As my experience in Israel concludes I feel overall more familiar with the major aspects of Israeli society and culture. From the larger topics, like the Israeli Palestinian conflict and regional water security issues, to the cultural aspects like Israeli sternness and refusal to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, I can say that I have gleaned a some of what makes this country unique.
Highlights of this trip for me have included the normal tourist sites, like the Dead Sea, Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. However, the most intellectually interesting aspects of the trip for me was meeting with members of the Knesset. I had originally decided to go on this trip because I felt I needed to learn more about the Israeli Palestinian conflict in general, and more specifically about the ideologies that fuel it. As a student focusing on Middle Eastern and North African studies in both my undergraduate and graduate career I had neglected to learn about the conflict. What the meeting with the Knesset members gave me was the perspectives of Israelis political parties on conflict. Seeing the differences in what each party thought was the leading cause of the conflict, the historical events each considered to be relevant, and the language each used to describe either the Israeli government or the Palestinian leadership was eye opening. More then anything, this experience showed me how truly complex and tense the situation within Israel is.
Another experience that will stick with me was our class’s afternoon we spent in a Druze village. While I had heard about the Druze people before this trip, I had not known anything other then their name. However, over lunch and tea we learned about their cultural norms about marriage, religious practices, some of their venerated figures, and how their society is changing as they modernize. This was one of the most interesting cultural experiences I have had while abroad. Also, as an aside, the Druze food is phenomenal.
Wrapping up this trip I feel a strange yearning learn more about Jerusalem and the tension that seems to almost permeate every facet of life here. Amongst the beautiful historical structures and places of major religious significance are people who find themselves profoundly divided. Being near such tension is like nothing I have ever experienced. This city is a sincerely strange place.