Hidden truths of the Middle East

 

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Instead of going to the beach and sipping on piña coladas this past December break, I got on a 12-hour flight to the Middle East with one focus: educating myself on the Israeli-Arab conflict.

I drove a dune-buggy along the Israeli-Syrian border, riding through the ruins and rubble that was the Syrian army’s headquarters up until the 1967 Six-Day-War; the immense valleys and mountains loomed over me in the distance as I hurtled along the destruction of the past.

I went over the green line and visited settlements in the West Bank — both Jewish and Palestinian villages and cities that strived in some areas and were crumpled in others.

I got to experience the breathtaking scenery of the Golan Heights and the ancient architecture of Old City Jerusalem.

In Israel, I had the opportunity to speak with parliament members at the Knesset, a chief officer of border security, a counter-terrorist first responder, an acclaimed Palestinian journalist, an Israeli political correspondent, humanitarian aid volunteers, medical teams, intelligence officials and a variety of influential and high-status voices that opened my eyes to the good, the bad and the ugly.

I learned about perceptions on occupational regions — differing consensuses on the recent UN resolution declaring all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be “occupied territory” and a flagrant violation of regional rights.

I learned about military intervention. I walked right outside the Gaza border, touching the wall, and gained an understanding of daily conditions, learning about the struggles and constant threats looming over every decision a civilian on either side makes.

This is a playground bunker for the children of Sderot — the neighboring Israeli city to the Gaza strip. Thousands of rockets have been fired onto the grounds by Hamas without any warning. This playground structure of reinforced concrete was built out of desperation to protect children at all costs and to soften their terrors through integrating a playful domain.

Drawings of children in Sderot, who have become far too accustomed to the countless missiles launched against them.

I developed an understanding of the Palestinian National Authority, the complications of the Oslo Accords and the terrorizing and persistent motivations of Hamas.

I learned about claims of excessive force towards Israeli Defence Forces, Israeli checkpoint security, suicide bombing history and an overwhelming load of information on the un-flushable shit-storm that spirals through the majestic toilet bowl known as the Middle East.

More than anything, I learned that the conflict is not black and white. It’s no hero versus villain comic book. It’s a complex political conundrum that’s often overlooked, simplified or flat-out misinterpreted.

But more importantly than what I learned throughout this political conundrum of misunderstanding is what I learned through the Muslims, Jews, Christians, Ethiopian refugees and diverse civilians that walk the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and settlements in the West Bank.

It was the Armenian cab driver who talked about Israeli’s togetherness and unconditional love for one another despite the loud honks and impatient confrontation during Friday afternoon rush hour.

It was the Arab waiter that served me one of the best Middle Eastern meals I’ve had who told me about his love for photography and how he’s worked at the restaurant for over 20 years — watching the progression of the conflict from up close by serving countless civilians and tourists.

This is Sean. He has been a cab driver for the last few years in Tel Aviv and runs a Limousine company in Las Vegas over the summer.

This is Avi. His specialty is roasted chicken and potatoes. He is also a former soldier in the IDF.

It was the Turkish man that feeds the birds at the Tel Aviv shuk with the only rationale being that “everyone needs to eat.”

It was the Palestinian who stopped what he was doing as we crossed the green line and told us how peace and cohesion is all he really wants.

It was the Jewish mother who fled Ethiopia as a six-year-old on her father’s shoulders with her family’s dreams of a better future bringing her to the land of boundless potential.

This is Samsung. He came from Turkey over fifty years ago and works in the shuk, spending many afternoons feeding the birds.

The woman to my left is Racheli Yaso-Ngatua. When she was five-years-old she traveled on her father’s shoulders out of Ethiopia — alongside the rest of her Jewish family that dreamed of entering Jerusalem.

It was the father whose son was brutally murdered by terrorists that said leaving this place would “go against everything I believe.”

It was the four-year-old girl from Syria that received open-heart-surgery from Israeli doctors — those that forgot all battles and did what needed to be done.

The father I am referring to is not the one in this photo. However, this image represents the profound father-son-relationship common in Middle-Eastern culture. The father who lost a son’s name is Seth Mandell. His son, Koby, was stoned to death on the outskirts of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank by unforgiving extremists. Seth refuses to let his anguish remove him from his home.

This was taken at the Save a Child’s Heart facility in Israel. Hundreds of children are constantly extracted from war-zoned borders and different regions of the world to receive open-heart-surgeries performed by leading surgeons.

It was all the conversations I had with everyday people that really allowed me to understand Israel as a place of individuals and not just a state of political tension. Those were the voices that really mattered.

It’s one thing to fight for Israel. It’s something else to know who you’re fighting for.

Israel is more than a land of conflict.

It’s more than a state of regional division, clashing ideologies and advancing military enforcement. It’s more than a clogged toilet bowl of controversy — I’ve heard this reoccurring analogy more times than I could count.

It’s a place of humanitarian aid, technological advancement and medical progression.

It’s cities of Middle Eastern streets where the LGBTQ community is celebrated in massive parades.

It’s where non-profit rescue organizations fly out to European shores in order to assist arriving refugees. It’s where religions, cultures and art exist cohesively.

It’s where diversity is celebrated, not oppressed. It’s where freedom of speech and curiosity for knowledge are intrinsic values within the growing culture.

Despite the shit-storm, Israel is where unconditional unity holds strong.

It’s not perfect. No country is. But within the borders, no matter who you are, where you come from, what you believe in, or how you live your life, no matter the enemies and threats that quake your reality, Israel stands together.

For those reasons alone, I stand with them.

15 Comments

  1. “I learned about claims of excessive force towards Israeli Defence Forces, Israeli checkpoint security, suicide bombing history and an overwhelming load of information on the un-flushable shit-storm that spirals through the majestic toilet bowl known as the Middle East.”

    Tl;dr privileged white boy travels to the Middle East, discovers actual people live there, disregards any larger context or nuance to glaze over a highly complex issue. Glad to see The Cord maintaining as high of editorial standards as ever.

  2. Great read! Fantastic job!

  3. Well done – Israel needs people like you who can show this face if Israel to the world.

  4. Re Elliot – “privileged white boy” meme – racist comment, as if some ow this disqualified him from making the journey and writing about it. If you’ve been to Israel and Palestine and have a more nuanced view of the complex issue, I’m sure that The Cord will be happy to print it.

  5. Great article! Just a couple of comments:
    1) Sadly a very common misconception – the Western Wall is not the “last standing wall” of the Jewish Temple. In fact, it is simply an outer retaining wall of the Temple Mount compound which sits above, and where the Jewish Temple once stood. And all four of the retaining walls still stand. The western wall is simply the one that hosts the Jewish prayer area, since the Muslim group that administers the Temple Mount forbids non-muslims (including Jews) from praying there, even though it is the holiest Jewish site in the world.
    2) Is that man’s name really Samsung?

  6. It’s nice to finally read a piece on the subject that doesn’t try to bombard you with the writer’s implicit bias, and instead puts human faces to the headlines we so often read or see on the news. I think this is some of The Cord’s better work

  7. I don’t really see the “whole truth” here. I like how it actually frames individual real people into it but the problem is how he doesn’t actually go to Palestine or talk to Palestinians except one, or look at anything that’s happening. Like I too support peace but that doesn’t mean we side with one side because we met people there and they were nice?

  8. Yes, it’s important to understand the human side of the conflict, to view it from the perspective of the people on the ground, although the thousands of Palestinian families who remain homeless as a result of Israel’s 2014 rampage, or those from East Jerusalem who’ve suffered from the Jewish states policy of home demolitions and evictions, or those in the West Bank who face daily attacks from fanatical Jewish settlers, or the million and a half Palestinians living under Israel’s crippling siege of Gaza didn’t seem human enough to make it into your sanitized apology for Zionism. Your shout outs to diversity, repeated references to shit clogged toilets and intentional obfuscation and reduction of the public discourse on israel-palestine to one large nebulous mass of “grey areas” and controversy can’t hide the fact that, at the end of the day illegal military occupation, racism, ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism are the FACTS on the ground, the facts around which this conflict revolves. Only by addressing these can there be hope for peace and justice. Not that there aren’t complexities at play, which are bound to emerge when one group establishes a racist ethnostate on land ethnically cleansed from another. If the unity of Israeli society is what you cherish most about it, then I hope you understand that above else, this unity is built on a firm commitment to an inherently racist and violent ideology grounded in a mythology of and commitment to ethnic privilege. And if that’s the kind of unity you value, well….

  9. So in summary…privileged whiteboi travels to a genocidal apartheid ethno state that masquerades as a liberal democracy cuz he heard some shits goin down and he’s damn sure gonna get to the bottom of it!. He arrives and discovers that human being live here, and that like other humans, they have some interesting stories to tell. He talks to them and realizes that their lives are effected in some way or another by the ongoing conflict between Yahwehs chosen people and the damn natives who refuse to just roll over and die and let the chosen people steal their land in peace, the way some white imperialists back in 1947 decided they could. He travels around and discovers that this country has a lot of shit clogged toilets or something, and it’s also pretty diverse, even though much of this diversity can be attributed to a centuries long tradition of ethnic and religious coexistence that predates the arrival of the European invaders by centuries, and which they’ve done much to consistently undermine. He talks about how hard it is for the colonials to live on their stolen promised land. He discovers a thriving high tech industry that excels at designing and exporting weaponry, tested on the natives of course. He realizes that this place isn’t soo bad because they have gay pride parades where crazy Jews occasionally show up and go on stabbing sprees, and because this country sends aid to poor people in Africa or something even though they keep a million and a half of the damn dirty natives under a crippling siege and massacre them from the air from time to time. He reaches the conclusion that the conflict is really complicated or something, and that people should withhold judgment on this country’s racist, violent policies of ethnic cleansing and illegal military occupation. He thinks that by privileging the suffering of his own tribe he’s gotten a balanced view of the “conflict” even though he never really cared to mention the millions of people living under a brutal military occupation and the savage policies of home demolitions, evictions, crippling sieges, land theft and settler colonialism this country employs. He doesn’t really give a shit about the natives or their plight because they don’t seem human enough to make it into his sanitized apology for Zionism. He concludes his bullshit by claiming the most valuable thing he learned from his yuppie journey of tribal self-discovery was the unity he found here, a unity ultimately built on a firm commitment to an inherently racist and violent ideology grounded in a mythology of and commitment to ethnic privilege, and one which doesn’t extend to the pesky natives or anyone else who doesn’t belong to his privileged tribe. But like, who gives a shit about them, they’re not the chosen people, and they’re not even white, so fuck em, amirite?

  10. Bilal – one question: did you know that the home demolition policy implemented by Israel is a policy that targets the homes of terrorists who have killed innocent civilians? You make it sound like Israel wantonly destroys random houses. Your half-truth filled rant is not part of the solution, buddy.

    Nobody expects the Arab population (by the way, Jews are as native to the land as they are, read some history) to “roll over and play dead”. But the world does expect them to finally grow up and realize that it’s been nearly 70 years and Israel is not going to disappear, so they may as well make some mature decisions, like accepting Israel’s right to exist and planning around that, instead of constantly fomenting anger and inciting violence, and planning ways to blow every Jew up.

    There’s an old saying: “don’t be right, be smart”. Arab leadership may be right, at least in their own eyes, but they certainly have not been smart. It’s time the people, both the Palestinians and the international community, wise up.

  11. Bilal and Elliot,

    Before I address every single incorrect statement you made (which is going to take awhile because all of your statements were utter lies) let me ask you simple questions, have you ever been to Israel? Have you ever been to Judea and Sumaria? Have you ever been to the Western Wall? Have you ever spoken to an Arab journalist? Have you ever gone to Riwabi and spoken with Palestinians? Have you gone through the Streets of Sderot, Israel (neighbors to Gaza)? If you have you would know there are bomb shelters in every house and next to every single bus stop. I’ve done all of those things I’ve listed. When I spoke with Palestinians in Riwabi they told us they did not have a problem with Israel and that they conduct trade with them. So before you start talking without any knowledge let me educate you.

    1. Israel wants PEACE. Israel has reached out to President Abbas about creating peace negotiations, but he has never agreed to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Israel was able to create peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt. Since, that is all Israelis want. Peace. It is time for the Palestinisn authorities and people to come to the same conclusion.

    2. Israel provides human rights to all their citizens whether they are Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. What other nation around Israel does the same? Getting a headache? That’s because NO other nation around Israel does. And yes, Israel holds extravagant and inspiring Gay parades because She believes in equality for all.

    3. The people in Gaza are living in ways I cannot imagine and they are going through many hardships. The truth is, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza. That’s what the Palestinians wanted. Israel wanted peace so She agreed. Israel still helps them even though they do not need to. Yet, Israel gets blamed for the way people in Gaza live. That is not right. Israel is still helping people (ex. with food) who send rockets back as a thank you.

    Hope you have gotten educated. If you have any questions, use an unbiased source to find your answer.

  12. the fact that you use the term “Judea and Samaria” to refer to the West Bank shows exactly what kind of ideological bent your misinformed worldview is tainted by. so please refrain from “educating” me with your lies and hasbara

    1. ISRAEL DOES NOT WANT PEACE. if it did, it would end its crippling siege of Gaza, or its colonization projects and military occupation of the West Bank, or its human rights abuses of Palestinians, but there’s no sign of that happening any time soon. The fact that the prime minister of the country recently traveled all the way to an internationally brokered peace conference in Paris, stood up before the world community and called the entire attempt useless shows you exactly what kind of attitude the Israelis have towards peace. The Palestinians have just as often extended invitations to peace talks which the Israelis have either broken off or rejected entirely, such as with the recent 2014 negotiation cycle which Israel walked out from the minute the Fatah and Hamas entered into a unitary government. Israel wants the Palestinians divided and docile, it wants them to stop resisting and to let Israel continue with its invasion and destruction of their country. Israel does everything it can to obscure the path of peace and the establishment of a viable two state solution and yet it keeps repeating this refrain of “we want peace” and the entire world can see its bullshit. Peace for Israel means that it gets to get away with its crimes, with its human rights abuses and its land theft. Peace for Israel means that it gets to continue perpetrating its injustices against the Palestinians. Israels definition of peace does not include justice for the victims of its racist violent dispossession, and peace without justice is no peace at all.

    2. Israel DOES NOT respect human rights. Its entire foundational ideology is based on the ethno-religious privileging of one group over others, not to mention the dozens of discriminatory laws that restrict the freedoms and movements of Palestinians in Israel or the brutal military occupation in the West Bank and its well documented human rights abuses. As to my biased sources, i’ll refer you to amnesty international and humans rights watch (who are obviously a bunch of holocaust denying antisemites) and their long list of documented violations of international human rights standards committed by Israel. Comparing Israel to other countries in the region as if that makes its injustices and brutalities somewhat less appalling is a favorite of Zionists, and its absurd. The region is FULL of brutal and undemocratic regimes with no respect for human rights, and Israel has taken its rightful place among them. No amount of pinkwashing can hide this.

    3. Yes because the humanitarian disaster in Gaza has nothing at all to do with Israels decade long siege of the territory right? Israel didn’t disengage from Gaza, it simply shipped its settlers over to more profitable and less difficult to maintain settlements in the West Bank, and moved its army to the borders of the territory. Israel still retains complete control over Gaza and its borders, air and sea space. Yes i’m sure the people of Gaza appreciate Israels “help” which includes bombing them every now and again and intentionally targeting civilians, homes, ambulances, schools and hospitals for destruction, as outlined in the Goldstone Report (which he was pressured by the Israelis into recanting).

  13. Misha

    I honestly don’t know if you believe your own lies. The number one reason Israeli officially cite for their systematic policy of home demolitions is that most of the structures were built without permits (since Israel rarely grants Palestinians, especially in the west bank, construction permits in the first place). Over the last two decades at least 15,000 such demolition orders have been given under this pretext alone. Not to mention the Bedouin villages in the Negev and which are under constant threat of demolition for the same supposed reason, or Israel’s policy of home evictions (which it prefers over demolitions for areas inside Israel) in east Jerusalem. But let’s assume your lie is actually true for a second. Is it at all just to make an entire family homeless because of the crimes committed by a single member (assuming they’re even guilty in the first place)? The fact that Israel and its supporters find this moral is really indicative of the ruthless “might makes right” kind of mentality they have. Is it really soo hard to believe that a society founded on the complete demolition of hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages, and who’s ultimate goal is the complete control and sovereignty of its own privileged tribe over their conquered land, would continue to pursue such a policy of demolitions and ethnic cleansing for as long as it can?
    I’m not going to say much about the “native” status of European Jews to the Middle East, a claim based on religious and sacred history, on the myths and legends found in the Bible which is not at all a historically accurate document, nor was it ever intended or read as such. That’s not to deny Jews any religious claim to the land (although I’m more than willing to challenge the “ancestral” or historic claims made to it on the part of European Jews), its simply to say that whatever claim anyone may have to the land, none has a claim strong enough to justify the ethnic cleansing of the people who have actively lived in that land for centuries or the destruction of their country and society. No people would tolerate this, and the Palestinians shouldn’t be expected to either. But that’s exactly what Israel expects of them. It wants them to stop resisting in any way possible, not just violently but peacefully as well (hence the vitriol of the Zionist witch hunt against non-violent movements like BDS). It wants the Palestinians to give up their legitimate claims to their ancestral land and accept the Israeli theft of it as legitimate. That’s why Israel does virtually everything it can to make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible, the most obvious example being its policy of settlement building and cantonization of the west bank. Israel wants complete and total sovereignty and control over the land, it wants the Palestinians to disappear or melt quietly into the background and accept their fate as victims of its colonial project.
    This is what its conflict with the Palestinians is ultimately about, not over their recognition of Israel, something which the PLO did over two decades ago. Its about time Israelis and their supporters be honest about this instead of locating the source of the conflict in some ingrained Palestinian “culture of death”, antisemitism, or the very real ineffectiveness, stubbornness and corruption of the Palestinian leadership (who have pretty much betrayed their people and been domesticated into the service of Israel’s military occupation). If Israelis were willing to give up their tribal worldview, their sense of ethnic privilege and their exclusivist morality and adopt a more humanistic, universal approach, then there may be some hope. But this would be a betrayal of everything the Jewish state was built on, it would be the biggest challenge to the legitimacy of Israel, and for that reason it’s the least likely to happen.

  14. Misha

    Your outright lies aren’t part of the solution either. “You make it sound like Israel wantonly destroys random houses.” Yes, because it does. The number one reason Israeli officially cite for their systematic policy of home demolitions is that most of the structures were built without permits (since Israel rarely grants Palestinians, especially in the west bank, construction permits in the first place). Over the last two decades at least 15,000 such demolition orders have been given under this pretext alone. Not to mention the Bedouin villages in the Negev and which are under constant threat of demolition for the same supposed reason, or Israel’s policy of evicting Palestinian families (which it prefers over demolitions for areas inside Israel) and handing over their homes to fanatical Jewish extremists in east Jerusalem. But let’s assume your lie is actually true for a second. Is it at all just to make an entire family homeless because of the crimes committed by a single member (assuming they’re even guilty in the first place)? The fact that Israel and its supporters find this moral is really indicative of the ruthless “might makes right” kind of mentality they have. Is it really soo hard to believe that a society founded on the complete demolition of hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages, and who’s ultimate goal is the complete control and sovereignty of its own privileged tribe over their conquered land, would continue to pursue such a policy of demolitions and ethnic cleansing for as long as it can?
    I’m not going to say much about the “native” status of European Jews to the Middle East, a claim based on religious and sacred history, on the myths and legends found in the Bible which is not at all a historically accurate document, nor was it ever intended or read as such. That’s not to deny Jews any religious claim to the land (although I’m more than willing to challenge the “ancestral” or historic claims made to it on the part of European Jews), its simply to say that whatever claim anyone may have to the land, none has a claim strong enough to justify the ethnic cleansing of the people who have actively lived in that land for centuries or the destruction of their country and society. No people would tolerate this, and the Palestinians shouldn’t be expected to either. But that’s exactly what Israel expects of them. It wants them to stop resisting in any way possible, not just violently but peacefully as well (hence the vitriol of the Zionist witch hunt against non-violent movements like BDS). It wants the Palestinians to give up their legitimate claims to their ancestral land and accept the Israeli theft of it as legitimate. That’s why Israel does virtually everything it can to make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible, the most obvious example being its policy of settlement building and cantonization of the west bank. Israel wants complete and total sovereignty and control over the land, it wants the Palestinians to disappear or melt quietly into the background and accept their fate as victims of its colonial project. This is what its conflict with the Palestinians is ultimately about, not over their recognition of Israel, something which the PLO did over two decades ago. Its about time Israelis and their supporters be honest about this instead of locating the source of the conflict in some ingrained Palestinian “culture of death”, antisemitism, or the very real ineffectiveness, stubbornness and corruption of the Palestinian leadership (who have pretty much betrayed their people and been domesticated into the service of Israel’s military occupation). I’ll agree with you on that point though, the Palestinian leadership isn’t very smart, the fact that its taken them this long to try and launch a case against Israel in the ICC is ridiculous. And Israel, for all its brutalities, is pretty smart when it comes to spreading misinformation, lying, and twisting and manipulating situations in order to justify and perpetuate its crimes.
    If Israelis were willing to give up their tribal worldview, their sense of ethnic privilege and their exclusivist morality and adopt a more humanistic, universal approach, then there may be some hope. But this would be a betrayal of everything the Jewish state was built on, it would be the biggest challenge to the legitimacy of Israel, and for that reason it’s the least likely to happen.

  15. The writer clearly went everywhere he could have where he wouldn’t have been stoned to death on the basis of his religion. I assume he’s Jewish. As he mentioned, he went to Palestinian cities but probably only the ones where he was allowed. But you’re right, it doesn’t show all sides. Bilal, Elliot, BC930! It sounds like you know a lot about the conflict and I bet the Cord would love to publish a piece about all your experiences there. I think it would be very beneficial to show both sides! I obviously know you wouldn’t only be accusing Israel of being an apartheid, racist, occupational and excessive force state without actually being there, so please write about all your experiences and publish as soon as possible! Don’t wait! Be sure to mention how you managed to enter the Gaza Strip despite the control of Hamas! It’s honestly a true pleasure to finally encounter readers that are commentating based on experience, and not just parroting the biased spew they hear on the subject, or interpreters of said spew that have never actually been anywhere they are referring to and are quick to criticize someone who actually was (or was at least as close as he was able to). Bilal, Elliot, BC930, you’re truly inspirational!

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