By: Charles Chakkalo, Hunter College
Having grown up in a community where many believe Israel can do no wrong, I was lucky to have the opportunity, on The David Project’s Israel Uncovered trip, to continue to understand Israel in all its complexities. Ever since my first encounter with a Palestinian, ashes within me were ignited into a roaring flame of passion for learning about both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Fuel was added to the flame when bigoted demonstrations, which left no room for dialogue or understanding on either side of the Israel-Palestine conflict, took place on my campus. Thanks to my Hillel, my flame was channeled towards an amazing internship with The David Project.
I represented Hunter College as the campus intern for The David Project on Israel Uncovered. I was able to personally interact with places, causes, and people which I learned about and formed opinions on back in the United States. We engaged with people ranging from the Israeli Bedouins to Palestinian Christians, from governmental officials to the laypeople, and with the Western Wall, “the separation barrier,” and the borders of Gaza. Being exposed to the plethora of elements of the conflict, in person, enabled my mind to redefine and reinterpret an issue which is often presented as black and white. I was able to befriend a Palestinian (who I later met for dinner as soon as we got back home!), something which I think strengthens my understanding of the reality on the ground and makes me more open-minded.
Before Israel Uncovered, I understood a fair amount about the conflict. After Israel Uncovered, I discovered personally being near the conflict really enables one to understand the conflict in an entirely different way. I now have much more to think about when it comes to things like settlements, the viability and definition of a two-state solution, and the long practiced strategy of land swaps between the two nations. During the trip I would routinely find myself overwhelmed by the conflict’s complexity.
This trip accomplished exactly what Plato strived for, the provocation of individual analysis and thought. Before Israel Uncovered, I was very sure about my opinions and facts on what was going on in the region. I am nowhere near that kind of certainty after Israel Uncovered, but my overall understanding has expanded. Big events have taken place in Israel-Palestine since Israel Uncovered and I have come back with a new way of understanding and learning, starting me on a new journey of Israel advocacy.
I would contend that being personally presented with the conflict gives those with an open mind a peek into how what is read and heard about is being practiced in Israel-Palestine. As a David Project intern, I was taught that an effective method of advocacy is using a personal narrative, or a personal experience. With settlements being a popular topic within the conflict, I can say I was there, I can say I spoke to settlers; and I can attest to things that many others cannot.
After Israel Uncovered, I can stress the personal narrative that I now have. Israel Uncovered enables me to challenge faulty allegations and makes my advocacy more credible. On campus, when a BDS bill is brought to the student senate, like this semester at Hunter, or when Israel advocacy in any other respect is taking place, I now have the ability to say what I saw and what my experience was. Instead of using the conventional Jewish state perspective I can now personally attest to Israel-Palestine humanitarian, socio-economic and security narratives. Through all these crossroads, Israel Uncovered definitely overhauled my Israel advocacy for the better.