September 26, 2016

Connecting divides: Experience in Israel exposes tensions back home

Some know it as the Holy Land, others identify Israel as a war zone, but I view it as a home away from home. This summer I traveled to Israel. I explored the country, rode on camels in the desert and floated in the famous Dead Sea. Though I had some great times during my travels, my most present memory is the racial injustice I experienced there.

Though Israel may seem like a different world to some, the similarities with other countries, including the United States, are immensely present. I expected to feel welcomed when I arrived in Israel — it’s the place my ancestors grew up and where the food I eat is from. To my surprise, I felt unwanted there. Why didn’t I feel at home?  It didn’t take long for me to realize the answer. It’s because I’m Palestinian.

Israel is a land of war split into two main areas: Israel and Palestine. After World War II, during which six million Jewish people were killed, the United Nations granted Jewish people part of Palestine in order to create a Jewish state. Between 1948 — when Israel declared its independence — and 1990, Israel confiscated 80 percent of what was British Mandated Palestine, splitting the West Bank from what is now known as the Gaza Strip. The Strip is 139 square miles with a population of more than 1.5 million people, including 1.1 million Palestinian refugees. This makes Palestinian living areas extremely crammed. 

While I was in Israel, the racial tensions were exhausting. It was uncomfortable being in a country where people wouldn’t serve or respect you if you didn’t celebrate the same holiday as another group, or searched you at a checkpoint solely because of what is written on your passport.

While traveling to the Dead Sea, my family and I were stopped at a checkpoint after one look at our last name. We were completely searched as cars passed us by. The humiliation — to be discriminated against because of my last name — was surreal.

Racial discrimination, hidden or obvious, is embarrassing. The issues regarding Israel and Palestine reminded me of racial discrimination in the United States. I was reminded of a time when Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, and Rosa Parks said enough is enough by not giving her seat up on a bus.

On my journey home I began to think, “I’m proud to be an American, where we have grown from racial segregation.” I was back in my comfort zone, St. Louis — and then Michael Brown was shot.

Less than 30 minutes from where I’ve lived my whole life is an African American community faced by unjust situations on a daily basis. The embarrassment I felt in Israel has been an ongoing problem for black people in the United States. What happened to equality? Isn’t racial discrimination something America has already learned and grown from?

A realization dawned on me: racial tensions can only be fixed once the problem is confronted. The States have made progress since the 1900s, but it’s not enough. Hiding the issue of race in the States will only make the injustice worse. Since Brown was shot, protests and violence have occurred. Though I’m not an advocate for the violence, the voice of the people will make a conversation start. Though my trip to Israel could have been more positive, I wouldn’t change the experience I had. I am now more aware of what injustice feels like and realize it’s a major fault in society that discrimination is still a problem.

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