After we left the talk with Dr. Shikaki, we continue driving through the streets of Ramallah. We are on our way to the Israeli settlement of Psagot, which is located on a hill adjacent to the city of Ramallah. Just one short downhill and uphill drive away, and there was already a world of difference. The houses in this settlement seemed like something out of an American suburbia documentary: neatly lined houses and an established winery.
It was as if someone was shuffling a deck of cards, and while the cards are still haphazardly being stacked back into a pile, we were in Ramallah. Ten minutes away, the dealer had tidied up the stack and straightened out the cards--you know, when you kind of jostle the cards on the table a bit and wait for everything to fall into place in your hands--and we were in Psagot.
The stark contrast between the poverty of Ramallah and the luxury of the winery struck me. Everything that came out of the winery owner's mouth was perceived by me with a tinted lens.
I felt like just sitting there in the winery was an extreme case of privilege--how could we be wine tasting and eating pretzels while there was dust flying in the streets of Ramallah, just the next hill over? And what was this talk of the beautiful, fertile ground that the grapes were grown on? Where was this fertility in helping the farmers of Palestine?
I knew I was missing how hospitable and kind the winery owners were being; after all, they didn't have to give us a warm environment and fine wine. Still, I couldn't help but be a little repulsed by the unnecessary fanciness of this act--wine tasting!
As if we were suburban moms getting together to gossip on the weekend, right after dropping our sons off a soccer practice. Strange. Weird. Lots of emotions for the day. Don't even know if I'm making sense anymore or just rambling, but reliving this day on paper just put me in my introspective state again.
Unnecessarily fancy or not, I was grateful for the complimentary wine and snacks, and we were soon ushered into an auditorium-like structure to hear a talk from Marc Prowisor, a security consultant for the Communities of Judea and Samaria. Marc had previously served in the IDF and talked about his narrative as a settler. His view was that the settlements are not an issue, but rather a point of Jewish identity pride.
He also believed that America--and the rest of the world--pried too much into the business of Israel and Palestine. No one knows exactly what's going on on the ground except for people who actually live here, so why does the rest of the world feel entitled to dictate how people in the region should live?
I remember he compared the conflict as an arena, and the international community was sitting in the audience and using civilians as pawns for their own amusement--moving the pawns around however the audience sees fit.
He did not use the term Palestine, however. He used the phrase "Judea and Samaria," which is what the Jews called this land (the area of the West Bank) historically. There are some Israelis who still use the term "Judea and Samaria" to describe things in the West Bank; others use "Palestine," "Palestinian territory," "West Bank," or "Areas A, B, and C." The choice of name is telling of a person's opinions about the area. Settlers who choose to believe that they are not doing anything illegal by building settlements in West Bank land choose to call it Judea and Samaria because they believe they have a right to the land.
While Marc was in the IDF, he saw the ugly side of humanity. He told us that when you're behind the gun, nothing else matters except for your survival. You may not want to shoot to kill, but when it's you facing another gun, all you know is that you need to make it out alive.
He says, for this reason, 18 year olds should not be serving in the conflict zones. The security borders should not be monitored by children who haven't hardened; rather, these areas should be maintained by trained, older police forces.
At this point, Roni interjects with a comment. He says that during his time in the IDF, he was taught to "respect and suspect" the enemy. Marc said that it was "suspect and respect," not "respect and suspect." Notice how the language here, though ever so slightly different, carries a world of distance between the meanings.
To respect someone--possibly the enemy--before you suspect them is a completely different mindset than suspecting them first and respecting them second. Marc said that while respecting first might be dangerous to security (and that suspecting should be first), IDF soldiers are never taught to hate and dehumanize the enemy. He says there is a difference between a cold professionalism and pure hatred that breeds fear.
Throughout this trip, I noticed a lot of Israelis who were shocked that we came from Berkeley. I never realized this before, but apparently Berkeley has a historical reputation of being anti-Semitic and anti-Israel--with the claim that they are being pro-Palestinian.
Walking down the main plaza of Berkeley, I can always hear people protesting one thing or another. While I love the energy and the interest in the rest of the world, I can't help but think that sometimes people are blindly following a mantra.
A Jewish girl on our trip said that once, a woman from the "pro-Palestinian" side came up to her and just yelled at her for supporting the Jewish identity; the woman did not ask for the girl's opinion, yet she also had no real evidence to back up her attacking argument.
I don't believe that one should argue for the sake of arguing, and I also do not respect anyone who will just attack someone without listening to the other side and at least trying to understand.
In fact, many of the students on our trip got messages from back home saying things like "I want to debate you on this conflict," yet we never really believed that our purpose on this trip was to prepare for a debate. We were here to learn, empathize, and realize that we will never fully understand every nuance there is; we were here to discuss and throw ideas around just to see how that perspective looked like, not to be at each other's throats to prove a point.
Coming from a politically active campus like Berkeley, we got a lot of surprised looks. Berkeley, from an international view, always seems to be rooting for the underdog. In some cases, I believe we should be rooting for minority rights and, as they say, the "underdog."
When I came to Berkeley, I thought the fight would be for equality, but I soon realized that there were groups who were not treated equally. Students will yell about freedom of speech all they want, but as soon as the speaker is someone coming from a more conservative, religious, or Republican standpoint, that speaker's freedom of speech is immediately shut down.
It's a strange way of polarizing the student body, and one different than what I see back home in Michigan, but it is polarizing nonetheless. This is why many Berkeley students are purely pro-Palestinian--they see Palestine as the underdog and immediately ignore the Israeli narrative. They shout for coexistence but fail to see the other side that is trying to coexist with Palestinians--even though the situation is complicated and more nuanced than meets the eye.
Before I came on this trip, my dad asked me to pick a side: Israel or Palestine. I told him it wasn't that black and white. I told him I can empathize with the Palestinians, but I also can see where the Israeli identity comes from. I told him that that is all the more reason I should go on this trip--so that I can get a better understanding of all the sides.
Though I came home with more questions than when I left, I did realize that you can't just pick one side. Just like how we were reminded on the first night, I want to tell the world that everyone's truths are true and valid, and that the key to coexistence is not just being pro-one side.
Anyway, that little tangent was supposed to tie back to Marc. I think he felt a little defensive while speaking to our Berkeley group, because every question we asked about how he empathized with Palestinians was met with a "Well why don't you look in your own backyard for problems before trying to intervene in the problems here?"
It was a very "this isn't your battle to fight" message; Marc really called us out on Berkeley's homeless problem, our housing problem, our poverty problem…. The list goes on. He basically told us that we had enough problems on our own to figure out, and that the problem in his home was HIS problem.
I get it, but it did feel a little patronizing. I think he thought that because we were young, we were also naive--and that we thought we could just swoop in from ~America~ and fix everything. Well, we know we can't fix everything. We can't even fix anything. We can, however, try to learn something.
In our next chapter, we will be talking to Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh!