West Bank Seminar
One of the highlights of this year at mechina are the trips which we get to organise and go on as a group. And a few weeks ago we went on a five-day seminar to the West Bank. It was a very intensive trip, with many discussions of politics, history, and nationality that furthered our understanding of the politics in Israel, and our own views on them.
We started our seminar in Jerusalem, where we met Tovah Lazaroff, Deputy Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post. She spoke with us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which she has been covering for 20 years. We discussed possible solutions to it and the different consequences they might spur.
Next, Suleiman al-Khatib also came to speak to us. He’s an ex-Palestinian prisoner who grew up in East Jerusalem and was involved in political violence from a young age. As a result Suleiman spent ten and a half years in prison. He told us about his experience of learning Hebrew and Jewish history, and realising that we can’t solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through violence. Following his release, Suleiman and Chen Alon (ex-Israeli soldier) founded ‘Combatants for Peace’ which is a non-profit Israeli and Palestinan peace building organisation.
Monday morning we spent in Hebron, where we saw the Cave of the Patriarchs and took a tour of the Jewish settlement. We also read a text on violence in the IDF and discussed the history of the conflict in the Occupied Territories and what we believe is or isn’t justified in relation to the IDF’s operations. The discussion brought up interesting differences between how the Israelis and the Gap participants view this conflict and possible solutions to it, and both groups learned a lot from each other. This was followed by a lecture from Noam Arnon, who is a spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron and played a big part in re-establishing and growing this community.
This talk was followed with a meeting with “Breaking the Silence”, which is an Israeli NGO established by veterans of the IDF. They collect testimonies from discharged Israeli personnel on their experiences serving in the Occupied Territories. Speaking with them led us to a really meaningful conversation about how to reconcile loving Israel as a country but disagreeing with its military operations. And we came to the conclusion that our love for Israel is exactly the thing that drives us to criticise it, because we know it can be better.
We spent a night at a settlement called Elon Moreh, where we spoke to Regavim, a pro-settler Israeli NGO. It was a stark contrast to the talk with “Breaking the Silence”, and showed me how many different narratives there can be on the same history and facts, and how it’s everyone’s job to be aware of the different perspectives that exist and to form their own opinions through educating themselves.
The final day of the seminar helped us tie up everything we learned and leave on a more positive note, through lectures on “The Initiative to Reduce the Conflict”, rebuilding the discourse between the right and left, and possible solutions for the conflict such as “The Geneva Initiative”.
As a Jew coming to Israel for a gap year, learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was really important to me. Hearing speakers from all across the political spectrum and having discussions with Israelis on this issue helped me understand where I currently stand, and what things I want to explore more to strengthen my relationship to Israel and build a more solid opinion on the issues surrounding this topic.
// Nicole Khaimson, BINA Gap Year Participant