Israel Reflections 2013–American Perspectives on the Middle East

Yesterday was the last day of class for our International Conflict Resolution class and, to close,  I thought I would post some oversarching comments.  Particularly as the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, embarks on what I hope will be a successful quest to learn more about the Israeli Palestinian conflict and encourage the parties to reach resolution, it is always useful to remember that newspapers cannot possibly convey the nuances and complexities of conflict.  Here are two different reflections on how American perspectives of the Middle East are shaped:

From Amber Ragonese:

Almost everything the average (non-Jewish) American hears about Israel is in some way related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Almost everything the average (non-Middle Eastern) American hears about the Middle East is in some way related to war.  Until participating in the Conflict Resolution course, I was no exception.  We hear of suicide bombers attacking crowded markets and public transit.  We hear of rockets crossing over the southern borders and of Palestinians  being targeted by Israeli military forces.  Given this background, I was a bit surprised to find myself around day three of our eight-day escapade suddenly realizing that not a moment had passed in which I felt unsafe or worried about my  security or overall well-being.  In fact, when I came to this realization I found that I felt safer in Israel than I do walking back to the Wells Street parking structure on the Marquette campus after night classes.

The first moment I gained a better sense of my location in the world was while overlooking Syria from the Golan Heights.   Even then, had I not been told of the position, I could have easily been viewing a pasture in any Mediterranean climate.  It wasn’t until three UN peacekeepers stopped their patrol to speak to us and pointed out the loud noise we just heard was in fact a Syrian bomb, that reality began to creep back.  And yet – the environment was still oddly not odd.  Normal.   Serene. Beautiful, even.  I knew the sound was a bomb and logically understood the potential devastation it could have caused, but it was still difficult to grasp: there were no screams, there was no blood, there were no crumbling buildings in sight.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists as do other pockets of violence in the region; and while there’s little doubt numerous families have been devastated by the clashes, it is entirely  possible to visit the region in a blissful and naïve ignorance of it all.  With the exception of the daily sight of the Israeli Defense Force and their assault weapons attached at the hip, one may actually have to force themselves to remember the conflict exists in order to experience any sign of it.  And so the question arises: is it possible that daily media reminders of how dangerous and destructive a place is can actually make it safer?

From Aneet Kaur:

Ever since returning from Israel I’ve been asked again and again about how the trip went and have even gotten many “good to see your back in one piece” comments. These statements made me realize how little we really know what is going in the Middle East. Quite honestly, prior to going on the trip I had the same general idea of Israel as well. However, reflecting back I can’t think of one time in Israel when I felt unsafe. Going to Israel has been a life changing experience for me.  That’s not a statement you can make after many trips. I’ve tried to explain it to my family and friends but somehow I feel my words and pictures won’t do justice to my experience. Besides the country itself and the amazing sights, the experience was so much greater because of the people we got to hear speak. In a matter of a week, the amount of different people and different perspectives we were introduced to is not something you can accomplish on many trips. Even though I knew how emotionally charged the conflict in Israel is, being able to hear from so many different people who are personally affected and connected to the conflict gave me a different outlook on it.

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