Israel Reflections 2017–Day One–or Should a Bartender be the next Mediator for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

I am going to start posting the student reflections from the trip on a regular basis for the next couple weeks–hope you enjoy!

For the start of our Israel trip this year, we first stopped for an overlook of Jerusalem. Here our tour guide, Asaf, gave us a very brief history of Israel—6,000 years in 6 minutes…well maybe it took 10 minutes.  Following a fabulous dinner at Focaccia-Bar (I highly recommend), several students explored night life in Jerusalem during Shabbat. Student, Stephen Bollom, shared his experience with identities changed to protect the innocent (sort of).

Should a Bartender Be the Next Mediator for The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

Six hours after landing in Israel, I found myself amid an impromptu conflict resolution at Dublin Bar in Jerusalem. How could this be happening? I was only kidding when I told my friend we couldn’t leave Israel until we came to a two-state solution! Yet, there I sat, with my Jack and Diet half-full in front of me, as I pretended to not hear the commotion going on between him and two attractive Israeli women sitting next to him at the bar. How was he to know the ins-and-out of appropriate decorum considering the jet lag hadn’t even begun to wear off? How could it be our fault as Americans that the social constructs with which we are familiar would be considered offensive and insulting in Israel?

Since 1948, the State of Israel has found itself entrenched in a battle with Palestine concerning mutual recognition, borders, security, water rights, control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, Palestinian freedom of movement, and Palestinian right of return. I travelled to Israel with my International Conflict Resolution class at Marquette University Law School as part of our course so we could better understand and witness the convoluted nature of this conflict. Most importantly, the trip to Israel was organized, in part, to put a human face and real-world experience on an often-ambiguous topic. It’s one thing to hear about the “Green Line” on the news; however, to stand on top of a bridge which crosses what could accurately be described as a litter-strewn ditch, and see that THAT is the all-important Green Line, is another thing entirely.

Considering the significant amount of international interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some may find it surprising that nothing more than a peace agreement here and there has been achieved between the two sides. Yet, to reduce those agreements as inconsequential and lacking the weight and significance of more permanent agreements is both dismissive and disrespectful to the families of victims on both sides of the conflict. As I learned first-hand in Israel from impacted parties from both side of the situation, the time has come for the international mediators to remove themselves from this conflict and allow Israel and Palestine to negotiate a peace agreement which proves tantamount to tangible peace between the two sides. All too often in the past, world leaders, mediators, and negotiators have invaded Israeli soil with the best of intentions – to solve the conflict as would be appropriate in their homeland. However, such officials are often unfamiliar, if not blatantly ignorant, of the intricacies of Israeli-Palestinian culture, communication, and behavior. Who better to solve this conflict than the parties themselves? Based on my brief stay in Israel, and my interaction with an array of Israeli’s and Palestinians from all walks of life, the time is ripe for a more permanent solution to this horrible conflict; and today’s generation is prepared to take the crucial steps to mend wounds, acknowledge grievances, and work together for a lasting future.

Which is an important lesson I happened to witness in Dublin Bar. The bartender, having heard the kerfuffle between my friend and the two Israeli women, stepped in to find out what happened. It seemed my classmate offered one of the women $20 for a cigarette (he was desperate!), an offer to which she took great offense. The bartender then went on to first explain to him that one should never offer to pay an Israeli woman for anything; it was simply against their culture. The bartender then spoke with the women and explained to them no harm or insult was intended, as we were very new to Israel and Jerusalem. With this explanation, the woman then offered him a cigarette as a token of understanding and forgiveness. However, (clearly sleep deprived and not thinking), my friend pressed forward, lesson unlearned, and not only declined the cigarette, but offered to buy the woman, and her friend, a round of drinks! While we were lucky to avoid a physical altercation in the bar, it was not lost on me that even with the best mediator, sometimes cultures can be so stubborn as to not see the trees through the forest! Our bartender/mediator worked diligently to resolve the drink issue, and in the end we danced the night away with the other friends of the two Israeli women. So, who knows, maybe bartenders are the only people missing from the mediation table between Israel and Palestine!

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