience stands out. It was the first stop on our itinerary--our group was to spend a few days doing volunteer work at a Palestinian-owned farm in the West Bank. I remember stumbling out of a tour bus at 7 a.m., still drowsy from jet lag and already sweating from the heat. The road had ended, so in order to reach the farm we ditched the bus and hiked up a dirt path overlooking the breathtaking landscape of the Judaean Hills. We were sent out into the fields with hoes and picks to cultivate the soil for a couple of hours before being treated to a delicious traditional meal. But the real treat was after lunch when our group met with the owner of the farm.
The man expressed a humble and steadfast disposition as he told us the heartbreaking story of his ongoing legal battle with the Israeli government over property rights for the land. Having just spent the morning enjoying the beauty of the farm and learning to appreciate the dedication and physical labor required to keep it running, it would have been easy for us to sympathize with his struggles. However, he would not let us dwell in the negativity. Even in the face of violent conflict closing in around his family, the owner emphasized to us how they are fighting daily to uphold the values of peace and hope.
In an effort to educate people about non-violent resistance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, their family hosts volunteer opportunities for visitors who come from all over the world, and their farm has become a symbol of hope for Palestinians and Israeli allies alike. For our student group, it would be one of the most inspiring stories that we would encounter on the trip together. We learned that day about the strength of the human spirit and how powerful hope can be in the face of hostility. That experience stuck with me over the following three weeks, and the more I learned about the political conflict the more I was driven to engage in it in a way that emulated the values of that Palestinian family.
I took all of the lessons I learned abroad back home to Ann Arbor with me. I started getting involved in protests, politics, and volunteering more in my community. In my career ambitions, I found myself drawn more and more to the idea of serving low socioeconomic areas. I was driven by a new conviction to serve, to step into other people’s shoes, and to stand up for those who can’t stand for themselves. Ultimately, I realized that I am not just a college student or just a U.S. citizen--I am a citizen of the world.
As I write this, I am about to enter my second year as a Medical Physiology Master student at Case Western Reserve University. I plan on doing a service year with Americorps while I apply for medical school after graduation. I know I would not be the person I am today, nor would I have such a clear vision for my future as a physician, had I not been given the opportunity to spend those unforgettable three weeks in Israel/Palestine. GIEU completely transformed my relationship with the world and with my myself. It helped me find my voice. It made me realize that I have the ability--or more accurately, the responsibility--to fight for social change around the world and especially in my own community.
My hope is that those reading this will be inspired by my words to chase their own intercultural experience. It doesn’t even have to be across the world--it can start in your own backyard!