Anurag Chaudhary and Madeline St. John
“You can’t have a universal truth in this situation,” said Israel-born Goucher student Nadav Marcus ‘17, addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “There is a story for every single person who has been affected.” The on-going conflict between Israel and Palestine is full of stories, contradictions, and a variety of perspectives. This diversity of viewpoints is reflected at Goucher, where many students feel strongly about these issues and have personal connections to the conflict.
For some, their views are easily articulated. “For me, it was never a question,” Ashley Begley ‘16, member of the executive board of the new Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club said, identifying herself as pro-Palestinian. “I have a natural need to fight for justice and I think what is happening in Israel is a violation of human rights…people are being systematically pushed out of their homes and not allowed to come back.”
“I view the injustices happening in Palestine as a simultaneous occupation, colonization, apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” Gabrielle Spear ‘15, another member of the executive board of SJP stated. Neither Begley nor Spear had been very aware of the conflict before coming to Goucher, where they began to study the conflict more deeply.
SJP member Jason Wright ‘15 is also “staunchly pro-Palestinian.” He believes “there is an extraordinarily lop-sided distribution of power” and that “it is an issue of colonialism.”
For others, their position is a little more complicated. “I’m pro-Israeli, but that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize what they are doing. And just because I’m pro-Israeli, that doesn’t mean I am anti-Palestinian,” Talya Stern ‘17, who was born and raised in Israel, said.
Marcus explained that the Jewish people view Israel as a miracle. It is their homeland, and it saved their existence. Zionism is the belief in a Jewish homeland in Israel. However, not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews.
Dana Busgang ‘15 was raised Jewish, with the narrative that Israel is her homeland and that Israel could do no wrong. When she came to Goucher, however, her views were challenged as she explored the conflict through her political science major. She was shocked by what she learned. This past summer, she worked with an NGO in the West Bank and she says that she saw Palestinians “being systematically oppressed”.
Busgang knows that America provides Israel with weapons. As an American Jew, she feels that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is in her name. She does not agree with their policy and so she stands in solidarity with Palestinians. For her, this has been a hard position to take. “It is frustrating that Judaism is so tied to supporting Israel here…I would like to participate more [in services], but I feel like if I spoke out about my beliefs, I would be labeled a ‘self-hating Jew’,” she said.
This past summer, SJP leaders (prior to the formation of SJP), Begley and Spear went to Nazareth on an Intensive Course Abroad (ICA) to study Arab Culture. While there, they studied the language, made friends, and came to identify with the Palestinians. “Once you learn the language of a people, once you are immersed in the language, in the culture, you give a little bit of yourself to them, and they give a little bit of themselves to you. That is why I feel so strongly about this [issue],” Begley said.
For Jason Wright, who also spent this summer in Palestian territory, the challenge has been figuring out what his relationship, as a young American, is to this conflict. “I feel as though, at the very least, I must become more vocal,” he said. “It is my perspective that America is maintaining the status quo and this is something to which I cannot sit idly by.”
Soon after the students returned from their ICA, this summer’s conflict in the Gaza Strip began. “I started seeing streets that I had walked, ‘my streets’ because they were now a part of me, with soldiers and tear gas…My friends are there and they can’t get out,” Begley said.
“Not only did we have the privilege…of visiting the Palestinian homes in Israel, but we also had the privilege of leaving. And there was definitely a guilt in leaving,” Spear said.
Meanwhile, Goucher student Dana Busgang was still there. She was working for an NGO in a refugee camp in the Palestinian city of Nablus in the West Bank, helping teenagers develop leadership skills and understand “the political reality in which they live their lives.”
During her three months in Palestinian territory, Busgang learned what it was like to live in a war-zone. “Some days it was fine, but other days the Israeli army would block the roads, so it might take two hours to get to my apartment that was fifteen minutes away…but you’ve got to think, for Palestinians, this is normal,” Busgang said. For Busgang, the rocket sirens were the scariest. “You imagine war as being soldier in front of soldier, but that’s not it. You imagine that it is organized, and it is not,” Stern said.
Stern has also experienced life in a war zone. She grew up in Israel and returned there to work in a commune for a year. With her brother and 92-year-old grandfather still in Israel, she tries to visit twice
a year. According to her, having 90 seconds to get to a bomb shelter is a long time. In some places, you only get ten seconds. While she was growing up in Israel, there were many bus bombings. Although she was a child then and was not quite aware of what was going on, she still feels that today’s rockets are better than the bus bombings. At least, with rockets, you have a warning.
Stern, while recognizing her bias as someone from Israel, points out the humanitarian side of Israel. When in that commune, she was with 52 other people, working with Arab children. Many Israelis do social work before entering the army. She thinks Americans should get to know Israel more intimately—there are relationships between Israelis and Palestinians. Because Israel is a united front, from the outside it can be hard to see that it is a democratic country in which there are pro-Israelis, pro-Palestinians—people with many different views.
Both Palestinians and Israelis are just trying to survive, in Stern’s view. It is hard to come together when there are so many years of history telling you it is not possible. Stern said she has seen videos of eight-year old Palestinian children reciting verses about spilling the blood of the Jews. “It is hard to know how much of that goes in,” she said. “Whatever happens, [if we want peace] someone is going to have to take a leap of faith…to make a huge sacrifice.”
Stern told the story of her Israeli friend who spent three years in the army. When he came back, there was a picture of him on Facebook of him with his fellow soldiers. The caption read “the Crew, missing a few.” “If you live in Israel, you know someone who has died in a war,” Stern said.
People on both sides of the conflict hope to humanize it. “Palestinians are some of the greatest people I’ve met,” Busgang said. “They are strong and especially funny. To live through that, to live there, you have to laugh…Usually, I am a pessimist. I am a pessimist about most other things. But [with this] I have to have hope that there will be peace.” Stern says she feels comfortable talking about the conflict because she does not view it as black and white. “I feel that everyone can relate to my views because people are people and suffering is suffering,” she said.
Students of all perspectives hope this conversation will continue through groups like Goucher Hillel, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the “It’s Time to Talk: An Israel and Palestine Discussion” book-based discussion.