I returned home from two weeks in Israel three days ago. My trip was a university-sponsored one, to do the planning for a peace studies study abroad class, and a personal one, where I was on a fact-finding mission to gain my own perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I had heard the narrative that the pro-divestment proponents had put forth at GA, and wanted to see Israel on my own terms.
In the time since I returned to Illinois, I have spent a lot of time looking at and sorting through the more than 5,000 photos I took and re-reading the daily blogs that I wrote. So many things jumped out at me. This was a trip unlike anything I have ever done. Ever. This is my first take at summarizing my experiences.
Going to Israel was way outside of my comfort zone. I am talking thousands of miles outside of it. Forget the fact that I do not like flying, this was going to a country in one of the biggest hot spots of the world, where just seven months ago a war was going on. So, Israel was way out of my comfort zone, yet going there somehow resulted in considerably expanding my comfort zone. There was not a single moment when I was in Israel or on the West Bank when I felt unsafe. I never had a panic attack, I was totally comfortable with my inability to understand more than a handful of words in either Hebrew or Arabic. It simply did not matter.
Along the way, something incredible happened. I came to see the diverse cultures and people that live in Israel, the beauty and diversity of the land, and the religious significance and sense of the sacred present in the holy sites of the Abrahamic faiths. I saw the green rolling terrain of the Galilee (which to my biblical-influenced mind looked nothing like it), the snow-covered terrain of the Golan Heights, the beauty of the Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Ein Hod to Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the hills of Jerusalem, the desert-like features of much of the West Bank (which more closely resembled my biblical images), the green of the Jordan River valley at Jericho, and the classical desert of the Dead Sea and Masada. All within a few hours of each other. All different. All Israel.