Over the winter recess myself and twenty-four others were fortunate enough to be selected for a leadership delegation trip to Israel. This trip’s goal was to expose us to Israeli culture and urge us to acknowledge the differences in lifestyles and perspectives in regards to geo-political issues (I was just wondering what they thought about our “executive” branch).
My eyes sped past all the leadership qualifications, learning outcomes, disclaimers landing straight on the “all expense paid” small font. Suddenly, what was presented as an educational excursion translated into a #vacation to beach bod central---Tel-Aviv. Pouring my heart into the application I spewed my biased socio-political views and in the follow-up interview bonded with the interviewer relishing in our common critiques of Madison’s diversity.
Two months later I touched down in Israel wondering if this was one of those “shithole” countries Trump was talking about. Before this trip I had never been outside the tri-state area. I felt trapped-- walled in the confines of Madison and stagnant perspectives. I was trying to climb over this wall, physically and mentally, and in Israel I was thousands of miles away from Ariana Grande headlines, government shutdowns, and Instagram egg-posts I fully engrossed myself in the culture. I took a leap of faith over the wall and landed full sprint on the ground. The country was beautiful, about the size of New Jersey, so you could cross the whole thing in a day.
I watched biomes meld into one another every minute I spent gazing out the window, vast openness. One second a desert, another rocky mountainous, the next temperate grasslands with sprinkles of palm trees. Vegetation was prime and thriving--- the land was beautiful and the people were equally as dazzling. Leather toned skins and hazel eyes on some while others were seasoned by sand and sun with eyes deep brown like the Sahara.
I felt like I was in paradise, but as the saying goes, the sun sets there too. One stop on our expedition led us to the West Bank. This is an area of contention for much of the middle east and religious communities. Depending on who you talk to Israel may be referred to as Palestine. A prominent theme on the trip was the delicacy in attention payed to seemingly nuanced and minute details. The air was electric and I needed high sensitivity and EQ to maneuver through every proper noun and predicate insuring a neutral and open mind frame.
Issues there weren’t as black and white as the media would like to portray it. It wasn’t a Palestine vs Israel issue, nor an issue of Arab vs Jew, Right vs Wrong, Rich vs Poor: it was about people. It took me flying half way across the world to realize this. In the West Bank, there exists a wall called the West Bank Barrier.
This wall for many is a symbol of oppression, a halting of social mobility. For others its a preventative measure to reduce acts of terror and boost national security. To me, I saw a lack of understanding and disparity in education, wealth, and civil rights. How it’s human nature to walk away from something rather to confront it head on. I have to acknowledge my American optimism in writing this as I can never truly understand how it feels to live on either side of the wall in that part of the world.
However, I can synthesize from this experience and my own life the effects of a wall at the Mexican border: how the very existence of this platform defeats the opposing side to another and subhuman. On my flight back to the states I reclined with a smile on my face from the previous night clubbing in Tel-Aviv but also with a sense of melancholy. Upon touchdown I turned airplane mode off and there was a new Ariana Grande song, the government was still shutdown, and the egg was the most liked post on Instagram. What I thought would be a #vacation with hints of educational value turned into a life changing experience that taught me the more I learn the less I know. What I do know is that humans have the capacity to build bridges but no matter where you go, there’s going to be a wall.