November 20, 2021.
To whomever reads this post: I am choosing to share my experiences surrounding a complex, emotional, and historical topic in which I am not an expert. I debated whether or not to share this because I know there are millions of people out there who would hate what I have to say, however, I think it would be just as crazy to ignore this giant elephant in a blog about life in Israel. I hope that you read this with kind and curious intentions. If you have a problem with something I wrote, it’s really okay–I promise. I invite discussion, but only respectfully. I also invite you to accept that it is okay to disagree. We all have different perspectives and legitimate life experiences that have led us to hold certain beliefs. Each one of our opinions and perspectives is valid and important, and it’s what makes this world go ‘round.
I’ve spent years now trying to figure out my opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I’ve found that my thoughts just keep evolving as I learn new information. And by evolving, I mostly mean I move closer to the conclusion that there is no “right” side, no “right” perspective, and no “right” solution. The problem is that in a conflict this complex, with this much history, there is always more to learn, more people to talk to, more perspectives to understand. I write this post knowing that the views I hold today could very well change tomorrow.
I am also aware that I am viewing this conflict from a very specific lens; I am a Jewish-American woman who has never lived in Israel through this conflict. Some may say this gives me no right to have an opinion. I disagree. As someone who grew up in the Jewish diaspora*, I am inherently and inextricably linked to Israel. Even if I wanted to ignore my Judaism and/or denounce Israel (which I don’t), there are still people all around the world that would connect me to Israel, blame me, and hate me because Judaism is in my blood.
I had the opportunity to further explore the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during an MITF Shabbaton (Shabbat retreat weekend) in Jerusalem. During the retreat, we explored Jerusalem, including diving deep into learning about the borders, walls, and all the confusing lines that divide this holy city.
One of the stops on the tour was visiting Rachel’s tomb (located in Bethlehem). Seeing the walls lining both sides of the street on our way there was…weird. I learned that the walls create a path for Israelis and other tourists to visit Rachel’s tomb, while simultaneously cutting into Palestinian territory in the West Bank. These walls make it much more difficult for Palestinians to travel in this area. It was here that I learned Rachel’s tomb is also a holy site for Muslims, yet Palestinians are not permitted to visit.
I found myself feeling conflicted and frustrated for the first (but not the last) time that day. Hearing this reminded me of the frustration I, and many other Jews, feel over the Dome of the Rock. The #1 holiest place in all of Judaism, the site of the Second Temple, is the ground beneath the Temple Mount, the 3rd holiest place in Islam. The Palestinian Authority has autonomy over this part of Jerusalem, and it is inaccessible to Jews. It is illegal for Jews to utter a prayer on the platform surrounding the Dome of the Rock, as well as forbidden for them to enter the Mosque.
When I learned of this a couple years ago, I was angry. I was angry and confused why the Jewish people were denied the opportunity to visit the most sacred place in our entire religion. How could that be ignored? Why would Israel allow this to happen? Why aren’t more people angry about this? It simply isn’t fair.
After visiting Rachel’s tomb and learning that Palestinians were denied the right to visit a sacred place for them too, a part of me saw it as a tit for tat and thought “sucks for them, that’s what they get for taking the site of the Second Temple from us”. But I found that there was another part of me that thought “I hate that this is happening to me and my people, why would I wish it upon others?”
This experience is just one of many confusing and frustrating pieces of the conflict that (in my opinion) accurately portray how neither side is truly winning. I don’t have answers or solutions, but I have questions and curiosity that I will continue to follow as I continue to learn about my new home.
There is much more I can and want to share about what I’ve learned from the Shabbaton, and maybe I will eventually. For now, this is what I’ve got for ya.
*Jewish diaspora – the dispersion of Jews out of their ancestral homeland (the Land of Israel) and their subsequent settlements in other parts of the globe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora#:~:text=The%20Jewish%20diaspora%20(Hebrew%3A%20%D7%AA%D6%B0%D6%BC%D7%A4%D7%95%D6%BC%D7%A6%D6%B8%D7%94,other%20parts%20of%20the%20globe.)