Today, I have such a very special guest. Elise, is a friend I made many years ago through one of my oldest friends. About 7 years ago we were introduced. I never would have imagined the next time we would meet, it would be 6,000 miles away in Jerusalem!
Growing up, I had an American friend who had family in Palestine. He told me about the many innocent people who were being caught up in the crossfire between two groups in an all out war. The two groups of course were the Israeli Government (the military they controlled) and extremist groups in Palestine. For the most part, it was not real to me. I lived in America and I thought "That's their problem" as you do when you're young and selfish.
In February of 2014 I had a significant amount of money saved up and had not traveled much in my lifetime. I decided to book my very first airplane ticket (ever) to Israel so I could travel around Palestine to see the biblical sites and visit my friend who was living there that year. May 4th, I boarded an airplane to a far away place thinking "There are English speaking people everywhere in the world". When the plane landed in Tel Aviv, I had no idea where I was going and this airport was massive.
I was supposed to meet the same friend I grew up with, at the American Colony Hotel and I was just standing at the exit of the airport looking clueless. After about 5 minutes, a man took my luggage and threw it in the back of his shuttle van and then I asked "American Colony Hotel?" and he pointed to the seat inside.
That's it, he didn't say anything else. It's a wonder I wasn't kidnapped during this trip.
This first shuttle ride was one of the wildest experiences I ever had. I was in a van full of Israeli locals and no one spoke any English. About an hour into the ride, I started to wonder if this driver was kidnapping me or where I was going.
Around me, I could see the houses were pretty nice. The buildings were pretty nice too. As I sat there, people were getting in and out of the van and I was beginning to feel like a sock stuck in the dryer. Many loads were going in and out, but I was still in there, waiting to be freed.
Finally, I was dropped off at the American Colony Hotel. I had no way of calling or texting my friend, because American phone companies charge a lot more money to contact people, while in other countries. I sat down in the lobby and to my surprise, a few minutes later, my friend walked it. It worked out in the end, but it was terrifying at first.
He and I talked for a few minutes then started walking to the bus that would take us to his apartment in Palestine. The border patrol was not too bad going in, but I got to thinking "Were all these guys with guns really necessary?" Little did I know, over the next 5 days, I would find out.
I will finish this story after you read what Elise has to say about the imminent crisis in Palestine. Please offer her the gift of your full attention and let us know what you thought after you're finished reading.
I know what you're thinking "Wait... What? So, you're telling me that the same restrictions and oppression that were forced upon the Jewish people in concentration camps are now being forced upon the Palestinians by a large group of Jewish people?" I know, the irony is not lost on any of us. You're not the only one that had this embarrassing realization about what is happening there.
Not long after crossing the border, I realized how oppressed Palestinian's were. If you only listen to the news in America it sounds like Palestine is the cause of all headaches in Israel. The truth is, it is a lot more difficult to explain than that. It's not quite so black and white as ABC, NBC, or FOX would have you believe.
I don't blame all Israeli people for this atrocity, nor does the Palestinian people. The problem is there are racist people on both sides, not allowing this conflict to end. The Israeli government is in control of both the News in Israel and the military. This is a dangerous combination, because what the people there see on the news is what the government decides. For example, they might say "Palestinians shot rockets over the wall in the West Bank today." when really the truth is Hamas shot rockets over the border.
What is the difference? Well, Hamas may be located in Palestine, but you might be surprised to know the majority of Palestinians are opposed to such terrorism. That said, most know it is a natural outcome of having land stolen from them. The majority of people are peaceful on both sides of the war. Most Palestinians want peace and a large amount of Israeli's want peace too.
So that begs the question, how was all of this started?
To explain that, you have to first ask "Why is there a wall so close to Israel's cities in the first place?" You might remember hearing about the wall built in Berlin to separate the people. It was roughly 12 feet tall and families were cut off from each other. This is the same with Palestine. Only the wall in Palestine is over twice the size. The next question to ask would be "Why is Hamas able to get so close to the wall?" The answer is pretty simple, it's because the wall cuts right through a land that was owned by Palestinians in the first place.
There are buildings on both sides. Yet most people side with Israel first, as if they think Palestine showed up after Israel. Here's the big secret, Palestine IS the ancient holy land. Their land and rights have been taken from them. About 150 years ago the people who lived there was for the most part Muslim with a significant minority of Christians and a small amount of Jewish population. They all lived in peace and prosperity. If you look at a map from that time you'll also see that land was called Palestine.
It wasn't until a little before the Balfour Declaration was created between Zionists and the British that everything start to change there. I may not have this exactly right, but from what I have read, a Zionist is a person who belongs to a political ideology that believes Palestine should be the national homeland of Jews. Even in their own advertising for migration to the Holy Land, they referred to it as Palestine. Shortly thereafter, the Zionists attempted to demonstrate ethnic cleansing in Palestine.
There is a lot more I could say about this horrendous conflict, but for now I will just say that I saw it with my own two eyes and it made me pretty darn sad. I noticed black tanks on top of all these houses and had a million questions for good friend that I came to visit(poor guy). There were bullet holes in many of the walls outside of houses in Ramallah. I wondered what I was getting in to. He told me they were from Israel's military. He told me they randomly come in and search the homes, many times they take children away and never return them.
I still remember asking him "Why would they take the children?". He told me that the Israeli military would drive through town sometimes and some of the children would throw rocks at the tanks or vehicles. I asked why the children would do that and he said "Many of their brothers and fathers have been killed or abducted without cause".
There was trash in the streets and he told me they didn't really have a good system for that, since movement of anything had to be okay'd by Israel. Over the next few days I got to know many locals and how kind they were. Really, genuinely, nice people like you and I who were oppressed and not allowed to live life freely.
Near the end of my stay there, my good friend told me that Elise was living nearby as well. We set up a meeting in Jerusalem at a beautiful hotel and restaurant overlooking the city. This was when I was re-introduced to Elise again and the three of us had a wonderful conversation 10 stories up, about a mile away from the Dome of the Rock.
When talking to her, I could tell she really cares about the people she is helping. The reason for being in the middle east was not selfish for her and for that I respect Elise. That said, all in all I met many people from both Palestine and Israel and the most important thing I can say is, people were genuinely nice to me on both sides and I do not believe the majority of people on either side want war, but the few ruin it for the many. The first step for reconciliation is to convince the Israeli government to stop taking land that does not belong to them and allow Palestinians to come and go in peace, because right now their human rights are not being respected.
Elise has a lot more to share about her time there if you are interested and I'd be glad to add my experiences in with it as well. Please, show her some love and let me know what you thought of the crisis before this post and how your opinion may be different now.