Travelling to the Middle East is a great way to get an inside look into the lives of the people living in uncertainty. In American news, we see frequent stories on the latest exchanges between Israel and Palestine and other associated parties, such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Thanks to these news reports, I often got asked questions about my safety prior to my trip to Israel and some people in my life encouraged me not to go at all.
To clear the air, I need to share with you some truths. I believe that there is hope for peace in the future between Israel and Palestine and I want to tell you why.
- “People don’t WANT to kill other people”. This was a phrase said to me by a Jewish Israeli and a theme that I heard echoed from many individuals that we interacted with. The soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have one job, and that is to protect the State of Israel. Unfortunately, this sometimes requires protecting the country with gunfire or other forms of weaponry.
- Israel is not as dangerous as it seems. It is fair to say that Israel is a higher risk place to travel and that there could be a terrorist attack at any given moment. However, most of the time, you can know what places should be avoided when. For example, there have been clashes at the border of the Gaza strip recently. There were days when things were peaceful and my group was able to walk right up to a border wall. A few days later, things escalated and now it would be best to avoid this area. That being said, this is just one location in the whole country that this was happening.
- People on both sides of the border are emotionally hurt (some physically) and they want peace. Thankfully the organization that I traveled with, Passages, exposed us to different narratives surrounding the conflict. In hearing these stories, the one consensus is that they want Peace. The main difference is how they think is best to achieve this.
The problem is complex, yet simple. I encourage you to do some learning on your own because it may take you years to understand how deep this conflict runs and why. Based on what I’ve learned, here’s what I think will make a difference.
- Relationship building: I met an Arab Christian and a Orthodox Israeli Jew who are friends and working together to provide for needs in the West Bank. More relationships like this could make a huge difference in how each culture views the other.
- Good Leadership: Strong leadership that is interested in Peace is needed from both sides. Currently, Hamas is running things in the Gaza Strip and providing poor leadership and the Palestinian Authority has been stubborn in peace talks in the past and more recently.
- Education: A Palestinian Christian said he was taught growing up that Israelis were the enemy and the reason for the conflict in their lives, but he understands where Israel is coming from and is looking for common ground. Education is needed on both sides that does not invoke fear of their neighbors, but rather promotes loving their neighbors.
My only ask of you is this. Please approach the conflict with a holistic view and an open mind. Do your homework and don’t feel like you must pick a side. If you have to pick a side, choose to side with humanity. #PrayforPeace for this region.