Last week I ventured to the holy city of Hebron. Lets just say that this trip will have a lasting affect on me.
During my years in college I met lots of interesting people who made lasting impressions on me. My friend Ehab- leader of the Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Arizona- is one of my more unique acquaintances. Ehab and I met during my years as a Zionist-activist on the campus, at the beginning of my career on campus…let’s just say I was very intense, passionate, and still had a lot to learn about the conflict and the history behind it.
We met just as I returned from Israel during my winter break. Operation Cast Lead was still going on in Gaza. Propaganda was everywhere. This was the first time I had ever come into contact with the modern day campus intifada.
At times I was on my game, no-one could out match me, it was like I was on fire, spitting fact after fact, re-routing arguments that placed blame on Israel to the other Arab countries. At other times I acted like a total amateur.
Later after going through a semester of an independent study with an anti-Zionist scholar (one of the best professors I have ever had), focusing on the Palestinian identity; I began to realize, for campuses, the best thing possible was to bring anti-Zionist and pro-Israel activists together. In hope that both sides will learn from each other, understand each other, and hopefully turn the heat down on what has become a very extreme situation across many universities outside of Israel. It is the same goal so passionately and intelligently pursued by the Avi Shaefer foundation.
So that''s what I did, I pursued dialog, strove to point out our similarities not our differences. While staying very true to my own very deep Zionist values. Because of this, and the courage it took to approach the anti-Zionist faction on my campus the way I did; I feel is the reason Ehab came to respect me for my views.
Before I left Arizona for Israel, I promised Ehab that when he would return to Hebron I would go to visit him there.
Traveling to Hebron was very interesting. I am pretty sure I broke a ton of international laws the way I went about entering the city. Think about this... A very proud Jewish-American-Israeli Zionist future Israeli soldier, breaking bread in Hebron with a family of Palestinian nationalists. You can close your mouth!
Their hospitality was tremendous; Ehab’s mother thoughtfully prepared a delicious vegetarian dish since they knew I kept kosher. I spent about an hour in the family’s living room, not the traditional Arab guest room talking with his family. We discussed many things, like our time in Arizona, their family history, and how I will be entering the army next year. This of course did not sit easy with any of them. How could it? They are Palestinians who live in Hebron, it''s not like our presence is popular there.
I explained to his younger brother how it was an honor for me to serve in the Jewish army and the State of Israel; and how there are many times I agreed with the army, and many times I completely disagreed with it. Like any Israeli.
We walked around what seemed like the whole city. Being able to go to Hebron for the first time was amazing. The Jewish history of the city is undeniable. But to a modern eye it would be very hard to understand or see it. Being at the tomb of the Machpelah was amazing. To know what was below me, and to be in the only standing Herodian structure was surreal.
The whole situation is still indescribable. Walking around Hebron the city where your are physically connected to Abraham, Sara, Rebecca, Isaac, Jacob, Leah and the rest of our ancestors with Palestinians, discussing their situation, their history, Jewish history, my opinions, their opinions; while just being humans together recognizing each other is a beautiful thing. There are NO words to describe it.
I learned many things on this trip, and saw many things that made me uncomfortable. Learning about where Ehab and his brothers went to school, and how they grew up was most interesting. The thing that made me most uncomfortable was the how they spoke about Hamas. Most depressing, was when Ehab had said "when Hamas stops fighting Israel… and if they make peace with Israel they will lose all of their legitimacy. If they continue to fight Israel they will maintain their legitimacy amongst the people." Hearing this was like putting a spear through my heart. It truly gives resonance to the idea of one man''s freedom fighter is another man''s terrorist.
When leaving them I said to one of Ehab''s brothers “I bet you did not know that there were Zionists like me.” Referring to the fact that I am a strong believer in the state of Israel''s right to exist, plan on serving in the Israeli army; but willing to sit and have a meal with a Palestinian family, discuss our differences and similarities, preach mutual recognition, and go around Hebron with nothing but faith that my safety would be taken care of, by an anti-Zionist Palestinian student activist (my other) that I had grown to respect based solely on our interactions and conversations during our time together at school on the intifada on campus playground.
This situation we have is so complicated. As September approaches one truly has to wonder where the peace process is going, if anywhere. There is so much hate on both sides of this conflict. My inability to see any type of real resolution is the most depressing and has made me quite cynical. But Ehab and I are proof that one day there could be peace.
Denying each others existence won''t bring peace. Who knows if peace is even possible. The only thing I can say is that while in Hebron we were not brought together by the city or by the land. We were brought together by each other, and our open minds that would listen and recognize each others opinions, even though we both believe in very different things.
If we are ever going to have a real two-state solution peace. We must meet each other in the middle through mutual negotiations and peace. But most importantly through mutual recognition of each other.