I’m not supposed to have answers, which I am finally ok with. I thought I would have left this trip with a solid understanding of a somewhat practical solution and I realize that’s not happening. Now I am just trying to figure out whether I am in general optimistic or pessimistic. The panel we had today from our organizers was deeply humanizing on the Israeli side which I don’t think we previously had enough of. Because the Israeli narrative is often dominant and makes the most noise, we miss distinct voices that make up the crowd. We have often heard the opinions of our organizers, but not their stories which are so important to the narrative we speak of. That was necessary to bring Israel down to the human level and not just a state or a collection of sects.
Ramallah was not quite what I expected. Children are forced to guide their steps by fences and soldiers which I knew was a sad reality. The KFC and Pizza Hut made me forget where I was for a brief second before I saw the pile of rubble and the refugee camps and was jolted back to reality . These people are just like us, wanting the same things, same desires, but limited. This is the reality that very few get to see, a people trying to thrive and live normally under an occupation. Then I realized this was only about 5 minutes into the city, not too far from Jerusalem where we had been staying. How do these seemingly separate societies exist so close to one another, have such disparities, and hate each other without having contact?. How do you explain to children and even teenagers that their dreams are inhibited by the wall that tells them you cannot exist out of the border that we have defined for you? Our last speaker Monday said it best that occupation is the loss of control over your own destiny. I can come and go as I please within their world, but they will rarely know mine. They are not the same but interact on my (more or less) terms. We often describe ourselves in terms of a bubble, belonging to certain communities that are inward-looking. This bubble has fluid walls, easily popped with a little pressure, while barbed fences and gates are a lot harder to dismantle, both physical and psychological.
While in Ramallah, we met with a leader who gave a very engaging and charismatic talk, which is easy to do when brushing off the issues and dismissing a narrative that conflict with yours. Denying your role in these issues and ignoring important questions on security that make up a huge part of negotiation hearings is extremely idealistic and irresponsible. You delegitimize your claim by not comprehensively looking at the issues. It doesn’t seem as if there is a real desire to push past the past and look towards a future that can benefit all peoples.
Most of the weight of that talk didn’t really sink in until last night, when we spoke with the organizers on what they thought of the past few days and their reactions. I hadn’t realized that some of the jokes I had laughed about were so hurtful or even painful to hear for them. It is so easy to ignore some of the hurtful comments on past actions and identities as an outsider. Ignoring the legitimacy of the other side has done nothing to bring about change and won’t influence it in the future. It seems apparent that both sides have legitimate claims and legitimate hurt. Acknowledging that and knowing that we should only make the situation better from here seems to be the baseline that we need before negotiations really take off.