This winter, I had the privilege of participating in Caravan for Democracy, a 10-day mission organized by Jewish National Fund (JNF) designed specifically for American, non-Jewish student leaders from various universities to visit Israel for the first time. From the moment we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the itinerary was packed: We would meet with high-ranking politicians, journalists, and businessmen and women, as well as visit important religious and political sites around the country.
The goal of the trip is to allow future student leaders to see the Middle East firsthand and form our own opinions about the region — opinions that are not influenced by inaccurate media representations. At the end of each busy day, all 40 student leaders in my group, from dozens of U.S. colleges and universities, would come together and debrief about what we had heard, seen, and felt. I was impressed with the positive environment that JNF fostered, particularly in that it encouraged acceptance of diverse viewpoints and the presentation of information from many different perspectives. For example, we heard from both a Palestinian journalist and an Israeli journalist, back to back. It was incredible to witness the constructive dialogue and formation of individual perspectives on Israel and the Middle East.
Caravan for Democracy provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the Holy Land and meet the people who reside there in a unique way, and for that I am truly thankful. On a personal level, I learned that complicated issues are not meant to be simple or neatly sorted into a binary. In politics, especially, we run the risk of creating false dichotomies that don’t cover the entire spectrum of views, because not all views are on radical ends of the spectrum. It is human nature to try and sort a concept into black and white, but it is important to embrace the grey area. When we heard from the Palestinian and Israeli journalists, many of the concepts they talked about overlapped; both were determined to head in the direction of peace, even if their visions of what this would look like had subtle differences.
I also learned invaluable lessons, such as recognizing how biased information influences perceptions of reality, and that every person has a different truth, none more important than another’s. In fact, subjective perceptions are a lot more important than objective realities in determining who we are and what we believe. I hope to become a healthcare practitioner one day, and I believe that this revelation will benefit me the most in my chosen field.
Most importantly, we tend to forget that behind all the news stories about Israel, there are people just like us — families with their own stories, young college students with big dreams, and a diverse population devoted to all different faiths. Interacting with the unique populations in Israel served the purpose of humanizing the region and I recognized how skewed our beliefs can be when we derive them from fabricated news stories that feed us inaccurate information. It is imperative to recognize the source that you are deriving information from and how bias factors into what you are being presented.
During my visit, I felt truly lucky to have one-on-one conversations with Bedouins, Druze, Israeli government leaders, Palestinian and Israeli journalists, college students, and many other citizens of Israel. Without JNF, none of this would have been possible. This was, by far, one of the greatest experiences of my life.
There’s one quote from the trip that resonated with me and I will always carry with me, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”
By Isabel Josephs
Isabel Josephs is from Fairfax Station, Virginia, and is currently a student at Cornell University.