Israeli–Palestinian conflict hits home for students
Junior Hila Arbell spent eight years of her childhood in Israel. Her father’s work for the Israeli foreign ministry forced her family to move back and forth between Israel and the United States, but she said in a lot of ways Israel is still her home.
“I’ve lived over there the majority of my life,” she said.
Arbell, who practices secular Judaism, is now thousands of miles away from the contention occurring between her home country and Hamas, a Palestinian group the United States Department of State defines as a terrorist organization.
The two parties have fought for control over Gaza Strip, a small piece of land that borders Israel, but is considered Palestinian territory. Continual devastation and civilian death has occurred because of the war.
The most recent attack, Operation Pillar of Defense, a Nov. 14 Israeli airstrike, ignited the fury of Hamas after the demise of Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military chief. The clash reigned until Nov. 21, when the two parties reached a ceasefire.
Even those who aren’t natives experience strong ties to the country that they consider their homeland under fire.
Senior Rose Albert said that while her parents raised her as Reformed Jewish, it wasn’t until Birthright, a journey to Israel young adults undertake to learn about their religious roots, that she appreciated some aspects of Jewish history.
Albert attended Birthright in 2010 with several other students from other colleges in the Greater Baltimore area, including Goucher and Johns Hopkins.
“It’s a place where Jews aren’t the minority,” she said. “There’s a Holocaust museum there that’s raised up over Jerusalem, which is the capital of Israel, and it kind of reminds of us that after all that happened to us, there’s a place we can go and be proud of.”
Albert said she is saddened that the conflict has worsened to the point that other students won’t be able to take the voyage to Israel.
Junior Natalie Selzer said that school officials have given her the option not to go on her Birthright scheduled for Dec. 30 because of safety concerns.
“On these trips, they use GPS to determine what areas are safe,” she said. “I’m not going to put myself in the area if there’s a likely danger. That being said, a reason I am going now is because you never know what [Israel] going to look like a year or more from now.”
After her trip, Albert has worked with a Jewish youth group to encourage others to hopefully go on Birthright. She attributes her reinforced passion for her faith to her Israel trip.
“It instills a lot of fear,” she said. “It’s holding people back to what Israel has to offer. It disrupts Israel’s normal functions. Even when we were there we had to check the news every time we went out.”
To educate students about the conflict, Arbell pieced together a presentation outside Susquehanna dining hall prior to Thanksgiving break.
Arbell said she was displeased with the media outlets’ portrayal of the attacks, specifically the amount blame they placed on Israel.
“I felt like people don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I did some research and I looked up an article and in the entire article, not once did it mention the people we were fighting against were a terrorist organization. It kind of got to me.”
Arbell said she wanted to illustrate a proper view of her country and the residents: her grandparents, and many of her friends who also live in Israel. Because of the war, she said many of her friends have been drafted into the fight on the Gaza Strip.
As of 2010, there are 121,000 members in the Israeli army, according to the CIA World Factbook.
“Anyone who turns 18 goes into the army, and my cousin is 27. They called him from the reserves to Gaza. For awhile we were very nervous,” she said.
2012 alumnus Waseem Pharon, who identifies as Muslim, said that while a media bias exists, it’s against Palestine.
Pharon said that international media outlets like CNN and Fox News typically do not provide a fair voice to Palestinians.
He said that the media focuses on the attacks, rather than the root cause of the issues, like the countries’ goals and visions.
“All we ask for is balance,” he said.
Sharing facts about the conflict is important for college students, Senior Ahson Rehman, who also identifies as Muslim, said.
“There needs to be more discussion, not debate,” he said. “We shouldn’t choose a side, but rather display the facts about what’s going on.”
Overall, the political conflict interferes with both natives’ quality of life, which is the most concerning, Pharon said.
“Every life lost is a shame, I don’t value any one life over another,” he said.
In 2009, the United Nations Human Rights council launched an investigation into any crimes against humanity that may have occurred during the Gaza War of 2008-2009, and concluded the Israeli army and Hamas both committed war crimes.