Coming into Jerusalem, in the excitement of traveling alone for an extended period of time, I understood that I would be on the bridge of learning why I wanted to live here, and what precisely I wanted to know from the experience.
I am out of school now. I have been for almost a year, and I am just as blind and clueless as when I first started. I’m pretty positive that’s the feeling I’m reminded of almost every day I walk outside. Nonetheless, I can’t help but preface what I intend to write with that bit of certainty, since in this moment in time, while I down my last Tuborg for the night, I don’t think that I could have started this essay any other way.
I don’t use “clueless” in the sense that I am not aware of my physical surroundings, or knowledgeable about what it means to live here. If I had known anything else about this land, which was mostly limited to biblical and filmic familiarities, I’d still be completely removed from the basic needs, problems, and history that are completely relevant to this country now, and to the people who faithfully and/or fearfully inhabit it.
See, I came across this article in Ramallah, about thirty minutes from Jerusalem, (loose direction and time frame, for obvious reasons, maybe you get the idea) on what attracts people to areas of conflict. The idea is that foreigners travel to experience a “militarized” reality apart from their own, and even if we have good intentions of engaging in a problem, there is still a delicate connection between how much we are involved, and how little we can help.
In all honesty, it was a disclosure for tourists like myself who are not confined to the legal barriers that exists along the border, and still want to serve in peaceful practices. I am learning to interact with the reality that my engagement, in this specific testimony, to either Israel or the West Bank, is defined by the privilege of entering into these areas without direct responsibility to the cause. And that’s real.
In this context, I recognize that defining tourist is a loose term anyways because it doesn’t account for the amount of cultural relevance or personal connection a person/community can have to the problems that exist in that area, and the desires to lay a strong stance or support for those respective issues. I also recognize that it is virtually impossible to find meaningful results by “hugging the fence,” or remaining neutral to any given issue in the world, anyway. In most cases, I find myself more fortunate to meet the people I have been meeting, then constructive in their daily pursuit for justice and equality.
One thing I have been noticing more and more each day is that it is easy for foreigners to accept the reduction of “conflicted areas” to machetes and bullets based on biased news sources from television, which unsurprisingly do a very convincing job in informing our opinions for us. In this case, we hardly believe in a terrorism that is native to us (I can think the nation I live in for one), and tend to allocate that definition elsewhere with support from global consensuses. It is true that we are subjected to a culture that is more informative then empathetic, and more excused then accountable. As tourists in this generation, it is crucial to assess what this connection means for the worlds we encounter.
I do not underestimate the value of our attitudes on politics as travelers because our perspective literally means the world to people, and is certainly important when violence becomes a concern for a nation. I do not underestimate our seemingly massive capacity to incite positive change, yet quite frankly, I am learning that newcomers like myself are not deserving of the position to plan what that would look like for an entire group of people.
As history has made certain, we are meant to live in conflict, but it is not so much how we can resolve problems in a nation, conveniently understood in the most holy places on Earth, but how we can approach them, especially from the outside entering in that is more measurable to challenge.
Sure, I have views on the conflicts surrounding this land from the amount of time I have been living here. But my most important thought on it all for now? My answer would never be as important then my ability to listen.