“The thing about Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister], he’s a chickenshit,” a senior Obama administration official said to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.
When I would talk about my upcoming trip to Israel and Palestine, I was met with sympathetic eyes. In the midst of the summer’s Israel-Gaza conflict, I was naive to believe September’s trip was possible. The fighting was escalating, the death toll was rising, and frustration was intensifying between international leaders who only seemed to be pointing fingers.
A week after the Gaza cease-fire, I departed for the Middle East with my journalism class. Upon arrival, two Muslim-American students in our group, Dima and Niab, were detained. The food on the plane made me groggy. The uncertainty of our friends’ status made me anxious.
The modern Ben Gurion Airport transformed into an air-conditioned nightmare. Once Dima and Niab were released, we joked about the interrogation process to bury our outrage. Our trip to the Holy Land was off to a shaky start.
The ongoing narrative in the media is that Israeli-American relations are weakening. The Pew Research Center found that Millennials were divided over the Israel-Gaza conflict, more so than any other age demographic. 29 percent blamed Israel, 21 percent blamed Hamas, and 15 percent blamed both.
Besides the three faculty members accompanying us, we were a group of Millennials. As young adults training to become members of the press, we were aware of the biases we could hold, the misinformation we could spread, and the general outrage we could elicit. The basic role of the press is to inform, but there is doubt in the media’s effectiveness in providing fair and balanced coverage.
The media is in a battle with itself when it comes to reporting. During the Israel-Gaza conflict, The Atlantic Senior Editor David Frum accused the New York Times and Reuters of staging a photo of grieving Palestinian brothers in a hospital. They were messy and bloody, one brother crying out as he’s being held by the other. To Frum the image was a fraud, a tool of propaganda being circulated by Western news organizations. He issued an apology the next day, but his initial allegations reveal the extent of polarization.
We are dehumanizing one another to the point where we have to corroborate trauma.
On his ascent to be crucified, Jesus rested his hand on a stone wall. A pilgrimage site for centuries, his hand’s imprint on Via Dolorosa has significantly deepened. Wandering in the Old City of Jerusalem, we found it—known as the fifth station—situated between a street way and a souvenir shop.
I posed for pictures as my hand rested in the depression. During the few seconds at the wall I became overwhelmed.
The Isra and Mi’raj occurred at The Dome of the Rock. Herod the Great constructed the Western Wall. Jesus was crucified at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. An unfathomable extent of history happened here, yet we witnessed how segregated life was in between these awe-inspiring monuments.
Half of Jerusalem was in Israel, the other half in Palestine. People of different religious practices did not interact, and as outsiders experiencing their realities, we constantly battled the status quo.
Our racially diverse group frequently crossed the city’s boundaries, much to the horror and curiosity of some residents. Why would a black girl hang out with an Asian girl? Why would a Middle Eastern guy hang out with a white girl? What commonality could our group possibly share?
When asked, we would tell them we were Americans (excluding Annie, our token Canadian). Our passports were blue, our home of the brave. Consequently, they doubted us.
To our early frustration and later amusement, they would tell us where we were actually from: Germany, China, India, Nigeria and other suitable countries people of our appearance would call home. In a visit to the Knesset, Deputy Speaker Nachman Shai could not believe that I, with dark skin and coiled hair, was from the United States of America. He would probably pass out in New York City.
Merriam-Webster defines chickenshit as “petty, insignificant” and “lacking courage, manliness, or effectiveness.” According to the anonymous White House official, Bibi is a chickenshit when it comes to the peace process. As the world superpower, the United States has played a crucial role as a moderator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With frequent violent clashes in the region, peace seems more like an ideal than an inevitability.
On our visits to various organizations, publications, and government institutions, we were encouraged to ask questions. To challenge and to investigate, as journalists should. Some of the visits were insightful and fascinating. At others, we soon realized that the joke was on us. When one of us asked a question, they would pull a fast one and condemn us on America’s past. They were very fond of the “we” pronoun.
Why did we massacre Native Americans? Why did we enslave Africans for centuries? Why did we fight the Vietnam War? Why did we invade Iraq and Afghanistan? Why did we, a group of 20-something journalism students, do all of this and think we had the right to ask question?
In our session with Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Israel’s oldest daily newspaper Haaretz, he said the paper’s criticism of Israel shows they care about their country. He also spoke about the identity-politics facing journalists in Israel. What do they consider to be their foremost identifier: Jewish, Israeli or journalist?
In what order does Israel identify itself—a democratic state or a Jewish state? Bibi frequently states that peace cannot be achieved among the Israelis and Palestinians until the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
On October 30, 2014, Sweden officially recognized a Palestinian state. Soon after Israel removed its ambassador from Stockholm. Bibi wants Palestinians to recognize Jewish self-determination, but Israel’s response to Sweden does not do the same for its neighbors.
Roey Giland, the Midwest Consul General for Israel, believes in a two-state solution. Speaking to our class in the spring, Giland sees it as a torturous process, with both Israelis and Palestinians having to eventually compromise land crucial to their respective histories. Hamze Awawde, a Palestinian involved in Yala-Young Leaders, sees hope in the peace process wavering through the disinvestment of peace and the increased investment in war. Through Yala-Young Leaders, Israeli and Palestinian Millennials like Awawde can engage together through education, understanding, and most importantly: human connections.
Depending on whom you ask, as a result of the trip I am either a Zionist or an anti-Semite. I maintain that I am neither. I am, however, more cognizant of the complexities of reporting in a contentious region. My desire to report internationally only grew stronger in those two weeks.
As a journalist, I hope to move past the chickenshit.