On our third day in Israel, we visited Efrat, a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. (It’s within the ‘Gush Etzion,’ a group of settlements south of Jerusalem). We first went to the Lone Tree, a symbolic site for Efrat. We also met Rabbi Alan Haber who told us his experience of living in the orthodox community. Originally American, Haber moved to Israel from New York because he felt like a minority there. Haber said he was able to practice his faith much better in Israel, and that he “felt home.”
A common theme I saw throughout this trip was the importance of Israel as the Jewish homeland. Not only is it a religion, but in some cases, Judaism becomes a nationality. The concept of having a home is significant for many Jews around the world, especially after the events of the Holocaust.
We also got a chance to see Bethlehem, where we went to and the Israeli/West Bank barrier and the Church of Nativity (said to be the birthplace of Jesus).
At the Israeli/West Bank barrier, we were exposed to a very tangible and visible side of the conflict. Again, diction is important. Some people call it a security wall while some call it a separation barrier. The wall is about 400 feet long and filled with graffiti. This specific site we visited was also controversial because behind the wall is believed to be Rachel’s tomb, a holy site in Judaism.
At the Church of Nativity, I noticed that the security guard was a Muslim man. Our tour guide said this was a crucial aspect of the status quo, which is the understanding between all the religious communities in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This is to avoid conflict between the different denominations of Christianity, the same thing is applied to the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Next, we went to Roots, a local dialogue group for Israelis and Palestinians. The co-founders talked to us about the importance of talking and getting past anger. The conflict is so complicated, according to Roots co-founder Shaul Judelman, because it’s hard to understand fear. He says the conflict isn’t taking place between Israelis and Palestinians, but between “us and them.” There’s a lot of fear, anger, distrust. “Anger is like an ideology,” Judelman said.
At the end of the day, he just wants peace and security, for himself and his family. To him, that means sitting in the car with his kids in the backseat, with the windows down – and not being afraid of rocks being thrown at them.
My biggest takeaway from Roots was the hard work and effort it takes to understand the other side. Judelman, who is 38, said he hadn’t met a Palestinian until age 29. And the Palestinian co-founder (he didn’t want his name revealed), said he hadn’t met an Israeli until age 25-26. (He is currently 27). That’s 20 years – 2 decades – of seeing and hearing negativity of the other side, which I’m sure can’t just be erased over night.
After another heavy day of discussing conflict and religion, we enjoyed our night at the Jerusalem Press Club’s Restaurant ‘Touro.’ We met and mingled with various journalists, who shared their experiences of reporting in the Middle East. I loved seeing their optimism, despite covering one of the toughest regions in the world. Miriam Berger, a freelance journalism from the U.S., said that through her reporting she’s met “so many great people who should be in power.”