I am surrounded by privilege. I take the bus home everyday, from my internship or from the climbing gym or from the beach and I ride up a mountain.
I pass by building on my school’s campus named after Levi Eshkol who was the third prime minister of Israel, who held office during the 6 Day War, during the preemptive Israeli strike against all of it’s neighbors; buildings names after Yitzhak Rabin, who was the fifth prime minister of Israel, who was both the minister of defense during the first intifada, the first Palestinian ‘uprising’ and a prime minister known for his embrace of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
I pass by these buildings on a campus made up of Arab students by almost one half and wonder why no buildings are named after their great leaders, their war heros, their advocates for peace?
Little bits of privilege.
I am privilege. I was reminded of this when I was traveling in Europe about a month ago, staying in hostels, staying up until dawn, staying young, feeling young, the forever kind of young.
I looked around and saw all these young people who wanted to drink and cheers and laugh with you. All these young people who have the ability to travel and the money to travel and the motivation and support to travel.
And I saw myself in these people.
And, if I’m honest, I was flattered.
I’m a living a Pinterest life, filled with epic scenery and exotic food and seemingly endless time to read and write.
But. A reflection can be a powerful thing.
In hostels, there is privilege: a vast blanket of white with specks of brown and black.
In this mirror image, you see yourself and you feel your privilege and you wonder how you can feel so blessed and so guilty all at once.
The other weekend, I faced my privilege more than I ever have before. I went into the West Bank. I sat across from a mirror, another 20-year-old young woman, with long black hair tucked away under a pink, flowered headscarf. I talked to her as she nursed her 2-month-old baby.
But a mirror from a circus house where I’ve been born in a different country with a different colored passport and different colored skin.
I have the privilege of living in Israel. I have the privilege of going to Ramallah for the weekend and I have the privilege of going back into Israel. When people in Ramallah would ask where I studied and I’d say ‘Haifa’, they’d smile without showing their teeth, like fangs of jealously would peep out if they opened their mouths.
I have the privilege of leaving Israel for good, if I want.
When I want.
I’ve been to Jerusalem.
That is a privilege beyond measure in this part of the world. That is a privilege endless blood has been spilled for.
The apparent and argued center of the universe:
An old wall versus an old dome.
Do we ask which is older or which is more beautiful or which is more powerful or which is more ‘right’? Is that the solution we all so desperately grasp for, in our peace and conflict classes, in the offices of Washington D.C., in the apartments of families displaced from Palestine and families displaced from Poland, alike?
I’m leaving Haifa in tomorrow.
I’m leaving Israel in 14 days.
A while back, I was staying in Tel Aviv, which is basically Berlin Middle East. I was wearing my hair in braids: long and thick and heavy with water from the Mediterranean. Walking down the beach with hostel friends, a man stopped me and asked if he could take my photo. He said my hair was beautiful against the bluish purple sky of the sunset.
I said yes because I’m a narcissist and also, I love talking to people.
He asked what we were all doing here which led him to ask what we were studying which led him to discover that I was in a program called “shalom an sekhsokh”, “peace and conflict”. He smiled with his teeth, showing his amusement, and cheered, jokingly as only Israelis can
"you’re here to solve it! you will solve it for us, right?”
And I said
because I was a child; because 4 months ago feels like a lifetime ago; because I thought there were only two, maybe three, solutions on the table; because I had no idea there are in fact no solutions but only opinions and confusions.
I said. And I smiled with my teeth and laughed and felt beautiful and young and I’m sure I felt very privileged without realizing just how often that privilege would manifest itself.
I’m leaving Haifa, and then I’m leaving Israel. I have no solution. If I’m being honest, and I try to be honest, I am more confused leaving than I was when I arrived. I’m lost in the last 100 years. Do I dare analyze every mistrust and every communication gap and every wrong calculation? Do I dare even think of a peaceful solution- at some point it feels sacrilegious, like the two most extreme views, the two who love this wall and this dome the most would scream at me and tell me my foolishness in thinking the other would even consider peace?
Do I leave and forget because I’m left with nothing?
It is my privilege to leave Israel. I mean it. You know how we say “it’s my privilege!”, like it’s my honor or duty? Yeah. It’s my privilege to leave Israel. It’s my honor. I’m leaving while a quarter of the population is stuck here- or, really, stuck there, in the West Bank and Gaza.
I’m leaving Israel. It’s my privilege. I get to leave Israel- leave Israel safely, with inspiration and thoughts and ideas circling through my tired head; with narratives from every side: the father of an IDF solider whose volunteered to return to service for the second Lebanon War, only to be killed in the cross fire; and a 90 year old woman who left her southern village in Palestine in 1948, the night of Al Nakba, left for Gaza and then the West Bank, who has never returned to this now foreign and abstract concept of home.
Traveling breaks your heart. You meet endless amounts of beautiful souls and you leave a piece of yourself with all of them. I wish I could list all the people I’ve met that have forced my thinking deeper, taken weight off my heart, or shaken me out of my comfort zone.
Everyone once in a while, I’ll be walking down the street and my heart will be broken because I wear it on my sleeve and every goodbye is a little death in my life. I’ve become good at dealing with death I expect and accept it. But when your heart breaks as often as mine does, sometimes it’s necessary to remind yourself that it’s beating. I like to feel my heart beating. I put my hand on my chest and experience the rhythm of life- the rhythm to my life.
I’m leaving and I don’t have to come back. Or maybe I do have to come back.
What we do with our privilege is the only way we have to combat its destructive path.
Maybe it’s my privilege to return.
Maybe I need to keep my word to the man from the beach.
This was long and winding, so I'm sorry.
Haifa is the most bittersweet goodbye.
Goodbyes, however, are this important and a crucial part of life.
Cheers to you