Day 32 - Netzach - Samantha Naiman
After an informative day of visiting various border sites near Gaza, we started our morning by furthering our understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We had the opportunity to hear from Neil Lazarus whose speech encompassed a jumble of all things Israel and the Middle East, but was possibly the most engaging talk I have heard throughout the entirety of IST. It is truly a talent to keep the attention of 70 teenagers at 8am, but the interesting content mixed with lots of laughing ensured that none of us left the room without gaining at least some knowledge.
Neil brought up the thought provoking topic of categorizing the confusing place that is Israel. It is located in the Middle East, but is the sole Jewish state. It is surrounded by enemies but has managed to stay afloat and strong for seventy years. It is a centre of technological advancements and a religious hub. It is a very young country but already has the pressure of the international world on its shoulders.
To me, these contradictions really highlight the fact that Israel is such a multifaceted and diverse country. It can mean a thousand different things for a thousand different people. Supporters and non-supporters alike can all take something new and informative from diving into Israeli culture and even though it is such a controversial subject, it simply means that there are more perspectives and ideas to explore. We dont need to categorize Israel as anything but a thriving country full of history and liveliness.
Following our recap of the conflict, we heard a moving speech from Arnold Roth. He was born in Australia and made Aliyah with his wife in 1988. On the 9th of August 2001, his 15 year old daughter Malki was murdered in the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Following the tragedy, Arnold and his family have dedicated their lives to spreading chessed (kindness) across the world through the establishment of their charity ‘Keren Malki’ and making sure her memory is forever cherished.
There have been over 3000 victims of terror since Israel’s establishment in 1948. This number may seem small in comparison to something as large as say, the Holocaust, but imagine counting out each and every person on your fingers. Imagine how long it would take. These people were brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. There were places they hadn’t visited and things they hadn’t done, and every single one of their lives was cut short by senseless violence. It is our job as people to ensure that the memory of all of them, of Malki, never go to waste. We can’t let her become another statistic. It is a testament to the strength of our people that we are able to both mourn and move forward after tragedies like these.
I was moved immensely by this story, possibly more than I have since being in Poland, for the sheer fact that she was the same age as all of us here on IST. I was struck with the harsh reality that children the same age as my friends and I are being murdered to push an agenda and it saddened me deeply that this is the state of the world we live in. It really made me reflect on all of the things I am grateful for in my own life, a main one being that I live in a country that I feel safe in.
Following this, we had a session with one of our guides, Ron, focused on advocacy and how to talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict with pro-Palestinians and people who are unaware of the disputes. We started with a heated debate about a topic of utmost importance; shawarma vs. felafel. Although fun and light-hearted, it was a metaphor for real life Israel vs. Palestine debates that are prevalent in our society. Politics aside, developing critical thinking skills is so important as we enter the adult world. Regardless of what we are arguing about in any discussion, being able to see both sides and validate our own opinions is an ability that we will be able to take far in our lives, no matter what we do.
My family group Madrich, Adam, then presented us with a dilemma a lot of us may face when we finish school, the prevalence of outspoken pro-Palestinian beliefs on many university campuses. A lot of us are in the ‘Moriah bubble’, never having been exposed to extreme opposing opinions as we have been at a Jewish school our whole lives. It is quite confronting to be thrown in the deep end and trusted to speak for the diaspora and Israel when you only have a couple of seconds to get your opinion across before the attention is lost.
So what do you say in those few crucial moments? How can you boil down years of suffering and war into a neat mixture of facts and emotion to make listeners sympathetic to our cause? I personally don’t know what I would say in a situation like that. I also don’t think opinions can be changed with the flick of a switch, but all I can hope is that I make someone think about a new perspective that might linger in their mind and make even a slight difference.
Following our morning learning about advocacy, we headed out in the pouring rain to a lookout which, while nice, was cancelled after five minutes of our shivering in the cold. We then went to the security fence separating Jerusalem from the West Bank in the suburb of Gilo. Before the fence was established, suicide bombings ran rampant through the area, but today, there has been a 95 percent decrease in terror attacks along the border. We were only a stones throw away from the Palestinian ruled city of Bethlehem, and I found out it was illegal for any of my Israeli madrichim to enter the area. This struck me as strange - imagine if it was illegal to enter Bondi Junction or Rosebay. How would that affect our society, economy or even our community?
But it also made me think about how the security fence was an embodiment of how a 2 State Solution would work. If implemented, there is a highly likely chance that the borders wouldn’t change at all. It was extremely interesting to see one of the many possible futures of Israel in person (even though we once again got rained out after 10 minutes).
After some well deserved reprieve from the weather, we headed to dinner and the movies to end an informative and inspiring day.
As Australian Jews, it is so important that we are representatives of our homeland, and IST is providing us with valuable tools in order to be advocates for the country we all love. I can’t wait to further my knowledge on this fascinating topic as IST begins to come to a close.