And by hurrr, I mean me – I’m running a temperature of 101.12 degrees! Whoo! I’m lucky that today was a day of rest!
I’ve been consigned to sleep, tea, and intensive rugala treatment by our group medic/security guard Erez. Here’s a pic of him:
While my body may be achy, my mind and heart feel more rested, and both were open today for a powerful conversation with the Israeli army members who recently joined our trip, and are to be with us for the next five days. Here’s a pic of the whole group in Jerusalem pre-Israelis joining us:
And for good measure, here’s a pic of the folks from Camp Tawonga. Aint’ we cute?
As I’ve hinted at, I have felt very skeptical and at times uncomfortable with the way this Birthright trip has been organized and run. I have many thoughts to share on this front, and plan to give a candid appraisal soon. First, though, I have spoken with the trip leaders, and I’m hoping that we as a group can have an open and honest conversation about the nature of this Birthright trip, how we feel about its presentation of “truth”, and how the trip itself does or doesn’t reflect this truth or the actual truth of life in Israel.
All this said, amidst my many moments of skepticism, there have been some powerful opportunities to look, exchange and learn. Today, we broke into three groups, and our Israeli counterparts helped facilitate discussions about military dilemmas – things like, “a Pakistani ambulance arrives at a checkpoint with a woman about to give birth. A week before, a similar situation occurred, and the brother of the woman, who was also allowed into Israel with the ambulance, got out, and began shooting people. What do you do?”
What fascinated me was the extent to which we as Americans were a) very inclined to immediately respond (as opposed to sitting and thinking for a bit), and b) our continued desire to rewrite the dilemma by changing the parameters of the situation: “well why don’t you just check the ambulance for guns?”; “well why don’t you detain everyone except the woman, and drive her yourself?”; “well why don’t you just deliver the baby there?”. It was as if we struggled to accept that, in some cases, you can’t avoid that moral dilemma (because resources and time are often limited). To me, this reflects the attitude that has led to our airports taking extreme measures to prevent terrorism – continually changing procedures to cut terrorists off at the pass, sacrificing incredible amounts of liberties and privacy to do so, all while never being able to fully guarantee the prevention of a terrorist act. It strikes me that terrorism, like a virus, adapts, and the more we try to address the symptoms or methods of terrorism, the more we empower those terrorists to find new ways of circumventing our measures, and the more we hurt ourselves over time.
As it relates to the Israeli military dilemmas, my hope was to listen and to help people ask more questions, and rather than changing the situation, embracing the philosophical grayness, that we might uncover some new, and perhaps radical ways of approaching the situation. To me, the fundamental dilemma we all had to answer to was “to what degree should one be willing to sacrifice oneself or potentially others in the name of doing what’s ‘right’; or in the name of achieving long-term peace?”.
Will it hinder peace more from an Israeli perspective if a checkpoint officer allows a pregnant woman to pass through, leading to Israeli deaths – or will it hinder peace more if the baby dies, and Israel is accused of killing children? Each is welcome to their own opinion here, and right, wrong – who knows. What I came to feel though is that, as Americans, we have to recognize that we have the luxury of thinking these things through hypothetically. It’s been powerful for me to speak with our Israeli group members, and to realize firsthand that they often don’t have that luxury – in a reality where life and death are constantly hanging in the balance, you don’t have the luxury of philosophizing what is right and what is wrong. You have to know what you believe, and you have to act on it.
This is what was powerful to me about speaking with Edan, one of our accompanying Israeli soldiers, as we approached the Western Wall yesterday. I was really trying my best to objectively ask him why he felt it was important to him to protect Israel – perhaps a strange question for an Israeli, for whom I imagined this truth would seem self-evident. I was very impressed with how Edan expressed himself, quite clearly and calmly, as I continued to ask questions, trying to come to an understanding of what he felt truly was getting in the way of peace. More than any conclusions we came to, I was struck by the fact that, as I asked questions, Edan remarked more than once, “you seem skeptical of what I’m saying.” Though I wasn’t, and expressed this (we both laughed about it), I realized that this was a big difference between our American and Israeli lives – in Israel, you have to be much clearer about your beliefs, because you are put in intense situations everyday where you have to act on them. In America, we have the freedom to explore what we believe, but at the end of the day, we often have the luxury to act on those beliefs or not.
Phew – this was a long post! The big takeaway for me: I was talking with two of the women Israel soldiers after our dilemma get together, and was making some of the above remarks to them about the difference between Americans and Israelis. What I think we came to feel is that there is a lot of power in people outside of the intensity of the situation in the Middle East coming in with new perspectives that might help break some of the routines and cycles that, without new ideas, can only continue. It was interesting for me to suggest radical ideas (like being willing to lower a weapon and tell an enemy you love them), and for them, while acknowledging the unlikelihood of such an act, to accept the idea as a possibility and a choice – something that at the very least would shake up what’s been happening for hundreds of years in the Middle East.
For now, I am going to wrap myself up in numerous blankets, and munch on some dates and candied pecans from the market as I do some reading. Tomorrow: the holocaust memorial. Certain to be some powerful thoughts and experiences to share. Until then,
Love from behind the shades,