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OPINION: 10 days in Israel

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Maddie Kramer, a junior studying political science, discusses her study abroad trip to Israel and some of the history of the country.

Please note that these views and opinions do not reflect those of The New Political.

Israel is a Jewish state in a largely Muslim area. It’s a small country, about the size of New Jersey, in which more than half of the country is rolling deserts. When I told my family I was going on a student trip to Israel, many of my Christian family responded with “The biblical land!” and “You will walk where Jesus walked!” However, for a political science student and history buff, Israel is much more than the “Land of the Jews.”

Why is Israel so important? For Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israel is the holy land, encompassing holy sites for all three Abrahamic religions. These three populations exist mostly peacefully, breaking up the city and the holy sites into areas controlled by different religions. 

The Dome of The Rock is a holy site for both Muslims and Jews, however, Jewish people cannot enter the Temple Mount itself. Every visitor — no matter their religion — must dress modestly. We were instructed to wear long, loose-fitting pants, long sleeves and closed-toe shoes; visitors who wore leggings were given long skirts to wear while at the site. 

The Holy Sepulchre, the holiest place for Christians, has different rooms of the church controlled by different denominations. Every room is cleaned and maintained. All denominations bond over the shared responsibility of taking care of such an important landmark. While it is nice to think Israel is a place where everyone can get along, there is constant tension on and inside Israel’s borders.

Golan Heights from the top of Mount Hermon. Photo by Maddie Kramer.

Before the establishment of Israel in 1948, there was the Arab state Palestine, which contained various Jewish settlements. After World War II, the United Nations created the Partition Plan, which connected the Jewish settlements and created the Israeli state. However, Israel didn’t stop there and seized the Golan Heights from Syria, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt and Jerusalem and West Bank from Jordan during the Six Day War of 1967. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1982 and withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. 

This conflict is the epicenter of tension and conflict between Israel, Palestine, and the surrounding areas. While tensions with Egypt have waned due to Israel returning the land, albeit years later, borders with the Gaza Strip, Palestine and Syria leave much to be desired.

Despite the tension and security threats, due to the religious sites and cultural significance, Israel is a thriving tourist destination. While exploring the large cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it was easy to tell who were natives and who were Americans on birthright trips or study abroad experiences like mine. 

The Israel Gaza Strip border. Photo by Maddie Kramer.

In some places, it was evident that some of the markets pandered to the tourists. Stuffed camels with “Jerusalem” embroidered on the side, keychains with “I heart Jerusalem” on them and shirts with seemingly random phrases written in Hebrew could be seen on display.

But other places were preserved, historic landmarks that made you feel as if you were traveling back in time. Visitors blessed their souvenirs on the Stone of Anointing in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and pilgrims placed their prayers into cracks in the Western Wall. 

Visiting these places as someone — not Jewish, Muslim, or Christian — who was learning, gave me an interesting perspective. I did not have any strong emotions or particular attachments to any of these sites, but instead felt attached to the history and the culture of the place. My fellow students cried at the Holy Sepulchre — one said it was his “first major religious experience.” Others cried out for dead Christian family members. For me, I observed the tourists and pilgrims alike, learning about family history, culture and religion.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Maddie Kramer.

While many people may come to Israel for Jerusalem and the religion, I came for an alternate reason: To learn about international relations and geopolitics. 

We met with a woman who lived in a kibbutz, a Jewish community full of small houses, common areas and even a cafeteria, on the Gaza Strip border. She showed us their bomb shelter and told us how the children are trained to run at the sound of the alarm. It was simply a way of life for the members of the kibbutz, until a missile killed one of their members. For those living there, that is when it became much more real.

And here I am — a naïve American, watching children get off the school bus, chasing their dogs around the yard. These children are prepared at the sound of the alarm to run to the closest bomb shelter, knowing they have 10 seconds to get to safety. All of my problems back in Ohio suddenly seemed much smaller. 

HaShomer HaChadash farm and vineyard in the Negev. Photo by Maddie Kramer.

In texting my fiancé after the visit, he expressed to me that people on the other side of the Israel Palestine border were dealing with the same things and that just because I had spoken with one group my opinion of the conflict shouldn’t be swayed. I understand that. However, that struck me as a western, black and white way of thinking. Even those of us in the U.S. that are extremely informed still don’t grasp the entirety of the situation. I still don’t, after spending 10 days in their country learning and talking to Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Christians, laborers, politicians, adults, teenagers and students. 

The greatest thing I learned was the importance of stepping out of our American bubble. I had two days left in Israel when the Trump administration killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. We Americans were terrified. My family asked if Ohio University was going to send us home early. However, the Israelis were happy, despite knowing that Iran could send missiles to Israel because the U.S. is their ally. Missile strikes are simply a part of their life for those on the borders. But they don’t live in constant fear — these citizens just continue with daily life.

That notion shocks me, even a month and a half being back in the states. I never thought about daily life in the Middle East — only how it may affect my daily life in the states, how it may help or harm the Trump impeachment or the 2020 election — but not how it affects the citizens of these countries.

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One Comment

  1. M

    February 19, 2020 at 4:22 PM

    “Before the establishment of Israel in 1948, there was the Arab state Palestine.”

    This is in fact, not true. Prior to 1948 there was British Mandate Palestine, a British colony.

    Prior to that it was part of the Ottoman Empire.

    Reply

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