Like Mixing Oil and Water
In 2014, I spent a majority of my summer in Israel and Palestine. To my surprise, I found myself arriving just as war broke out between these two countries. As an American, seeing war take place on my land, in my lifetime, would be an extremely rare occurrence, if ever. This fact, in and of itself, is a privilege that many other countries cannot share. Despite the war occurring around me, a major lesson I walked away with was that of my own privilege.
Over the course of several years traveling to Israel and Palestine, I have been slowly gaining understanding about the conflict, the culture, various beliefs and traditions, politics, etc. The more I travel there, the more my eyes are opened to the stereotypes that I have unknowingly adopted about the Arab community and the lives they lead. My original purpose for traveling to Israel was to visit the “Holy Land,” and experience the places Jesus walked, taught, and eventually died . Furthermore, the land intrigued me due to my own Jewish roots, and wanting to connect more with that part of my family. In planning on visiting Bethlehem, I never knew it was located on “the other side of the wall.” I was curious to experience what Bethlehem would be like. Could we even go there? Was it safe? Would we stand out? How would we be treated?
From the moment I crossed over that checkpoint, I began to encounter people, stories, and experiences that contradicted what the news, media, and individuals in America had to say about the Arab community. Last summer, I was told that Aida refugee camp in Beit Jala, Palestine, went without clean drinking water for roughly 25 days. I couldn’t begin to process what that meant for so many people in a land that is terribly hot and dry in the middle of summer- In the middle of a war. Here’s some perspective that struck me in the midst of this drought: At my cozy home in the United States, I could go to any one of my four faucets and get clean drinking water without blinking an eye. In fact, I probably would be frustrated if my water company told me I couldn’t turn on my water for a day while they fix a problem in the water lines: Privilege.
Later on that summer, I was invited to a prayer meeting; a place where Israeli and Palestinian women could come together, fellowship, pray, and have a meal with one another. We gathered to pray for the current war taking place mainly between Israel and Gaza, but affected every woman sitting in that room. Towards the end of the meeting, our conference leader had the Palestinian participants go to one side of the room, and the Israeli participants go to the other side. I joined the Israeli side, due to my own Jewish roots, not exactly knowing what I was signing up for. After a few minutes, each side presented gifts to the other side. Palestinians gave a bottle of homemade olive oil from Hebron to their Israeli counterpart, with beautifully written greetings from each participant on the label. The Israelis , in turn, handed the Palestinians a large 6-pack of bottled water, also with beautiful handwritten labels on the water.
Water. Water was our gift to another human being. The act of giving water to someone was so humbling for me; I almost couldn’t even do it. I was in shock that this could even be considered a gift. Who am I to hand another human being water, a basic need, because they have a shortage of fresh drinking water? I felt so small when I handed one of the women these bottles of water, but I was shocked by her response. She responded with such grace and appreciation for this gift. A gift that is as accessible to me as breathing air. On top of that, she then started talking to me, inquiring about my life and showing interest in who I am as a human being. I was handed two bottles of Olive oil that day, from two different women. Olive oil- one of the largest, if not the largest, industries for Palestinian families, who have been cultivating olive tree farms for hundreds of years. The money earned from these farms is largely what helps bring in profit and feed Palestinian families. I will never forget that day. I left that meeting filled with hope, humility, and opened-eyes. Even though a physical wall of separation still stands, it is quite evident that some individuals’ walls towards one another are falling.
- Coach Karen Joy