Experiencing Israel and Palestine with little prior knowledge

On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, we held a ‘processing session’ to deepen our understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Credit: UJS

by Matt Hancock-Bruce

Now I’ll be honest, before going to Israel and Palestine, I knew embarrassingly little about the political situation over there. In fact, the majority of knowledge I had of Israeli-Palestinian relations came from a ten-minute video I was shown during an orientation session before leaving the UK. So, what better way to learn about one of the most complex conflicts of the modern age than by visiting the place itself?

Perhaps the most insightful aspect of this trip for someone as woefully uninformed as myself were the opportunities we had to speak to people living on the ground, involved in and affected by the conflict. In Ramallah, the West Bank, we had the privilege of speaking with Dr Amal Jadou, Assistant Minister on European Affairs, who had a particularly profound effect on me. It was not just what Dr Jadou spoke to us about, but the way she said it, her words teeming with raw emotion and passion. It’s easy to detach oneself from the conflict when only hearing about it in the British media, but conversing with those directly affected by it really struck home.

One of the major points Dr Jadou raised that gave me a lot to think about was the role of Hamas in preventing a peaceful solution being sought to ease the conflict. According to the Assistant Minister, both Hamas and Israel have prevented Palestine from holding national elections since 2006, which she argues has halted the development of a resolution.

Another event which I found especially valuable in developing my understanding of today’s political landscape in Israel and Palestine was the panel debate between young politicians in Tel Aviv which brought representatives from four Israeli political parties – ranging from left-wing party Meretz to the current right-wing government party Likud – to the stage to discuss their party’s solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Not only did this activity allow me to engage with the wide array of political views held by citizens throughout Israel, but it also allowed me to witness the incompatibility of the various potential solutions to the crisis.

For example, when discussing whether Israeli foreign policy has encouraged the development of apartheid in the West Bank, Meretz’s spokesperson claimed that “anyone who says there is no such thing as apartheid [in the West Bank] is a liar” to which Likud’s representative replied that “there is no such thing as apartheid.” From my own time spent in the West Bank, I believe it is clear that there is a major division between the Palestinians and Israelis. The West Bank is split into three distinct areas, A, B and C, and a wall creates a physical division between the two countries.

Equally as important as the guest speakers from whom we heard was simply being surrounded by people of my own age, many who had already developed their own opinions on the conflict. Being able to engage with and respond to others’ perspectives at regular ‘processing sessions’ throughout the trip helped me in developing my own views and bettered my understanding of what I was experiencing.

When I applied to go to Israel and Palestine, in all honesty, I did so largely because of the bargain price I was offered and I expected to be heading off on an interesting yet cheap holiday, having a laugh and meeting some new people. However, this experience has had a much more profound influence on me, promoting an interest in current and political affairs and allowing me to share my understanding of the conflict with others; this is perhaps more valuable than anything I could have hoped for.

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Why Did Gair Rhydd Visit Israel and Palestine?

• To hear from people on the ground about the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

•To encourage greater understanding of the complexities of the conflict to help us facilitate discussion about the situation upon returning home outside of the traditional media narrative.

•To prompt us to begin considering how discussions can move forward in the hopes of one day finding a solution to the conflict.

•To show us first-hand how fragile Israeli-Palestinian relations are to broaden our understanding of the struggles faced by all who are intimately affected by the conflict.

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This trip was facilitated by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS). They have been around since 1919, addressing the concerns of 8,500 Jewish Students in Universities. They aim to lead campaigns fighting prejudice, creating inclusive environments, and educating people on divisive issues. To find out more about the work UJS do, head over to their website.