By Sarah Cahn '22
Image captured by Sarah Cahn ’22 during her trip to the Dead Sea in 2019.
My relationship with the State of Israel has always been complex, developing and changing as I have distanced myself from the Jewish community in which I was raised. As a proud American Jew, I have always identified as a supporter of Israel; however, I have learned to crticially analyze its political system, nationalistic sentiments, and foreign policy. Ultimately, I have discovered that many American Jews choose to ignore the state’s complex history and policies in the name of cultural and religious pride, creating a veil that obstructs a difficult reality.
One of the greatest challenges I have faced in understanding Israel and its relationship with its neighbors is defining what the Palestnian state actually is. The areas of “Gaza” and “the West Bank,” were never recognized by my teachers and peers at my Jewish Day School as a legitimate nation. By not acknowledging the validity of the state, I was unable to understand the experience of its people.
However, my visit to a small Arab-Israeli village in the north of the country, Dier Al-Asad, opened my eyes to the culture, social norms, and politics of the Arab world. Through my interactions with Arab-Israeli teens, my understanding of the Arab world and the Palestinian-Israeli struggle shifted as I began to grasp the humanity that exists within both groups. Because of this experience, I began to study Arabic, and I am currently entering my seventh year of study. Arabic has become one of the focal points of my academic experience at Haverford. Through this experience, I have learned to contextualize and analyze Palestinian culture and history using Arabic, allowing me to better understand their experiences.
When I returned to Israel during the Summer of 2019 on a Birthright trip, my perspective on the country shifted once again. I was finally able to fully wrestle with the struggles that Israelis face in their homeland and also acknowledge the pain that Palestinians face due to Israeli military action and occupation of the West Bank. By speaking with young Israeli adults, I learned about the complex nature of the political landscape within the country, dominated by the right-wing Likud party under Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Through these conversations, I listened to the desire for peace that many Israelis yearn for; however, I also learned that this hope is basically unattainable due to the authoritarian nature of their leaders.
One of the most striking conversations I had in Israel was a discussion I had on the plane to Tel Aviv with my seat neighbor, an orthodox woman, who was returning to the country after attending a wedding in New York with her family. After we exchanged small talk, we began to discuss my academic interests, and I cautiously told her that I have studied both Hebrew and Arabic. I politely explained my interest in the Middle East and particularly in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We began to discuss what life was like between East Jerusalem and the Old City, and also her experiences interacting with Palestinian citizens who lived in the divided international capital. While the woman recognized the humanity and positive relationships she has developed with several Palestinian citizens, she discussed the distinct fear that both sides of the conflict maintain regarding the threat each group poses to the other’s existence.
From this conversation I learned one of the most crucial pieces about this struggle: neither Israelis or Palestnians do not truly know nor understand each other, and due to this lack of dialogue, peace will remain unattainable. Although conversations over steaming tea or falafel will not solve the struggle nor bring about a two-state solution, I argue that when two individuals are able to agree about something simple, they are able to approach larger, more complex topics on equal footing.
With the recent normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, this hope of equal dialogue between Israeli and Palestnian citizens has become something of a distant memory. Through this agreement, I argue that the Israeli and American governments have succeeded in further dividing the Middle East and have erased a Palestianian voice from any peace process. While I support increased regional peace and stronger relations between Israel and other Arab nations, I argue that this recent deal has destabilized the region, instead of building trust between populations.
I also believe in the necessity of recognizing Palestinian freedom and for the development of relations between Israel and the Palestinian government. Recent polls suggest that support for a two-state solution is stagnating, down from 42 to 39% since June 2020. Furthermore, violence within the region has increased, as shortly after the deal was announced, 12 rockets were launched by armed groups within Gaza towards Israeli and Israeli warplanes committed three rounds of airstrikes. Ultimately, this agreement between the U.A.E. and Israel acts as a “slap in the face” to the Palestinian people, pushing the two groups farther apart.
I am calling for the opening of dialogue between American Jews, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, groups that are directly impacted by this multi-generational conflict. By developing genuine relationships that go beyond struggles of identity, I argue that we will ultimately be able to construct a space that can effectively build peace, instead of veiling an inequitable reality.