“In Their Own Words” ZOA Student Mission to Israel

The trip just finished! I can’t believe that two weeks just disappeared like that. Being in the Holy Land, meeting the most amazing people, what more can someone ask for? But now comes the most important part. How did the trip affect my Israel advocacy and Zionism? What lessons can I take with me to my campus?

Of the many important lessons I learned, one important topic that was discussed was the issue of settlements in Judea and Samaria. A common theme on campuses in America is that these settlements are the obstacle to peace. Fortunately, on our trip we had the opportunity to meet the people, Israelis, Jews and Palestinian Arabs who these settlements affect while also engaging in an intelligent conversation about the settlements.

Meeting the people involved in these settlements is important. Whenever policy makers discuss a policy or individuals are discussing politics they should know who their potential policies are going to affect. If they don’t, shame on them! There’s no better way to know who their potential policy will affect then by meeting the people on the ground.

During the trip we visited a bedding factory called Fried, meaning peace in Swiss. Here, we met the owner, Shmulik, a Jew, and one of the employees, Haytam, a Muslim living under the Palestinian Authority. To the international community, the factory is located in a town called Ariel, and is often referred to as disputed territory. To Israel, Ariel is regarded as a consensus territory meaning that the overwhelming amount of people in the Knesset and Israeli society across the political spectrum agree that in any peace deal with the Palestinian Arabs it will remain apart of Israel.

Regardless of your political opinions, this factory is a testament of the possibility of peace. Here, Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, Muslims and Jews work together, as Shmulik said “as one family.” Haytam even stated that he views Shmulik as a father figure. This is what peace looks like; hopefully it will not be an uncommon sight one day.

Furthermore, I got to see firsthand how the mainstream media’s depiction of the “settler” isn’t just incorrect, but extremely off-base. A “settler” is someone who lives in the land and builds it up to make it a better place for everyone, whether through agriculture, supplying jobs, or creating unity and opportunity in other ways. He isn’t some racist bigot who is trying to steal land from the Palestinian Arabs, as the media portrays; Jews and Arabs share many daily experiences in Judea/Samaria.

It’s important though not only to look at the people, but other facts on the ground. No new settlements, meaning new established communities, have been built for over the past twenty years. There has been settlement development; this has been in places where Israelis and Jews have already been living. Should my neighbor building a house in open land affect the peace process significantly, if at all? It shouldn’t, but sadly the international community fails to recognize logic.

Furthermore, there are about 60-80 thousand Israelis and Jews living in Judea and Samaria (in the areas that have been proposed as land to be offered in the scenario of a “two state solution”), while there are around 2.2 million Palestinian Arabs. Why can’t these Israelis and Jews potentially live in a Palestinian Arab state? They would only make up around 3% of the state, so the overwhelming majority of the citizens would be Palestinian Arab. The fact that a Palestinian Arab leader can’t envision another Palestinian Arab state with a small percentage of Jews sounds pretty racist and anti-Semitic to me. Compare the potential 3% of Jews living in a potential Palestinian Arab state to the roughly 25% Arab population living with rights in Israel currently. This seems pretty amazing and Democratic to me.