A story from the Holy Land, revisited.

Ask anyone that knows me and they will confirm that I have been quite whiny the last few weeks here in Geneva.

I recently finished a legal research paper worth my entire grade for my peacekeeping and human rights class here. Writing it forced me to wade through a personal, political, and legal mire. The topic was Israel & Palestine.

As mentioned a few posts back, I spent last winter break on a Birthright trip to Israel. I assumed the experience would include a varying degree of half truths and political spin. But only until studying in Europe and researching this paper, did I realize the extent of the politicization. I didn’t realize just how much politicization there was, on every level, over every detail, every apostrophe in the last 150 years, or at least 60 years of history. Even writing my facts section, supposedly the easiest part of an essay, was a challenge given the absence of an unbiased historical text that does not cherry pick facts to tell the story they support. I was unable to find a middle ground- people are either for, against, neutral or ignorant. I found the polarization shocking.

In the US, we are largely fed a slant favoring Israel and in Europe, it is the opposite…. which made writing an honest, balanced paper quite difficult. I felt a responsibility to myself to learn the anti-Israel arguments and consider their merits and a responsibility to the class (the paper was tied with a presentation) to provide a fair assessment of the arguments for Israel. Being American and Jewish is like a double edged sword when talking about Israel in Europe, it’s like I am extra at fault for the violence and suffering in the Middle East.

I considered taking down my earlier blog post about Israel and the story I was told about the Yom Kippur War as our Birthright group sat atop Mt. Bental in the Golan Heights overlooking Syria. I decided to leave it unchanged. I was mad at myself for being so naive, and blindly taking that story as the whole story. I question it now, as a war fable. I still think it is a great story of bravery, ingenuity and survival against all odds. Now, realizing the complexity underlying the heroism of that one Israeli soldier, the account seems more dramatic, and sad in a sense. It illustrates the deadly cycle of violence. It is the same wounds that  keep on bleeding. We sat on Mt. Bental that sunny January day, deep in the heart of the Golan heights. It was beautiful, peaceful even. Which is strange, realizing now, that it is technically an occupied territory acquired as a spoil of the  1967 war, contrary to international law.  It’s a beautiful, fertile piece of land with valuable water and agricultural resources.

But, the Golan’s expansive rolling, grassy fields are, if you look closely, crisscrossed by fences marked with warnings, “beware of land mines.” It is an irony inherent in the conflict itself, one of the most fertile and resource rich pieces of land in dispute, is ready to erupt with one wrong move.