Recently there has been controversy over our visit to Ramallah and our visit to Arafat’s grave. Several people have called us “day-dreamers” and “DUMB”. I find these articles and comments not only disrespectful, but also steeped with ignorance about the purpose of our trip.
I applied for this trip because I wanted to truly understand the complex relationship between Israel and Palestine and hear the narratives presented on both side. I grew up in Oklahoma, USA, where Israel-Palestine was presented as a conflict of white versus brown, which translated into good versus evil. Very few bothered to see past this and hear both sides, but I knew that I didn’t want to be ignorant about these issues.
Unlike other trips, the Harvard College Israel Trek has not tried to inundate us with propaganda. I am grateful for that. Every day we have heard from diverse viewpoints, which allow us to formulate our own opinions on the situation. We spent two days listening to speakers on Israel ranging from Yossi Klein Halevi and Colonel Eran Lerman. We even visited an Israeli settlement in Eli.
Ramallah was a chance to see both sides personally. We met with local residents and heard how Israeli occupation had affected their lives. I didn’t agree with everything that was said, but I also didn’t agree with everything that was said by speakers we heard on the Israeli side either. This visit to Ramallah, and even Arafat’s grave, helped me form my own opinions, which was the entire point of this trip, so I stand by our actions.
The picture that we took at Arafat’s grave was taken out of context and spread by media outlets as Harvard students “honoring” a past terrorist. This wasn’t the case at all. Our intention was not to honor Arafat, but rather to learn about the Palestinian narrative, of which Arafat is an important part.
Listening to only one side of the narrative would be a disservice to both the participants on this trip and to the people involved in this conflict, so I cannot thank our leaders enough for having the courage to take us to Ramallah. I know it was hard for many of them, but they did it so we could be informed. This trip has been an eye-opening experience for me, and I am disappointed that the media is focusing on one photo taken at Arafat’s grave. It would be more productive to instead focus on our efforts to engage with the dialogue of these two places and their diverse people.