Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
I sat in the ornate home of my teammate’s mom, an established Palestinian surgeon, when she said, “I wish someone had killed them all.” I just finished asking this woman how the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict impacted her life, and was shocked at this response. My drive to ask her this question stemmed months prior when introduced to the Public Forum debate resolution: “Resolved: The United States should push Israel towards a two-state solution.” My research, however, did not begin with this Palestinian surgeon.
As usual with a new debate topic, I began scouring the internet for research studies, accredited news sources, and history lessons to feed my interest. These types of sources were what I needed to win debates. My research gave me detailed statistics on death tolls, a water crisis, and a multitude of tragedies that this conflict had caused. No longer could I become “lost” in the topic, as it proves hard to become entranced with sadness. Instead, I completed my last debate tournament of the month with the Israeli-Palestinian resolution and decided to continue to gain knowledge and perspective past the initial constraints of my debate topic. I pursued the very stories of the people residing behind every statistic, as the removal of empathy from my interest would cause an incomplete perspective. The people I ended up speaking to became the people I could truly learn more from, and once they spoke I became lost in their stories.
My conversations began with Adam, an Israeli-American whose father fought for the Israeli Defense Force. Adam told stories of his father releasing countless bombs on Palestinian territory, but Adam believed this was a necessity. Adam explained his father was defending the Jewish people in Israel from Hamas, but most importantly, another Holocaust. Next I heard the story of Leila, a Palestinian- American, whose father fought against the IDF. She shared stories of oppression her relatives were facing everyday at the hands of Netanyahu. Following the conversations with my peers, I asked Alima, the Palestinian surgeon, about her experience. She grew up in Palestine and told me countless instances of violence she had witnessed during her youth. She reaffirmed an unsettling conclusion I was beginning to reach through my discussions.
Their stories were quite juxtaposing, and the majority of other experiences I heard were just as conflicting. Pain was the only common ground behind their juxtaposing stories- pain caused by unjust governments, oppression, and the current or past inability to live their identities freely. Both Leila, Adam, Alima and everyone else I had spoken to were sharing their truth, which is the compilation of their identity and experience. Their stories captivated me because each was unique, complex, and representative of how humans often carry pain. Even Alima, who evidently harbored some of the strongest, most inexcusable hate I had ever witnessed, was merely expressing her pain that resulted from growing up in Palestine. Even Adam, who believed Palestine is illegitimate, was a reflection of people just like him who had been victims of one of the world’s most atrocious genocides.
Now I stand at a crossroads, as any “answer” I give to one of the world’s most polarizing conflicts will be insufficient and oversimplifying. At this conflicting point I refuse to give up, choose a side, or ignore the issue all together. I continue to become invested in more human stories because I realize this conflict is built by people who merely want to be heard without an immediate response. My research became a persistent pursuit of individual Israelis’ and Palestinians’ truths with the hope they would be heard and that I will be an active observer in the middle of polarization.