Emily Greenspan, a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, is a PPI grantee for her work with a progressive NGO in Israel. This is her story:
From a young age, I have been interested in learning about Israel, partly because I have family there and partly because I enjoy exploring my heritage and history in general. When I was about ten, I learned a simplified and one-sided version of Israeli history at Hebrew school. Yet, thanks to my family, I quickly learned that the situation was not as simple as I had once thought.
My father is fairly left-wing, and his parents were peace activists who fought against the occupation. My mother and her family hold more mainstream Jewish views on the conflict. As someone who likes to question and debate, I often inserted myself into my parents’ arguments about the conflict, usually taking my father’s “side.”
In the summer of 2011, I traveled with a NFTY [Reform youth] program to Israel and once again was faced with the one-sided narrative of the conflict. No one else seemed interested in hearing my point of view, which was a frustrating and isolating experience. For a while, my interest in Israel waned. Fortunately, when I came to college, I found J Street U, the campus arm of J Street, which is an American Jewish organization that fights for the two-state solution. Finally, I felt comfortable identifying with Israel while also advocating for an end to the occupation. Since last Fall, I have served as a co-chair of J Street U at Wesleyan.
After working with J Street and J Street U in the U.S. for
about a year, I decided that I wanted to return to Israel/ Palestine to explore the conflict on the ground. Through a J Street U friend, I found an organization called Windows: Channels for Communication, which has offices in Jaffa-Tel Aviv (where I am working) and in Nablus. Windows is a human-rights, anti-occupation initiative that works with youth from Jewish and Palestinian communities in Israel and with youth from Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Windows’ participants spend several years in the program, dealing with the difficult issues of the conflict on a deep emotional and psychological level. Windows helps its youth to explore the conflict from different perspectives and empowers them to become active, engaged citizens who take action to build a just and peaceful future.
|Israeli friend from Windows and I at protest, July 27: Her smile faded as passersby made horrible remarks. Lacking Hebrew proficiency, I continue to smile in blissful ignorance.
Thanks in large part to this amazing organization, my time
in Israel has been both meaningful and enjoyable. My colleagues at Windows are incredible people who come to this region from all over the world. I have become close with my roommates and their friends, most of whom are lone soldiers in the IDF. I have also met Israelis and Palestinians as well as spent time with my Israeli family. And I’ve been lucky to spend my fair share of time at the beach.
Yet my time here has not been easy. Each day, I have watched as the death count of Gazans and IDF soldiers climbs ever higher. I have listened to the stories of a friend in the IDF whose base has been attacked by Hamas infiltrators on two separate occasions. I have heard from friends in the Palestinian city of Nablus who had to hide in their apartment as the IDF raided homes during “Operation Brother’s Keeper.” I have experienced what it’s like to hide from rockets (fortunately, under the Iron Dome) in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I have seen anti-Arab racist graffiti scrawled on the buildings in my neighborhood. I have felt the frustration and fear of having to hide my Jewish identity when visiting Palestine. I have been spat on and called a whore by other Jews for holding signs that said “End the Occupation” and “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” at anti-war protests. I have had my close friends and family tell me that I couldn’t possibly understand, that my activism is actually helping Hamas, that my unconventional views are illegitimate.
As much as I hate the bloodshed and the ignorance that is tearing apart the land I love, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else this summer. It is very important for me to understand what war feels like on the ground and to stand in solidarity with the Israelis and Palestinians who do not have the privilege of escaping the horror that is plaguing their home. Thanks to Windows, I have learned to cope with the frustration and sadness that this summer’s violence has stirred up and to turn these negative feelings into something productive. All in all, the difficult experiences I’ve had this summer have helped me to grow, both intellectually and emotionally, and to acknowledge the complexities of this conflict while still taking a stand. Looking back on the past few months, I feel motivated to continue learning, to continue questioning, and to continue fighting for a just solution to this conflict.
I would like to thank Partners for Progressive Israel for helping to fund this unforgettable summer. In the midst of all that’s happened, I feel very fortunate to be a part of a community of Jewish progressives that continues to support young people like myself.