By: Jordan Darling, Editor-in-Chief
I sat with my knees pulled up under my chin and looked up at the young woman in front of me, tall and willowy, her long patterned skirt fluttered around her ankles in the afternoon breeze.
She had her back to Andartat Halalei Pe’ulot HaEiva, a memorial for victims of terrorism on Mount Herzel in Israel. The wall stretches across a stone courtyard embedded with 60 plaques engraved with the names of those who died through acts of terrorism dating back to 1851.
The girl, Alma Vaknin, crossed her arms over her chest and in a tight voice told the group of 50 people staring at her about the terrorist attack on her village in the West Bank.
Vaknin was a child in the 1990s when one Saturday morning a group of men cut a hole in the fence that surrounded her village and stabbed a series of people including a little boy she called a friend. The attackers identified with the Palestinian cause, their anger over a government dispute sparked the death of a little boy not old enough to understand.
A government’s war was brought to the doorsteps of people who just want to live.
I spent 10 days in Israel this summer on a trip designed to help me forge a deeper connection with my culture and meaningful ties with the Jewish homeland. I sat through discussion after discussion about what it means to be Jewish and why it is so important to have a Jewish homeland after centuries of persecution.
Beyond my own spiritual experiences, I was brought face to face with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I gained insight from those who live and breath the conflict each day. A conflict one CSUDH professor says centers on two dates
“The way you look at the Middle East conflict is how you stand on those two dates,” said Dr. Homaud Salhi, associate dean of international education and senior international officer at CSUDH. “Which date do you see as important? Is it 1917 that defines history or is it 1948 that defines another history?”
Two dates, one conflict lasting generations. In 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration which declared their intent to create a Jewish homeland on the stretch of land that was known as Palestine on the terms that nothing would infringe on the rights of non-Jewish people in the area.
The declaration was added to the British mandate over Palestine and approved by the League of Nations in 1922.
On May 14, 1948, Israel gained control of the partition of land granted to them by the U.N., at midnight the British pulled out of the Middle East. A war immediately broke out between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
Through the rest of the century, three wars would break out between Israel and the countries that share its borders. Each war ended with tragedy or victory depending on where you stood on the conflict. May 14,1948 was either your best day or your worst day.
Vaknin experienced another act of violence at a tender age when her parents and younger sister were attacked while driving to another village. Men hiding on the side of the road ambushed their vehicle shooting wildly and shattering the windows with bullets aimed for death. She described how her feelings that day inform her as an adult.
“You’re scared, you take it as hate but then you grow up and think about why? You can’t hate all people, try to understand the motives. Each person takes their own way.”
The Israeli/Palestine conflict has created a line in the sand. Generation after generation we take a side and cross the line and stand next to our convictions, unmoveable. We grasp at reasons, claiming history and religious rights, but we forget that at the end of the day a person is just a person.
Several times during the trip, Vaknin told me, “At the end of the day, mothers just want to raise their kids, and people just want to live.”
Those words still ring in my ears, a constant reminder that an average person just doing their best in a situation can be horribly affected when a government’s conflict is brought to their doorstep.