Thoughts on My Trip to Israel and Palestine — Storay Wardak

This Sunday, inshAllah, I’ll be boarding a plane on its way to Tel Aviv. It’ll be the first time since my birth that I will be overseas, and it just so happens that I’m visiting Israel and Palestine—arguably the most politically complex region within the middle east. Hillel on Campus is sponsoring a Student Leadership Delegation with the goal of having students gain a better understanding of the region as a whole, and I am lucky enough to have gotten a spot on the trip.

With the obvious religious tensions present, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a part of this delegation as a Muslim, as well as a supporter of the Palestinian state and its people. I disagree with the idea that my religious identity makes me synonymous with one ‘side’ versus the other. My intentions are not to reduce the historical and political complexity of this region to a simple story, but I have a pretty strong opinion about some of the Israeli Government’s actions. I believe that there should exist a Jewish state but not at the cost of diminishing another country’s sovereignty—so in short, I’m conflicted.

I want to clear a common misconception, as my stance does not include any antisemitic sentiment. If anything it’s the opposite: I support the establishment of a Jewish state, but morally, I cannot ignore the plight of the Palestinian people. It is an immutable fact that the plight of the Palestinian people has been deeply conditioned by the establishment of Israel as a state. It’s unfortunate that this issue is reduced to solely a religious one. Often Muslims, or anyone who speaks up in opposition to the oppression of Palestinian people are labeled as antisemites, but my personal values do not align with any type of religious prejudice. Really, I wish religion were left out of it, because my feelings about Palestinians and Israelis has nothing to do with how I feel about Muslims and Jews. It hurts me to think that my feelings regarding the rights and humanity of a people may be reduced to hateful religious rhetoric.

In the days leading up to this trip I have been trying hard to understand my feelings and clarify my intentions, as this trip is intended for just that, to challenge my viewpoints and to help me learn. I’m overwhelmed with all that I don’t know regarding the ‘conflict’, but I realize now that I don’t need to be an expert before going; if anything, being honest about what I think and how I feel is my best preparation.

In anticipation I’ve been reflecting on my experience as an interfaith fellow, and I’m hoping to exercise the capacities for empathy and respect that I’ve strengthened over this past year. My goals are to always have an open mind, truly listening and hearing what others are saying, while at the same time, not being afraid to speak my mind—remaining in fidelity to my identity and values as a Muslim and as an advocate against the oppression of any group of people. Besides praying at Al-Aqsa mosque and visiting Jerusalem, what I’m most looking forward to are the conversations with Israelis and Palestinians alike. Genuinely, my intentions are to learn, as I have a strong opinion about a region that I’ve only read about. In all, I’m looking forward to learning, seeing Jerusalem, and enjoying the view. Wish me luck.

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