In May 2011 I wrapped up my first year of graduate school during which I wrote at least four papers on different aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Being a student of International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and Middle Eastern politics, I wanted to learn the ins and outs of the conflict- the long history of both sides, the successes and failures of past peace efforts, and the underlying human needs driving the conflict. I had grown up in a reform Jewish household but frankly one that did not engage much in talk of Israel. I was twenty-two when I first visited the country and, like so many people on their first trip to Israel, I finally understood why this place was so beautiful, so unique and so important to so many.
Back home though, immersed in my studies, I was receiving what seemed to be disparate messages. Mainstream American Jewish voices reinforced images of the Israel I knew existed, the one founded on values of freedom, justice, and peace; yet through my studies I began to realize certain disconnects between these values and some of the present policies and practices on the ground in Israel. As a student and as a young Jew, and someone who shamelessly believes in the power of positive change, I wanted to see what other change-makers, both Israeli and Palestinian, were doing to bridge this gap and work towards a more equitable and more peaceful homeland.
I have a passion for writing and thus I was thrilled to be accepted as a summer intern at the Palestine-Israel Journal in Jerusalem. This experience would not have been possible without the generous support of Meretz USA-Partners for Progressive Israel. The lessons and insight I have taken away from this summer are invaluable and for that I am incredibly grateful.
The Palestine-Israel Journal was created in 1994 by Ziad Abu Zayyad and Victor Cygielman, two prominent Palestinian and Israeli journalists who recognized the pressing need for increased dialogue between civil societies on both sides of the conflict. The journal serves as a much-needed forum for academics, activists, policymakers and the public to exchange ideas about the shape of and path to a just solution to the conflict. As an intern, I worked with a bi-national team of Israelis and Palestinians committed to positive change and a more just and peaceful future for both peoples.
The specific issue of the journal I worked on this summer focused on Women and Power in the context of the conflict, looking at the conflict from a human security perspective rather than through a strictly political or traditional security lens. As I researched and wrote articles for the journal I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing remarkable and dedicated activists who, despite being up against a conflict-driving system, are promoting justice and understanding in their communities.
I interviewed a twenty-eight year old Israeli woman who leads a civil resistance movement against ongoing settlement activity and housing demolitions. She is as genuinely pro-Israel as anyone I have ever met, but she also taught me that me you can love your country and at the same time speak out against its injustices. While she spoke about the principles of justice and equality, she also made it very clear that through her activism she is fighting just as intently for her own future and a stable and peaceful future for Israel.
Another story I covered that has stayed with me is that of two grandmothers, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who have each lost family members to the conflict’s violence. Together these two women facilitated a series of narrative dialogue workshops for Israeli and Palestinian grandmothers, many of whom had never met someone from the other side and had never heard the collective and personal tragedies that defined the other’s history. Years of separation had led to stereotypes and dehumanization. By sharing personal stories these women were able to see each other as human, and even as friends, rather than simply the “other”. Through my interview with these two grandmothers I learned about the courage, strength, and vision required to overcome grief, anger, and ingrained prejudice in order to jointly work towards something better than the status quo.
Aside from the articles I wrote and the projects I worked on, the greater part of what I learned this summer came from spontaneous conversation with my colleagues, my Israeli host family, or people I would happen to strike up a conversation with on the bus or at a coffee shop. I spoke to people from across the religious, national and political divides. I learned that there are not two sides to this, or any, conflict. There are hundreds.
There were days when I hit walls of frustration at certain policies or modes of thinking I was encountering that seemed to push the possibility of a durable and just peace farther and farther away. But more often than not, I was inspired by the tireless and passionate activists and peacemakers I was meeting. The Israel they are working towards is one that fully realizes the values it was founded upon. It is the same vision of Israel that had so enthralled me on my first trip to the country. My summer internship experience rejuvenated my commitment to peaceful progress, both in Israel and elsewhere, and reaffirmed my belief that a just solution to the conflict will be the only durable solution.
Again, I am incredibly grateful to Meretz USA-Partners for Progressive Israel for making this opportunity possible for me. Toda Raba!