Caroline shares her experiences from her visit to the Holy Land as part of her year volunteering with CAFOD’s Step into the Gap programme. This week features stories of partners working towards peace and solidarity in the Holy Land with young people.
During January 2019 CAFOD’s Gap Year programme conducted a visit to the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. These stories have been transcribed as faithfully as possible and share stories and experiences from those who have experienced working for the occupying power and living under occupation have been collected and displayed. These stories emerge from a visit in partnership with both Israeli and Palestinian organisations, and with people of all faiths and none. It should be noted that the views expressed are that of the individuals and not the views of CAFOD.
I grew up in Nazareth, I have a strong Palestinian identity. I come from a refugee family, my village was destroyed in 1948, everything except from the church. They do this to create conflict between Muslim and Christians. We go back to the church when we can, to visit, so we don’t forget where we came from. The generation I work with is the third generation from the Nakba, I believe in the third generation, they are politically active. Jewish families worry about the community in action programme as they are fearful of the Palestinians the media portrays and the money we can offer through a scholarship isn’t enough for Palestinians to spend a year of their time here, so are often restricted to Palestinians who don’t have to work to support their family or pay for university.
I am ‘the other’, I am Armenian Christian. I came from a family of Genocide survivors from World War One. During this time, the government formed an agreement saying Armenians did not have to do military service which caused tension with my family across the Middle East. My parents worked two jobs each so that my siblings and I could go to a private school. There were 15 nationalities in my class, I left that school feeling like superwoman. When looking for jobs, I discovered that because I hadn’t done army service I couldn’t get a job as no one understood what being Armenian meant. Even afterwards at university people used to ask me questions about Islam, assuming that I was Muslim. Even when I asked my professor to leave early because it was the start of our Christmas celebrations, I had to explain my traditions to him and the rest of the class before I was allowed to leave. This is why there cannot be co-existence. Co-existence is built on similarities, covering-up your differences and only making acquaintances as a child, but eventually your differences will come to light and will be unable to be answered, with people ill-equipped for such times. This is why there needs to be partnerships which means you speak about everything even when it is uncomfortable.
I grew up in Ashkelon next to Gaza and was sent to a mandatory Elementary religious school where 90% of students were Ethiopian Jews. My parents chose for me to go to a better non-religious school, I was the only Ethiopian there. There I learnt the difference between poor and rich. I volunteered before joining the army for two years, this encouraged me to work towards peace. I studied Critical Pedagogy and Peace Education, I was angry and furious, and cried a lot during my first year at university because I thought I had nothing to offer. Then I did my Masters in Gender and Peace at the UN University of Peace in Costa Rica. There it was the first time I had been called Israeli and my classmates saw me as from a higher class, yet when I returned to Israel I went back to being one above the Arabs. There is lots of racism in Israeli and it is more common than you think, as Ethiopians we cannot change our colour so we experience double racism. The complexity is that the Ethiopian Jewish community are desperate to be Israeli and will do anything for it, 90% go into the army as that is seen as the step to becoming part of society and encourage social mobility which will influence their future as the army is seen as providing equality for everyone but this is a huge illusion.
I moved from Russia to Israel when I was five, I was raised as Jewish and went to a National State school. I never needed to ask questions about the way things were because it didn’t affect my survival, it was too complex and there were never any opportunities to discuss it. I wanted to be part of a partnership organisation because I saw how Palestinians were discriminated against whilst as a soldier. My own first encounter with a Palestinian was through this organisation. Before this I thought that the conflict was just a natural part of living here, like a natural disaster, it just happened once in a while. We started the community in action group to encourage Israeli and Palestinian 18 year olds to be political in every aspect of their lives. The young people we work with don’t want to co-exist, they want to live in partnership.