Learning to Listen and to Act
Can you tell us a little bit more about the Arava Institute?
The Arava Institute is a space meant to bring together students from all over the world, especially Israelis and Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, Israel, and Jordan, so they can learn with and from each other about different regional environmental and socio-political realities. In addition to taking several environmental classes, all students participate in a Peace Leadership Seminar. Through storytelling and listening, we got to re-evaluate our own experiences within the regional conflict through listening and validating each other’s experiences.
Although I originally had many reservations about studying in Israel and did not feel comfortable with the idea of supporting the Israeli government in any way, this experience allowed me to really reflect and dissect my own Jewish identity and what it means to be a descendant of a Holocaust survivor when it comes to my relationship to the Israeli State. It was truly one of the most unique experiences in my life.
During your study abroad, you also had the chance to participate in anti-annexation activism. Can you tell us what this consisted of?
By the end of the semester, after learning so much about the history of the conflict within Israel and Palestine in my classes as well as in the casual conversations we would have with each other, we began hearing things about Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank. We were told by our friends about how negatively annexation would impact Palestinians already living under the occupation, as it was already leading to the creation of new borders, new laws, and a new status for Palestinians in the area, further diminishing their rights. Many people already face the risk of being evicted, or their homes being demolished and this would only make it impossible to fight.
All of this was unraveling without receiving any national or international attention. After many meetings and going back and forth on ideas about what we can do about it, we decided one of our actions would be to set up a protest camp outside of the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem. We only had a few weeks to plan everything, and no funding, but we managed to set up our camp ten days prior to when annexation was supposed to go into effect. By being there those ten days, we were taking up space, but we were also creating awareness about annexation through an information tent we had set up. We called and emailed different Parliament members and used our megaphone to let the Israeli Parliament know we were there and what our demands were.
In addition, we hosted panels with other organizations, such as Women Wage Peace and One Democratic State, to learn more about their work and the annexation and occupation. We all listened to the experts, as we were all beginner activists and none of us had done anything like this before. We made it a continuation of our studies and a place to share the stories of our Palestinian friends.
What were the most important things you learned from these experiences?
I guess the biggest takeaway is the importance of storytelling and the importance of capital L Listening, which is just about the most important thing for an American going anywhere to do Instead of judging the Israelis, which is what I was ready to do–to fight any Israeli who had served in the military, including my own cousins–I swallowed my pride, I stopped thinking so loudly, and I started listening. I learned things from every single person who opened up to me with their humility and vulnerability in their chest and in their heart and in their mouth. And that vulnerability was so powerful and it led to so much growth for every single human who was there. It was enlightening, inspiring and empowering. It was truly all of it.
Do you have an idea about what you want to do in the future? If so, did your experience in Israel influence that choice?
This summer was a perfect way for me to realize that there is a lifetime of work I have to do within my own state, within my own country, with the blatant racism, with the way Black people, indigenous people, people of color, undocumented people in America are treated. In a colonial entity that is Israel, it’s quite hypocritical and hard to lecture or judge, even with my new knowledge and awareness.
In some ways, it has pushed me to stay put a little and not just run to other places to try to fix other people’s problems, because I have plenty of my own and this country has plenty of its own. I was aware of that before, but I think I never realized the agency and power that I have here. There is a responsibility that comes with having the knowledge that I now have and knowing the people that I know. I think there is still so much work to be done and I still have so much to learn. I think that I will definitely also go back at least to visit my friends in Jordan, Nablus, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, and to help them with the really important work they have began doing.