Saturday, September 18, 2010

(BLOG) It’s Not That Simple: My Experience In Israel

"By Syney Hausman-Cohen: It’s the middle of the summer, and I’m talking to a friend from Israel. 'Did you hear about the balagan that went down this morning?' he asks.

Balagan—a term of Hebrew slang meaning something between craziness (planning this party is turning out to be complete balagan), confusion (wait, were you supposed to bring the chips or was I? Balagan!), and a complete mess (oh, gee, thanks for having a party, guys, now the house is a balagan).

'No,' I answer truthfully, which makes sense because it’s 11 a.m., I just woke up, and the balagan happened in the middle of the night, Texas time. Then I hear that eleven were killed in a navy riot. He sends me the links to the New York Times and Jerusalem Post articles. I have no idea what to think, whom to trust. Balagan.

One year and three months earlier, I’m not so blasé about Israeli politics. I am volunteering for Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s ambulance service in Jerusalem, as a first responder. It’s my first day on the job. My team, and I are leaning against the ambulance, eating falafel, and then…balagan. The world suddenly feels incredibly fragile, like it’s made of glass, and I can’t tell if someone has just nicked it or if it is about to shatter. 'Yalla!' our driver yells (Arabic for 'Let’s go!'). Lights and sirens flash as we drive on the curb, practically hitting pedestrians, and I hear the radio chaos, balagan, a jumble of words. Pigua. Terrorist attack.
No one will explain to me what is happening. I flounder around, skirting out of people’s way, trying to hand them things that might be useful and generally failing. We arrive at the scene and go right through the police blockade. A police car and a taxi smashed against a pole. A school bus stopped—maybe hit?—on the other side. A tractor. People everywhere. Was there noise? Screaming? Shouting? Two gunshots behind me are the only sounds I remember.

'Seednee. You stay. Wait here. Too dangerous.' What? No! He was gone. I watch through the open back door as my team, sans useless American girl, extricate a policeman from his car, placing him on a backboard. They bring him back and I take his vitals, start to bandage a wrist.

They place terrorist and victim in the same room, separated by a thin curtain: a policeman, whose car was smashed straight into a pole by a tractor, along with the tractor’s driver, who was shot down by other policemen.

A trail of blood flows out of the room, through the hall, and outside, where an Israeli teenager, spending his mandatory army years working for the ambulance service, is trying to mop up the terrorist’s pooling blood with paper towels.

If there’s anything I learned from my work with the Ambulance Service, it’s that the situation in Israel is never as simple as people think it is.

One man died from a heart attack, and we waited half a mile away because the ambulance wasn’t armed and the people in the neighborhood are known to throw rocks and set fire to Israeli ambulances. Another boy’s family wanted him to go to an Israeli hospital, but he didn’t have the right papers, and it would have taken too long to wade through the bureaucracy that could give him those papers. And then there was that other terrorist attack, the one we heard about over the radio—an axe in a four-year-old’s head. Balagan.

It’s not numbers, it’s lives, yet I feel it’s easy to lose sight of that in a school like ours, where we often get lost in the passion for one perspective without stopping to consider the other side.

For example, when a student announced a meeting of a pro-Israel group on Wesleying last year, the negative comments were overwhelming. 'You support a brutal occupation and what can almost certainly be termed as a regime of ethnic cleansing,' an anonymous commenter said. 'Please go f*** yourself and die.'

Since when is Wesleyan a place where students are criticized for voicing anything that is pro-Israel in public? It is these kinds of comments that oversimplify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and make it harder for people to look past their differences and work towards peace.

It’s crucial to remember that every single person complicates the Israeli-Palestinian narrative: from the girl who doesn’t want to go to the army because she opposes the war, to the family who refuses to leave their home in the occupied territories, to the man who has to cross a two hour checkpoint every day to get to work. Given this diversity of experience, how can we let ourselves become engrossed in such a bipolar debate?

I love Israel, but I am not a spokesperson for the country, do not represent its politics, and grapple with a headache of confusions whenever I confront its history. I love it for its people, its culture, and the ancient history buried under its cities. I love it because it provides a safe haven for persecuted Jews. I love it even as I am challenged by its politics.

But, in the end, no matter how much I love Israel, I just want peace. If we all confront and debate the complexities I have merely skimmed the surface of in this article, perhaps we can achieve that goal, and work together through the craziness, through the hatred, through the Balagan." (source)

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