What I Remember about Living in Israel-Palestine
My imperfect public thoughts on the current violence based on firsthand experience living there
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They looked like large silver ballbearings covered in a thin veneer of black rubber.
I didn’t know what they were at first. Sometimes your brain doesn’t have a category for an encounter you’ve never had.
The context didn’t help either.
My classmates and I were on a rooftop. In the arid climate of the Middle East, roofs were another usable space.
We were talking with a group of kids who couldn’t have been older than seven or eight years old. They were playing with these small balls.
They looked strange to us, and we kept trying to figure out what they were. Somehow, through the Arabic-English language barrier, we finally understood.
They were rubber bullets.
I had never seen a rubber bullet before. I thought they would be completely made out of rubber, as the name implies.
It turns out there are many types of rubber bullets. Some, like the ones we saw that day more than 20 years ago, had a metal core covered in rubber.
There were so many left over from the protests that, as kids do, they used their imaginations to distract themselves from a culture of violence.
Violence. Threat. Risk.
If anything characterized this land it was those words. And somehow the people there and across the border, found ways to distract themselves and create some approximation of normal life.
The War in Israel-Palestine
For the past two weeks the world has watched and listened as news has poured out of the lands of Israel and Palestine.
A deadly surprise attack on Israel by Hamas claimed more than a thousand lives and resulted in abduction of many hostages who are still being held.
In retaliation and defense of its people, the Israeli authorities unleashed an onslaught of military retaliation designed to root out Hamas and send a message to anyone else thinking of repeating their actions.
To exacerbate matters, the counterattack by the Israeli military has stolen the lives of thousands of civilians, many of them children. Hundreds of thousands more have been displaced.
The people of Palestine are currently without electricity and water. Even at this moment, leaders from various countries are in negotiations with Israel to get them to let aid and relief supplies into Palestine.
Hollywood stars, politicians, and everyday people on the internet have all chimed in to voice their opinions.
They range from staunchly pro-Israel to adamantly pro-Palestine and everything between.
Yet for the past couple of weeks I have refrained from making any public comments about the war raging in Israel-Palestine.
The first reason is because the ecosystem of misinformation has (d)evolved into a mass of words, hot takes, and misattributed statements, photos, and videos that make accurate reporting incomprehensibly difficult.
The other reason I haven’t said anything is because of my lived experience in the area.
I studied abroad in Israel-Palestine during my college years. My time there marked a turning point in my higher education career and forever shaped my understanding of conflict, peacemaking, and justice.
What follows are my recollections of living abroad in the “Holy Land.” The fog of time has made tracking down minute details elusive, but the impressions, the feelings I had there, have always remained with me.
I will not burden you with caveats at the beginning.
Let me simply say that I write as an individual concerned about peace and justice. I am not a historian of Israel or Palestine. I am not a political scientist. I may not know all the correct terms to describe the people involved or the ideas at play.
The words herein are my opinions. They are based on firsthand experience and careful consideration of the information at-hand. But I do not claim infallibility.
Also, I see a difference between the “grasstops” and the “grassroots.” I make a distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people. I do not believe Israeli military and political officials represent the views of all Israelis or Jewish people worldwide.
Despite the actions of their leaders or a small group, most people simply want peace.
Nor do I subscribe to the idea that criticism of Israel is hatred of the Jewish people or that criticism of Hamas is hatred of the Palestinian people.
I hope the only offense in this article is the offense we feel toward the violence others are forced to endure in this war. I do not ever intend to dehumanize any people group or minimize the suffering anyone has endured.
With that said, here’s what I remember about living in Israel-Palestine, and how those recollections may help today.