My Journey

In September, 2009, this Canadian boy started a masters program the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, learning about ecology and health, middle-eastern politics and the environment, and how a dire problem may facilitate a region's coming together for the better. This Blog is a record of my head-first dive into this immense world.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Today was officially Nakba day, and there was a low key event on campus consisting of a little exhibition of photographs and narratives from pre-Nakba Arab Palestine - names of villages that are forever gone, stories of the people who were forced off of their land, never to return - the flip side of the triumphant Zionist narrative that so many of us grow up with.  I don't think I will ever entirely discount the side of the narrative that led to the successful creation of the State of Israel, an accomplishment that will always blow my mind and send shivers down my spine problematic as the narrative may be, but to fully understand the implications of the creation of Israel, you also need to understand the Nakba.  And tonight, after experiencing the representations that the Palestinian students put together, complete especially with a poem about a village, an identity, and a way of life lost, I returned to my caravan somber.  I will always be who I am, and proud of Israel and all it had accomplished, the fact that it was nothing but a dream but a century ago and today it has just joined the OECD.  But being proud of Israel needs to also reside in the mind with knowing the full implications of Israel's existence as a Jewish State.  A little while ago I got a mass e-mail from someone close to me, mostly dealing with Israel's wonderful accomplishments, but ending with these lines:

In contrast to the efforts of tiny Israel to make contributions to the world so as to better mankind, one has to ask what have those who have strived to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth done other than to create hate and bloodshed???  

 So I decided to add my little piece of mind to the discourse, and hopefully all of you out there can help me.  If you ever get an e-mail with a piece of rhetoric like this, please respond with this little message, modified in whatever way makes it appropriate:

This is my response to those e-mails that attempt to fan the flames of animosity, prejudice, and hatred of Jews towards Arabs and Palestinians in particular.  They float around the internet in many Jewish circuits, and I've gotten many before.  I know that this kind of message is coming from a place of anxiety, pain, and fear, and thus needs a dose of understanding, not argument.

  It indeed makes me very proud that Israel has been, and continues to be a pioneer in so many different areas, has weathered the current economic situation with such relative ease, and in many ways continues to be a "light unto the nations".  Not included in this list, but almost equally as important, is Israel's many humanitarian accomplishments.  Two days ago I was running programs with Sudanese refugees in Eilat, and in February I was a full-time volunteer with Save a Child's Heart in Tel Aviv, which has performed heart surgery for thousands of children in need from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Iraq, and (about half the children come from) the Palestinian Territories.  And we can only point to the mission in Haiti (which my masters supervisor was involved with) to see what Israel is capable of.

But proud as I was of most of the e-mail, I was somewhat shocked with the last paragraph, which was not worthy of a group that is "a light unto the nations".  I have had the privilege through my 7 months thus far at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies ( to live, study, work, travel, eat, and argue with a student body that is 1/3 International, 1/3 Israeli Jewish, and 1/3 Arab (Israeli Arab, West Bank Palestinian, and Jordanian).  Words like those attached to the end of that e-mail are dehumanizing and hurtful, and are easy enough to say from the safety of an e-mail distributed only to Jews of a certain frame of mind.  But I feel that as part of a generation of youth attempting to challenge the status quo of fear, anger, and prejudice in all of our communities and cultures, I have to object.  I have stayed at my friends' family homes in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Irbid, and have met wonderful people who have taken me in and treated me like family.  I have met young people striving to make a change in their communities and their world, who will be engineers, physicians, poets, teachers, and future leaders, who have loved and lost and have big dreams.  I guess what I'm saying is that when we dehumanize the other, we dehumanize ourselves, and peace and justice fly from our grasp.  So, the next time something like this comes across your computer screen, by all means pass on the pride and joy of Jewish accomplishment, but please leave the rest.

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