Where East Meets West: A Personal Advocacy Journey in Jerusalem

A central component of the semester/year-long course that we at The David Project teach gap year students in Israel has been our day-long field trip, complementing the themes raised in the classroom, by using Israel – its places and people, as the ultimate classroom.

This year, the theme of the field trip is the complexity of eastern Jerusalem, one of the central issues facing the people of this land, experienced through the personal narratives of those living within this reality - both Jew and Arab alike.

In the morning, students visit the neighborhood of Silwan (right next to the City of David national park, situated right outside the Old City walls). During this visit, students meet with local Palestinian residents who share their personal narrative, discussing their connection to the area as well as the challenges they face in their relationship with the State of Israel, in general, and with their Jewish neighbors (whom they refer to as “settlers,”) in particular.

This part of the tour is facilitated by a Jewish Israeli from an organization called Jerusalem Reality Tours.

For many of our students, this experience represents the first time they are meeting (and interacting in a personal way) with Arabs/Palestinians. Just as interesting, many of these students were raised to believe that all Jewish Israelis conformed to a certain ideological/political worldview, and here they are exposed to a Jewish Israeli who advocates on behalf of Palestinian rights, and who clearly does not conform to their pre-existing stereotypes.

During the second half of the day, the students meet with Jews living in eastern Jerusalem, who share their personal narrative with the students, including why they choose to live in the area, and of the importance, in their eyes, of Jerusalem remaining united under Israeli sovereignty.

We conclude the field trip with a debrief where the students are given an opportunity, in a safe environment, to share their feelings, questions, concerns… relating to their experiences over the course of the field trip.

In building this field trip, we sought to incorporate many of the principles found in “The 10 Habits of Highly Effective Israel Advocates,” including:

  • Go on a listening campaign: Students are encouraged to meet with people who, in their usual day to day routine, they would likely never have the opportunity to interact with.
  • Do your homework: Students are encouraged to step outside of their “bubble,” discarding preconceived stereotypes, and to interact with the people they meet on the trip with an open mind.
  • Listen before speaking: Instinctively, many of the students, when hearing views that they don’t agree with, seek to challenge the speaker. At the outset of the field trip we encourage the students to listen to the different perspectives that they’ll be hearing throughout the day, even if they may not agree with what they are hearing.
  • Connect with their values: While students may not agree with all aspects of the various narratives they hear, almost always, from both perspectives, students find that there are points of agreement that they had not expected to find.
  • Be transparent about your goals: All of the people we meet with throughout the field trip understand who the students on the field trip are. Everyone is honest about their backgrounds, leading to a more open and honest conversation.
  • Present Israel as a complicated but decent country: Students are exposed to the complexities relating to Israel’s ability to actualize the millennia-long aspirations of Zionism and the Jewish people towards Jerusalem while dealing with 21st century challenges.
  • Humanize Israelis: Virtually all the points raised on the field trip could be incorporated into a 90 minute PowerPoint presentation. One of the main achievements of this field trip is that of humanizing Israelis – allowing our students to experience first-hand the diversity and complexity of Israeli society through the narratives of those who live it, instead of just being presented with dry facts.

At the conclusion of the field trip, and incorporated into our course, we stress to our students the importance of taking experiences such as this one and  integrating it into their own personal narratives that they can then share with others when discussing their experiences during their studies in Israel.