Caught in the middle

When the most recent chapter in the Gaza conflict broke out on November 14, the effects were felt worldwide. The Standard caught up with members of the ASL community inside and outside of the conflict.


Inside the conflict

Zach Ezickson (’12) and Jordan Plotner (’12) did not expect to go to a bomb shelter four times in one day when they decided to go on a Kibbutz. When the first bomb hit the town next to their Kibbutz at 9:30 a.m. on November 15, Ezickson was sleeping and Plotner was working in an avocado field. There are approximately 30 bomb shelters set up around the camp and the two had 45 seconds to get to one before the bombs hit the ground.

“It’s kind of exciting in a way,” Plotner said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to a bomb shelter.’ So it’s an adventure kind of. But then you realize, ‘Oh, now I’m in the bomb shelter and we’re being bombed.’”

Bombs were going off in the towns around their Kibbutz for some time before they were directly in danger. “All the explosions would make the windows start rattling and sometimes if it was close enough, I could hear it in my chest because it was such a big boom,” Ezickson said.

Ezickson and Plotner left Israel on November 18. While on the road to Tel Aviv, another bomb siren went off. The people on the street hid under their cars and saw missiles flying overhead five minutes later.

Maya Lavie (’13), who transferred from ASL to the American International School of Tel Aviv for her senior year, said that driving and being in crowded cities during the conflict was dangerous. “If you’re driving when the alarm goes off, it’s all about luck,” she said. “I stayed out of Tel Aviv mainly, but when I went there toward the end of the ‘war,’ if you can call it that, and I felt scared.”

Mentality has become key in the conflict. Ezickson and Plotner said that the people they encountered were going on with their lives despite the rockets flying overhead. “A lot of people think that if they get scared it’s kind of a way of admitting defeat to what they view as the terror,” Plotner said. “They kind of had a fatalist mentality in which ‘If a rocket hits me then I die, but there’s nothing I can do about it.’”

In Gaza, as well, the many deaths have created an indifference towards death. Khader Tawahina, a student at the American International School in Gaza who attended the Seeds of Peace summer program with Thomas Risinger (’14), has lived in Gaza his whole life. “I am not actually scared for my life. For me it is normal if I die. When you see kids dying, you don’t become scared anymore,” he said. “In Gaza, 16- and 20-year-olds send rockets and most of them get killed, so why should I be scared?”

The bombings and deaths that both sides of the conflict have endured both in the past and in the present created a deadlock in the situation. “Palestinians see themselves as victims and they have reasons to see themselves as victims,” New York Times Op-ed Columnist Roger Cohen said. “Israelis in turn see themselves as victims – victims of the Holocaust. And they see everything through the prison of the Holocaust. I think both sides need to get out of the victimhood mentality in order to put the lives of their children ahead of their forbearers.”

However, people living in both Israel and Palestine have grown used to the bombings. Tawahina first saw Israeli F16s in 2004, and since then they have become a part of his daily life. Likewise, when sirens first started going off on Ezickson and Plotner’s Kibbutz, Israelis were advising them to go to a hill to get a good view of the missiles instead of going to a bomb shelter. For all involved, peace seems far off. “To be honest, I don’t think there is such a thing as winning,” Lavie said. “The only way to win is by finding peace, and since it doesn’t seem to be coming at the moment, we have to be patient and wait.”

Cohen said that Israel could make a move for peace, but lists a number of reasons why the Israeli government has become less interested in making peace in Gaza, including a shift to political conservatism, an influx of anti-Palestine immigrants, civilian frustration over the conflict and physical barriers between Israelis and Palestinians. “I think a lot of Israelis just kind of think, ‘Well as long as the economy is ok and things are relatively quiet, let’s just go on,’” he said.

The prospect of conflict strikes fear in Lavie, who will start her mandatory service in the Israeli Army in March 2014. She hopes the conflict will be calmer so she can serve during a time of peace. However, Cohen said that there is still much to happen. “Israel has been very reluctant to see, acknowledge and engage with those parts of Palestine that have really changed, like in the West Bank where there’s been quite dramatic movement in the last several years without any real positive response from Israel,” he said.
Tawahina said that tense relationship between seeds on either side of the conflict persist because of a lack of change in the situation. “[The other seeds] can’t do anything about it. If they support the government in [the bombings] then our relationship has changed, but I do not know if they do, so nothing has changed,” Tawahina said.

As of now, the situation is spiraling out of control. “Now, after the Israelis killed him [Ahmed al-Jabari], even baby children will send rockets to Israel,” Tawahina said.


Outside the Conflict

Missiles, bullets and lives have been expended, leaving a plethora of people in a dire situation. And although the Israel-Palestine conflict – recently ignited once again by a now-ended episode of violence in November – is taking place thousands of miles away, it has succeeded in sparking opinion and igniting emotion among ASL students.

As a matter of fact, the violence associated with the Israel-Palestine conflict has managed to impact ASL students’ family directly. On May 15, 2011, Munib Masri, cousin of Palestinians Tarek Masri (’13) and Tamara Masri (’15), was hit by an Israeli expanding bullet while partaking in a peaceful protest in Maroun al-Ras, a Lebanese city near Israel’s border.

After catching wind of the incident, Tarek stayed glued to the television screen. “The news ticker said: ‘10 dead, 100 injured’,” he recalled. “The fact that my cousin was part of the 100 was such a powerful thing to me. It showed the human side to the numbers you see on TV. It means a huge deal, especially when you see 10’s, 100’s, 1000’s being killed in Gaza and everywhere else. These numbers kind of blend into one and you don’t realize that these are people with families, brothers, sisters, pets, jobs, schools, everything.”

The media’s representation of the mentality the directly affected peoples is understandably difficult to portray in an optimistic light, considering the copious amounts of people lost to the conflict thus far. According to a report in The Guardian, more than 160 people alone died in the long-standing conflict’s latest episode of violence, one which was ended by ceasefire one week following its commencement.

Tamara, who last traveled to see her aunt in Ramallah, Palestine this past summer, said that the media does not accurately reflect the mentality of the Palestinians. “I think [the media] perceives Palestine as more of a victimized state. But when you go there, you actually see the country, you meet the people, you see how they’re trying to live. They’re trying to find a way out of the situation,” she said. “It makes me feel hopeful. If people in Palestine who are being oppressed and occupied right now can find good in what’s going on, it’s just something that’s unbelievable because I honestly have a hard time finding something good out of the situation.”

Benny Kollek (’14), whose late great uncle Teddy Kollek was the Mayor of Jerusalem, regularly visits his family in Israel. Kollek has even visited Gaza, and his time in the battle-worn Palestinian city has given him hope for Palestine’s future. “I’ve seen Palestine dirty and unorganized. Obviously, Israel has a large role in that, but I do see development more and more. Each time I go [to Palestine], I see more development, more people, and you definitely don’t see people from either side that want to go through what they’re going through at the moment,” he said. “All they want to do is live their lives.”

The subject of religion remains a polemic part of the conflict. Alex Epstein (’13), a Jewish student who says that many members of his family are pro-Israel for faith-based reasons, said that religion is a factor that is impossible to ignore. “Every religion has a home, a place where people belonging to their system of beliefs make up a majority of the population and-or run the country according to their views,” he said. “Christians and Muslims can live in or travel to a number of countries without fear of being discriminated against for their religion. The Jewish people have one: Israel. They have only ever had one, and will continue to fight for the place they call home for as long as the religion exists.”

Tarek, however, downplayed religion’s role in the conflict. “I don’t see religion as an obstacle or anything to grapple with. It’s more of something that’s just there, almost like a tool that’s used to manipulate,” he said. “It just adds to the cultural differences but I don’t think it should permeate into the conflict.”

Indeed, the matter of human rights, instead of religion, concerns Tamara the most. “I think the issue of religion has long passed its date. Right now it’s about human rights and it’s about what’s right and what’s wrong,” she said. “I think the entire aspect of religion is put aside when it comes to this.”

Students’ desires to discuss the conflict have produced mixed results. At a grade-level meeting, Tamara used the ‘open-mic’ platform to invite students to converse about the conflict only to be dismissed by a loud minority of students who felt that the matter was an inappropriate topic for discussion. Meanwhile, Tarek, in conjunction with the Middle East Club, held a largely successful and productive open discussion that started during students’ lunch period and continued after school.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Roberto d’Erizans commended any effort to initiate discussion on controversial matter. “I think that’s the purpose of education: To empower people to talk about complex issues today but not do it in a way to be hurtful or damaging,” he said. “We can disagree or agree to disagree, but still learn from each other.”

Still, d’Erizans would like to see such discussions occur on a larger scale. “The part I see missing, or what I’d like to see more of, is us coming together as a whole community,” he said. “I wish that we took time, whether it’s Gaza or another significant event, just like we did with the United States elections, to explore the issues and hear somebody’s perspective.”

Tamara, like d’Erizans, hopes for a wider discussion on the conflict. “My wish is for ASL to actually bring [the conflict] up in discussion and let people voice their opinions, whether they are pro-Palestine or pro-Israel,” she said. “This is a great school and we’re shaping the next leaders, in some sense, of the world. To be able to have this kind of discussion will bring a certain higher level of maturity within the students.”
Johnathan Cirenza (’14) attended a Seeds of Peace camp, a program designed to educate its students on the importance of peace. There, he discovered an emphasis on the need to hear others’ opinions on the conflict. “The whole idea behind Seeds of Peace is not that it intervenes directly in the conflict but that it sets up the future generation of leaders with the ability to make a difference by seeing the other side and knowing that the way to peace is not through launching bombs at the other side,” he said.
Nonetheless, Epstein is of the opinion that a community-wide focus on the matter would be unhealthy. “I don’t believe ASL should cover the conflict at all. ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is a widely known saying, and while ignorance should rarely ever be encouraged, especially at an educational institution such as ASL, there is simply no way to cover the conflict without stirring internal conflict within our community,” he said.

Incidentally, Cirenza recalled the tension from his time in the Seeds of Peace camp. “In dialogue, it was a regular occurrence when kids would leave the ‘dialogue hut’ crying and there would be screaming. There was a lot of tension at camp,” he said. “One of the kids was actually punched out of the window in the opening weeks.”

Looking ahead realistically, only two potential solutions have emerged from the mire of the conflict: A one-state solution, where Israel and Palestine live together on the same land, or a two-state solution, where Israel and Palestine live separately, as two different entities. Suffice to say, opinion is split on the best way forward.

Tarek said that the one-state solution is the only option left to truly consider. “The only solution is the one-state solution because I feel that so much has been taken from the West Bank … The partition plan hasn’t started, and there’s been so many concessions made from the Palestinian side that it’s impossible to have a viable state with natural resources, settlements, and authority over their own land,” he said.

For Kollek, however, a two-state solution seems feasible. “I find no issue with the two-state solution,” he said. “For the last few years, we’ve essentially had a two-state solution but the only difference is Israel hasn’t fully let go of Palestine.”

Meanwhile, Koren has looked past either solution specifically and only hopes for peace. “I hope that it will come to a point where peace in that region can come back to the way it was for centuries. That’s my dream for it to be, but right now I feel as if one side or the other is going to suffer heavily and through that, peace [will come]. But I hope it doesn’t have to get to that point,” he said.

Epstein was rather more pessimistic in his view of a solution in the long run. “In a conflict this messy, there will never be a winner in the long term. Both sides want what the other has, and will never agree to share in the long term,” he said. “If the conflict ever ends, which it very well may not, it will almost certainly end with the death or annihilation of a people, which can’t be called anything other than an atrocity.”

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