In about thirty hours I'll be catching a series of flights that will take me from Seattle to Tel Aviv. This will be my first time in Israel and Palestine, and I feel like I am about to walk through a door without any concept of what will be on the other side. This isn't for lack of trying. In preparation, I've read a couple thousand pages on the history of the region and, particularly, the Arab-Israel conflict––from academic tomes to newspapers to the graphic novel journalism and memoirs of Joe Sacco, Guy Delisle, and Sarah Glidden. I have family and friends that have visited, and I think its fair to say that I knew the map of Ancient Israel before I knew the map of my hometown in South Africa (courtesy of having a theologian as a parent). Nevertheless, I still sense a lack of familiarity. I do not know what to anticipate. My only expectation is that there are aspects of this conflict that can only be understood through being there. That's what I am hoping to get out of this trip.
I'm working on an MA in International Relations with an emphasis in International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. My geographical interest is North Africa and the Middle East. My sociological interest is the way religious ideology shapes and influences conflict. For these reasons (and a few more), studying the Arab-Israeli conflict on site is the perfect convergence of my career interests. Yet my actual research paper is going in a different, more personal direction.
I grew up in Apartheid South Africa, and in my elementary years experienced the final years of de Klerk's presidency and the start of Mandela's. Some have claimed that Israel is heading toward an apartheid state––a few even argue that this is already the case. I'll be studying the claim by analyzing demographic trends and government policies to see if they have any legitimacy. This is a heated issue for many people. I've noticed some of my friends tense up and get defensive when I share my research topic. So it's worth noting that I am not coming to this topic with an agenda. I don't know the answer to this puzzle. I just want to find out what's going and write about it as accurately as possible.
Problems cannot be solved if we do not know what they actually are.