Today, and this weekend specifically, the group had the opportunity to see a side of Israel that not many programs take you to see. It’s been a really interesting and eye opening weekend and I am really excited to bring this perspective back to campus as an active Israel activist.
As an activist on a college campus that is majority Muslim and Arab descent, I personally get a lot of hateful comments about how Israel is a colonialist and apartheid state. However, yesterday our group traveled to a few of these “settler” communities and controversial areas and got to see and hear firsthand how Israelis and Arabs live and work together in these specific places. On Friday morning we had the opportunity to go to the community of Rotem in the Jordan Valley Mountains.
Rotem is a fairly small community of about thirty-five families that usually live off the land and live very eco-friendly lifestyles. The whole community personally reminded me of the music festival Burning Man. After getting a tour and talking to one of the community leaders named Moshe, I came to realize that these people really are just a community that builds on the land because they want to remain as to themselves as possible. After hearing about this unique community, the group went on to a memorial overlooking the Jordan River Valley. At the Jordan River Valley we were met by a woman named Karen who has lived in the Jordan River Valley community her entire life. She told us her experiences growing up with Palestinians and Arabs working on her family’s date farm.
One major instance that really stood out to me in particular was when Karen told us a story about how one Palestinian worker was in a Palestinian Authority prison, got beaten half to death, and came back to work when he was able to. However, a few months later, the man got charged with a separate crime and literally begged Karen’s father to accuse him of a false charge because the worker would much rather go to an Israeli prison on a false charge rather than endure the hell that he endured in the Palestinian prison. This story really resonated with me because on campus I get asked a lot why I would even fathom supporting a state that oppresses the Palestinian and Arab people. I know through all my advocacy training that the real problem to the Palestinian and Arab people is the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, but I’m am forever grateful to have the opportunities to hear these types of emotionally appealing stories and be able to use them to fight these anti-Israel and anti-Semitic people.
Later Friday evening, we went to our tour guide’s yeshuv (small community) of about 150 families. This is a mixed religious and secular community that is technically considered a “settlement” in the Judea and Samarian Mountains. While we were there, we had the super unique opportunity to spend Shabbat with host families that live in this community. The family that I got hosted by is a Kurdish/Persian family with six kids. While talking to their oldest daughter, Paz, who is my age and currently serving in the IDF, I found out that her parents were one of the first families to live in the community.
After introductions and getting settled, my roommates and I got the opportunity to go to Synagogue with the family. While the community in itself is a mix of secular and religious people, the synagogue is what most people would consider a modern orthodox/orthodox synagogue. I have only been in a modern orthodox/orthodox synagogue once in my life and have never kept Shabbat, but this weekend I was able to experience both. It was definitely different and unique to be able to experience this side of Judaism but it was an experience I will cherish for a lifetime. After Shabbat dinner and a panel at the community center, my roommates and I walked back to the Aliyahu (our host family) household.
On our walk back, we ran into a resident of the community and he was talking about how the community is so safe and family oriented that children just walk into their friend’s house. You can’t really do that in America and it’s just awesome to see people that are so comfortable with each other as neighbors and a community, that they are basically a family. It kind of made me want to move there and raise a family in that type of environment, where they’re exposed to all sides of the religious spectrum and just feel so safe and unrestricted.
Aside from that, this weekend and Shabbat made me realize that these “settlements” are not the vicious occupiers that everyone makes them out to be. They are literally just a family oriented community that wants the best for their families and children, and the best place they could get that was in this community.