Window Into Gaza, part 4

part 3 | part 2 | part 1

Some students wrote on their Skype video chat experiences.

I shook with excitement as I sat down in front of Richard Kassissieh’s laptop to talk face-to-face (via skype video chat) with students from the Gaza strip. I had the opportunity to talk to the deputy chief of affairs for the Palestinian president, as well. We even interviewed with Craig Newmark, the founder of Craig’s list. All of these conversations left me with an unshakable feeling that I have finally left the darkness of ignorance and illuminated the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I can hardly believe that every day we as Americans wake up unaffected by the events occurring daily in Palestine, and one can only imagine the thoughts running through my head when I had to respond to a Gaza student’s question: “How does this conflict affect your daily life?” It hurt to answer truthfully, and I felt sick to the core of my morality. Winterim of 2008 left me enlightened to something that the world community must stop turning a blind eye toward. I thank the organizers of the Winterim program for allowing me to have these experiences.

The moment I remember most from my winterim, is when we had a live
video conference with teenagers from Gaza. Getting to school at 7:30 in
the morning was a small price to pay for such an opportunity. Our
questions were pretty scripted in the beginnning, resulting in an
expected conversation. Then, all of a sudden, the questions started to
get more spontaneous. The discussions gained passion. A moment that
stuck with me is when one of the adult leaders in Gaza stepped in. We
had asked about their relationships with Israeli students and they had
claimed that they knew none. The teacher said that she had Israeli
friends when she was a child and that times have really changed. That
moment definitely stuck with me and I was quite moved by that
experience. If the only Israelis the teenagers ever see work as guards
at check points and harass them, of course they are going to have some
amount of hatred towards the other side. They were not able to
sympathize with both sides as we were in our safe Catlin classroom.
Even though everyone preached messages of compromise and peace it was
quite clear that those kids felt the Palestinians had gotten the raw end
of the deal. They felt their people had lost their dignity. I feel
like I’m an educated teenager who knows more about the world than an
average one, but hearing the emotion from another my age on the issue I
studied in a history book, brought a new facet to my understanding. The
limitations in those children’s lives, in many ways being trapped in a
small arid portion of land, Gaza, and the electricity restrictions made
me learn more about my freedoms and opportunities and how I should jump
on them. It was definitely a memorable experience and I strongly
suggest having a similar winterim next year. It does not have to be
about the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, but to learn this much about
any conflict in the current world is an enlightening opportunity.

Although I really enjoyed the mock peace conference the highlight of my week was talking to to a group of young Palestinians in the Gaza strip. Getting their perspective on the issues surrounding the conflict was a real eye opener for me, however I think the greatest part of that experience was being able to see that they have hope for a situation that seems almost hopeless.

What would it be like to converse with your nation’s supposed enemy? Are you supposed to support your nation’s beliefs, or are you supposed to empathize as a human? During my time in the Winterim How to Become a Better Negotiator, I experienced the thought process and emotions that occur when one views an especially disturbed and convoluted conflict through facts and reason. This Winterim not only helped me improve my modest grasp of the middle-east conflict between a western influence with questionable but subtle primary intentions and a collectively strong desire for Muslim independence, but it taught me how to rethink a conflict without personal beliefs or culturally based conceptions interfering, filtering, or muddying. To rationalize a vicious clash that intertwines religious and emotional aspects with economic and political desire seems generally unthinkable, but the easily understandable content we reviewed and the impressive array of powerful speakers that joined us proved to our Winterim body, as a whole, that the capability of conflict resolution through negotiation is generally eventually obtainable. While I sat in Vollum with Richard, Peter and my negotiating companions, it became apparent to me that this topic was not grudgingly presented as a hopeless view on middle-east conflict, but influenced the teachers as much as it concerned and affected the students. By the end of Winterim, our group, including the teachers, had unconsciously opened up and bonded over the intensely intellectually stimulating discussions regarding Palestinian rights and Israeli opinion. Our group connected over an influence that changed all of us. At lunch, we conversed and laughed together as if we had been together for at least months. Most Winterims rode roller coasters or ate sushi downtown. While they may have simply enjoyed a nice temporary break from academic inspiration, my assembly bonded over a serious conflict, and even though this bond may not be permanent, I believe that this Winterim I attended, How to Become a Better Negotiator, is the type of experience that changes mindsets and creates individual passion. This knowledge and comprehension defines what a Catlin student yearns for, and this experience, although not as “fun” as watching movies in hollywood, will stick with me and my Winterim-mates for the rest of our lives.

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