By: Ben Khoshbin
Thanks to American University Hillel, I recently had the amazing opportunity to travel throughout Israel and Palestine for 10 days. While it was my second time in Israel, it was my first time visiting Palestine. We went to East Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. My views on Israel were very one-sided before this trip. But while I’m still immensely proud of the resilience of the Jewish State and my connection to it, I walked away from this trip with a newfound understanding of and deep respect for the people of Palestine.
I would like to share one story from the trip in which I truly opened my mind to a perspective I had otherwise ignored and allowed myself to empathize in a way that I had never been able to do before with regular Palestinians.
On Sunday we went to Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank. While there we spoke to a 24-year-old female college student who lived in Ramallah but commutes to Israel to work in Jerusalem. In her discussion with us she repeated multiple outright falsehoods and used (what I perceived to be) antisemitic tropes to back up her arguments. All throughout our discussion, I was internally fuming at how ridiculous it was that we had to listen to someone who was clearly not a subject-matter expert and whose arguments were purely emotional. I found myself making assumptions about her character based entirely on her views on the conflict between her people and Israel. I was angry as we went off to lunch, but I had to remind myself that I didn’t come on this trip to confirm my own biases. I decided I was going to talk to her.
She offered to walk me to the ATM down the street to get cash for lunch. We initially started talking about where we were from, and to my surprise, she mentioned that she actually had a close uncle who lives near me in Dallas. We chatted more about the languages we had learned in school and the places we had traveled throughout the US and Europe.
She opened up to me that she had been unemployed for the past 7 months -something very common amongst young Palestinians- and was having trouble finding work. She’s an electrical engineer by training and had been working at a cancer-tech startup in Israel. She even wanted to become an Israeli citizen and move to Israel because, according to her, there’s a law in Ramallah that states if she becomes pregnant due to rape she would not only have to carry the child but would have to marry her rapist. I later came to find out that this law was repealed a year prior, but I understand what she said as her giving an example of an oppressive lawlike many still in existence in the West Bank. I found my initial anger at her giving way to sincere empathy.
I understood that her disdain for Israel was not disdain for all Israelis or all Jews but was rather for an entity she had only seen through the lens of border checkpoints and IDF patrols. It wasn’t hatred, it was pain: pain that I couldn’t possibly understand to the fullest extent that she felt it. And as we sat there eating shawarma watching the cars go by, I found myself questioning why I didn’t afford the same chance to everyone I interacted with who shared different beliefs than my own.
If there’s one thing above all else that I’m taking away from this trip, it’s that empathy is both the most difficult and the most powerful gesture you can give to someone you disagree with. Let’s try and remove the binary that underlies our perception of the conflict: I am not pro-Israel or anti-Palestinian, I am simply pro-peace.
Ben Khoshbin is a senior at American University, graduating this December.