Written by current MESP student John Papatheofanis (Wheaton College, Illinois)
After reflecting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what I learned and observed on our ten-day trip I have come away with several reoccurring thoughts. I often think of suffering in terms of numbers and not in terms of emotional human life. It’s for that reason that I need to spend time with those suffering and how simply reading about a conflict doesn’t emotionally affect me. This is why I appreciated the time I spent in Israel/Palestine.
I specifically remember sitting on the bus from Jerusalem to a check point back into the West Bank. While sitting on this bus, several Palestinian men sat down next to and around me. They were coming back from work and were entirely exhausted. Not only in the way a person is from a long day of work, but from a difficult existence. I could see in their eyes an exhaustion that could only result from subjugation and domination. The lines in their faces reminded me of the unimaginable stress someone in their position accumulates over the lifetime, and the knowledge that they’ll have to go through the same, drawn out process of getting into Jerusalem again tomorrow.
That bus ride helped the emotion and weight of the situation sink in for me. I felt bad because it happened the day before we left for Jordan, and that each one of my classmates had been struggling with the weight of the conflict for over a week. I had seen videos of children being killed, walked along the barrier, and heard stories from my host families of relativers who had been shot down like dogs. But for some reason simply sitting with those who had been struggling for decades hit me in the face with the realization and empathy I had been seeking the entire trip. I wish it had happened sooner, but I am glad I have finally begun the process of considering this conflict as one that deeply effects millions of innocent people, people exhausted like the men I shared the bus with.