Reflections on Jerusalem

- Inés Jordan-Zoob, Excel Business 2017

Inés (right) with Matthew Klineman at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum

While in Jerusalem this weekend, we were fortunate enough to hear a rather spirited discussion between Palestinian Professor Nafez Nazzal and Israeli Ambassador Gideon Meir. It seemed fitting to hear two differing opinions of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the sacred nexus of the conflict itself. Even more poignant was that the Old City of Jerusalem was recaptured exactly 50 years ago this month, during the Six-Day War.

Before I delve into my personal reflection, I want to set the scene: in this dazzling city, geo-political and religious currents run deep. It’s nothing new. During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. For thousands of years, Jerusalem has served as the most volatile yet beautiful microcosm of the three Abrahamic faiths. The city’s contradictions abound: the Arab neighborhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah are surrounded by ultra-rightist settlements and huge volumes of Jewish tourism. It is the capital of Israel, yet there are no foreign embassies here. It houses arguably the most important site for Jewish pilgrimage, right next to the third holiest site in Islam. As I took in the wonder of the Western Wall, the glimmering Dome of the Rock lay directly within my sight. It was surreal. The religious architecture of the city serves as a bold visual reminder of the various actors within the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Amidst various religious sites and ruins you directly experience intermingled faiths and cultures, each with their own beliefs and values deeply buried in the land beneath.
You cannot go to Jerusalem and completely avoid any one of the different religious and political facets- nor should you try. Whatever your political opinion on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, to ignore the other side(s) is a moratorium on any potential resolution. Seeing the skyline of Jerusalem reminded me that however deep my opinions and desires about and for the state of Israel, I can’t ignore the beliefs of others. Jerusalem proves that our opinions exist radically against, but somehow in tandem, with each other.

Left to Right: Birthright Israel Excel Executive Director, Noa Meir, Palestinian Professor Nafez Nazzal, Miri Eisen, and Israeli Ambassador Gideon Meir at our “Narratives of Jerusalem” panel. (Photo credit: Avishai Finkelstein)

This brings me to my final point — the conversation of the two men mentioned above. I wish I could say I enjoyed it. I had wanted to speak directly to a Palestinian voice for so long. But I must admit, I overestimated my ability to be neutral. Professor Nazzal’s emotive responses provoked a visceral and defensive counter-response in me. It was not easy to listen to him. But none of this is easy. If it were, the conflict would not be as insidious and pervasive as it has become. And so, we go on. We must continue to expose ourselves to opinions beyond our own. We ought to be uncomfortable. For if we surround ourselves with only what we agree with, we will never progress towards peace.

Inés Jordan-Zoob is a member of the Birthright Israel Excel 2017 cohort, interning at Silicon Valley Bank. She studies at Duke University (c/o 2019), where she is pursuing a Dual B.A. in Political Science with focus in Security, Peace and Conflict and History of Art. Inés is from London, England.