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"Overcoming Barriers": Reflections on Israel

"I have never had much faith in anything. I perceived my world view as a small, land-locked tristate pen. I imagined the world through a jaded peephole of CNN articles, history books, and reenacted documentaries. I yearned to see a world other than my own, but what I couldn’t see coming was Israel.

'This is my chance', I thought rolling my baggage through customs, “A moment of becoming”. This all-expense paid trip came at the cost of ideological contention. Two prior debriefing sessions disclaimed the imminence of discomfort in unfamiliar situations, and the contest of our American values. We needed thick skin and an open mind… all I needed was the pen and to know where to sign.

I spent the ten hours in the air prepping myself for the oasis ahead of me. I had done immense research. I could tell you the origin of the Israeli conflict, the monuments scattered throughout the state, the historical significance of 'X' city. What I wasn’t ready for was the culture shock. 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, instead landing straight on the 'all expense paid' small font. I underestimated the costs on my ideology. Suddenly, what was presented as an educational excursion translated into a #vacation to beach 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.

Thousands of miles away from Ariana Grande headlines, government shutdowns, and Instagram egg-posts I fully engrossed myself in the culture. The country was beautiful. I almost cried as I felt like I hurdled over an imaginary wall keeping me from the world. I watched biomes meld into one another every minute I spent gazing out the window. 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. A hub for startup companies with the flash drive and drip irrigation being just a few of the technological innovations coming from Israel.

I felt like I was in paradise but as the saying goes the sun sets there too.

While most stops were tame and led us to Biblical sites and meetings with professors, our stop to the West Bank shook me thoroughly. 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 paid 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 as. 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 witness enormous disparities 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 it's 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 is 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 and makes them subhuman. On my flight back to the states I reclined with a smile on my face, a little more knowledgeable, a little more grateful, and a lot happier from the previous night in Tel-Aviv, but I also carried 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 no matter where you go there’s always a wall. It’s up to you whether it divides you or not."

Parts edited briefly for grammar & clarity.

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