I’ve just returned home from spending nearly two weeks in Israel, thanks to the Once in a Lifetime project by Stand With Us and the wonderful students at Hebrew University who made it happen. While I was there, rockets were fired from Gaza, prompting retaliatory Israeli airstrikes. The worst violence on the Israeli-Lebanese border since 2006 happened. Yet I come home believing more than ever that peace can be achieved.
It is too often stated that Israeli Jews cannot live with Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims. I have no illusions about the uncompromising nature of radical Islam, or the tub of mass hatred that young children are forced to bathe in. Until the forces spreading this extremism are stopped, peace is impossible. But I saw very inspiring signs while in Israel.
One of the most common things I hear on talk radio — and at colleges — is that both sides just hate each other too much and are equally guilty. On the Israeli side, I never heard one negative generalization about Palestinians or Arabs. In fact, they are crying out to define themselves outside of the conflict. They express their frustration at terms like “pro-Palestinian” that make it sound as if one can only care for one side. It was repeatedly stated to me that they are fighting radical Islam, not the Muslim world, and not the Palestinians as a people. No discussion of the hardships they face went without the Israeli participant decrying the Palestinians’ own hardships.
In Jerusalem, which stands at the heart of the conflict, I saw Jews and Muslims buying and selling from one another in the friendliest of manners. City officials told the Once in a Lifetime group of bloggers that the vast majority of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem are carried out by those outside of the city. The biggest conflict Jerusalem is having is between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews, not between Jews and Muslims. Culturally, it can be difficult to distinguish between the secular Jews and the Muslims, as they dress and joke around the same way. Those that live closest to the Jews are the least inclined to hate them.
It is inaccurate to say Jews and non-Jews can’t live peacefully and respectfully together in Israel, because it is already happening. We visited a Muslim village named Abu Ghosh that is excitedly visited by Israeli Jews for its hummus and houses Roman Catholic monks. An outside observer unfamiliar with the conflict would be unable to tell that a conflict existed.
Peace is increasingly possible because extremist propaganda cannot survive exposure and reality. As globalization increases, cultures and peoples interact more, and as we saw in Jerusalem, this creates bonds. There is a huge amount of tension over Israel’s security measures, but the truth is that peace for Israelis is good for Palestinians. After the so-called “Apartheid Wall” was erected, suicide bombings dropped over 90 percent. This led to economic growth and peace for both sides.