On Unity and Division in Jerusalem

Blog post written by Lauren from Canada, master’s student in the Peace and Conflict Management program, class of 2015-2016. This post details the recent program field trip to Jerusalem. 

field trip 1I’d like to preface my overview of the field trip in Jerusalem by stating, it is adventures such as these that have shaped my graduate program thus far. I have returned to do a second degree in hopes for some guidance and direction in planning for a career. Through the Peace and Conflict graduate program, I have heard diplomats, UN officials, a former US senator, amongst others, speak of their experiences in their careers. It is these opportunities that are invaluable, real life accounts of greatness and its struggles, triumphs and failures, and today, of course, was no different.

I came back to study here, not because of division, but because of a sense of unity I felt amidst the division. Having the pleasure of studying in two classes in Jerusalem three years prior, one by an Arab professor, another by a Jewish Israeli, both came to the same essential conclusion; they just wanted to live in peace between the various groups which hold this land as sacred.

field trip 5

Today began about division. Literally, viewing the wall of separation, from East Jerusalem, to West, to Bethlehem. We had the pleasure of being led by Jacob Rosen (previously the Ambassador of Israel to Jordan and foreign policy advisor to the mayor of Jerusalem), who gave us insights into the history, current situation and most importantly, the effect on civilian lives. His witty charm was a warm pleasure amongst a brutally cold view of conflict. Rosen spoke of the effected populations, Arabs who own land and resources, conduct studies and hold occupations on one side but live on the other. How does one reconcile such a situation?

As we overlooked the sprawl of Jerusalem, with the barrier slicing through it, effectively a boulder between two sides, our guide stated “you can tear down a wall but you can’t bring back a life”- this as the justification for such a sectoring of land between groups. A few months ago I may have solemnly agreed, but today, with the principals and theories I have collected in my first term of this program, I do not concede so easily. How does this effect the identity of oneself and others to the populations affected? How does the continued separation effectively force the onward trajectory of hostilities? And what can people or groups do, if anything, to aid the animosity in moving forward? I am sad to have to ask these questions but take pleasure in knowing how, thus far, through knowledge gained in the Peace and Conflict Management program.

field trip 3After a quick lunch, we had the opportunity to listen and engage with three professionals who work within the difficult confines that are the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict, Elias Zananiri (former advisor to Palestinian Authority), Eran Etzion (former Head of Policy Planning, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cormier Deputy Head of National Security Council) and Sharon Rosen (Co-director to ‘Search for Common Ground’ Jerusalem). The three outlined the difficulties they face as representatives from various or both sides. The ideas of two- and three-state solutions were developed as well as more grassroots movements, which were the ones that really spoke to me personally.

While the state officials are trying to keep populations safe and develop long term plans for the cessation of conflict, it is beyond imaginable that there are organizations and individuals within them committed to bridging the gaps between individuals within the groups. Whether through dialogue (which was mentioned as being complicated at the moment), or development of institutions and activities that bring a range of people from various backgrounds together, these work to develop skills, leadership abilities and above all else, the ability to see the other at their basic core, beyond the labels of ‘Palestinian’ and ‘Israeli’ but simply as human.

field trip 2

We concluded the day with a visit to a building on Mount Zion, famously known to be a holy site to the three major religions. The knowledgeable representative, Meyrav Stein, from the Jerusalem Intercultural Centre, guided us through, explaining it to be the place of Jesus’s last supper, a home of two disciples of Christianity and Muslim religions, and a holy place for the Jewish people as well. Though our guide revealed that there has been growing stress upon the board and faith holders who visit the site regarding the various groups’ presence in a holy place dear to each, I took this building to be a sign of hope. To me, it is why I am here, what my peers and I are working towards. Coexistence over barriers. The ability to participate in such a deep act as prayer, amongst those, who beyond the walls, one’s own community may be at odds with.

However, still much work is needed towards understanding, dialogue and a number of other obstacles the various populations in the Middle East face. So, these amongst others create the emotionally charged and culturally complex arena in which I and my peers have the fortune of studying.

field trip 4

Students interested learning more about coexistence, conflict management, peace-building, and reconciliation, may explore the graduate program on Peace and Conflict here. Feel free to contact the International School for more information at infograd@univ.haifa.ac.il.

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