When I did my masters in Amsterdam, I went on a diversity studytrip to Israel and the Westbank with a group of the VU university in Amsterdam. The group in itself was very diverse already, with people from different backgrounds and studies, but we’d encounter some mind boggling diversity and severe culture shocks on this 10-day trip.
I wrote this all with a healthy dose of cynicism and from my own point of view, having read a LOT about the Israel-Palestine conflict throughout my life. I learned a lot on this trip, and feel more informed about the topic, but I still stand by the fact that an injustice rules these lands, and I don’t think that will ever change.
Arriving in Tel Aviv I received the following text in the airplane while landing:
“Merhaba! Smell the jasmine and taste the olives. JAWWAL welcomes you to Palestine.”
Only 20 minutes later did I receive a “welcome to Israel” text.
The battle already started in the air.
2,5h security check, and of course the girls with the headscarf were taken to a separate room and interrogated. But also the boy with the Jewish name and looks was interrogated and questioned. “Why on earth are you with this group, going to the West Bank?” Upon which his luggage was also fully searched. I was just asked about the purpose of my visit, and was let through after 30 seconds. Very selective, as expected of course.
Then Tel Aviv; which is quite surreal. It feels like you’re somewhere in Spain, pretty mediterrean villa’s, lots of open space, but also very green, which surprised us since we know the Middle east as a brown and dry place. Of course, if you control 80% of all water reserves in the region, you can afford to sprinkle your lawn now and then…
Since we arrived in the evening, not much happened in Tel Aviv on day one. we made a beach walk, and it felt a bit like Barcelona. I understand completely why Tel Aviv is considered a bubble, and how easy it would be to stay isolated from everything happening in Gaza and the Westbank, even when it’s less than an hour drive from occupied land.
The next day it was time for the program to start. the DIVERSITY PROGRAM.
Our very first stop was in the Al Qassami Islamic College in Bacq Al Gharbiya. A town full of arabs (muslim arabs) in Israel. When it comes to identity, they call themselves first muslims, then Palestinians (or Arabs) but never Israeli, even though they have Israeli citizenship. I was very excited to meet these people, since they are a special minority in Israel, and a proof for most Israeli that they CAN live peacefully with arabs, even though they live completely segregated in separate towns.
The college consisted of 99% girls, most of them wearing a headscarf. We met up with about 15 of them in a classroom. Their professor was babbling about sonnets (“He thinks he’s the arab Shakespeare!” said one girl) and some of the girls seemed to look a bit bored, scrolling on their smartphones. Most of them were exited to talk to our group though, since they usually only get Jewish groups visiting (“to understand the arabs better”) and they had never seen foreigners with headscarfs (Israeli arabs aren’t allowed to enter in any other arab country).
In conversations on the conflict, it seemed like they did feel like the West Bank shouldn’t be separated, but they would never want to live there. Why would they of course, they have so many more rights living in Israel. And on top of that, they feel like the Palestinians in the West Bank have kind of a different culture than theirs.
I see these 2 groups of Palestinians as a twin that got separated at birth, where one ended up in a rich family with a lot of opportunities, while the other was sent to a poor abusive family.
They’re the same, but at the same time, they no longer are…
In the afternoon we crossed the checkpoint to visit the Birzeit university in Ramallah.
the other side of the wall (or “the fence” as it’s put on the map) provided a huge contrast. Heavily built territory, buildings packed against each other, a lot more trash on the streets, and a general feeling of discomfort. You are now entering an open air prison.
The Birzeit university campus itself was very beautiful and you could see where the Saoudi-arab funding for Palestinians went…
We got a little promotion video for the university, and another clip from “the rights to education program” with a lot of suggestive images of people crying at checkpoints. Talking about how difficult it is to get to university every day, to provoke an emotional reaction. Even though some in the group felt the bias in the clips was annoying and made them lose credibility, I feel like these emotional videos is something both sides do. Furthermore, you can’t get around the fact that it is ridiculously difficult to move around in “their” territory. When you don’t know if going to university is going to take 10 minutes or 2 hours today, it gets pretty frustrating.
In the evening we arrived in Jerusalem, which the muslims in the group were super exited about, since it’s one of their holiest places.
We walked around a bit in the old town, which was quite deserted (especially considering those small maze-like streets are crowded with little markets and passengers by day) and we also went to the wailing wall by night. Again this feeling of general discomfort overcame me, even though I, as a blonde, blue eyed girl, have nothing to feel uncomfortable about at the wailing wall. But the diversity of our group drew some eyes, quite hostile eyes, and I could only imagine what it had to feel like for the people in our group that did look arab… yet the fact that they were allowed at the wailing wall (even with the unfriendly reception) did surprise me!
Days are very exhausting here, and there’s so much to share and so many impressions that I can’t possibly all write down, nor do I have the time to do so. I prefer to suck it all in and enjoy it than to waste my time writing it all down, yet I know later I will be happy I took the time to do so.