By Adam Schapira, of UCLphoto

Come to Israel today and you can sense political anxiety, as if Israel breathes politics. Even the taxi drivers feel that more animated. So, it was an exciting time to arrive in Israel with UJS’ flagship Manhigut trip (Union of Jewish Student’s political advocacy and education trip.)

With the summer turmoil still pertinent in the minds of many Israelis, the implosion of the current government came as no surprise. Something had to give way. And Israelis are once again heading to the polls; the stakes, so it seems, could not be higher.

This pretext overwhelmingly set the tone for our trip. There was a strong sense of betrayal and frustration shared by many of whom we conversed with. Mark Regev, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson, blamed the coalition partners in a supposed Coup that made the current government untenable.

Dov Limpan, MK for Yesh Atid, accused Netanyahu of advancing his own political interests ahead of the coalitions. But the vast majority of ordinary Israeli’s we spoke with, including David Horowitz, Times of Israel founder and chief editor, felt these elections to be entirely unnecessary, and more the result of egocentric politicians causing more harm than good.

One goal of the trip was to explore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from all sides of the political spectrum.

What we came to realise was that our narrative—the narrative of a proud British Jew who views Israel as the fulfilment of the Zionist dream, a bustling metropolis of high tech, innovation and endless golden beaches—is certainly not the narrative of many who reside in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Even within the Israeli narrative there is wide spanning debate: secular or religious; socialist or capitalist; ideological settlers or liberal Tel Avivians.

These schisms threaten the very unity of the Jewish people.

But we also developed a much greater appreciation of the Palestinian narrative too. We visited the Wujoud Museum, a Palestinian museum in the old city that illustrated and pictured a once vibrant Arab culture before the creation of the state of Israel.

We spoke to Israeli-Arabs who, just like Jews, have deep-seated, generational roots in Jerusalem. We visited Ramallah where we spoke to a Fatah spokesperson who detailed his desire for a Palestinian state living in peace, moderation and prospering alongside a Jewish one.

Group discussion by Kotel

Group discussion by Kotel

So when we talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we have to remember that this a conflict of different narratives, opposing visions and ideals. It is a conflict that is as much ideological as it is religious; as much a battle for legitimacy as it is a battle for land.

But that is not to suggest all hope is lost.

In fact, those most disillusioned with politics are the one’s starting to make real change. At a local scale, we saw the power of economic incentives in bridging narratives and building peaceful coexistence.

  • READ MORE: IN PICTURES: UJS trip to Israel allowed students to ‘see situation with their own eyes’ – CLICK HERE

In Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West bank, Arab workers reap the benefits of much higher salaries and good working conditions in the Jewish established industrial and agriculture zones whilst enjoying neighbourly relations with their Jewish employees.

In Israel, Arab-Israelis, once marginalised, are increasingly entering higher education and joining the success of Israel’s start-up culture. In Rawabi, a major planned Palestinian town in the blossoming hilltops of the West Bank, stunning affordable housing is being built for moderate Palestinians looking to establish new businesses and technological ventures inside the town’s modern facilities.

It is the first planned town to be fuelled by private investment independent of the Palestinian Authority and the politics that are invariably attached. There is an unmistakable desire for both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, side-by-side, whilst procuring the benefits from both skill sets.

Group pic on Temple Mount

Group pic on Temple Mount

Manhigut means leadership, and this was another goal of the trip: to create educated leaders who will be effective advocates in their respected campuses. There is a lot of rhetoric about the hostility faced by Jewish students on campus.

Much of what is cited simply isn’t true and often grossly unjustified, and we need advocates par excellence to defend against this tied of anti-Israel provocation. But Israel is also not perfect, and a good advocate of Israel will both understand Israel’s faults whilst remaining unequivocally supportive.

The opportunity UJS provides is invaluable in gaining a broad, balanced and educated account of the conflict, something that will be both credible and respected on campuses and beyond.

I want to end with where we began the trip, in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a city of God, where the divine presence is said to be closest. It is the home of the three Abrahamic Monotheisms, and each major faith has its own historical claim to Jerusalem. We visited each.

Whether it be the Dome of the rock radiating its golden glory over the Jerusalem skyline; or the architectural masterpiece of the holy sepulchre, the eternal resting place of Jesus; or the Kotel, the wailing wall that humbles even the most estranged Jew into deep prayer and meditation, a sign of the Jewish return to their ancestral homeland, one cannot fail to appreciate the glory of Jerusalem as a holy place, sacred to all. And when seen in this light, Jerusalem is the most profound expression of coexistence one could imagine. A place where the image of God is carved in many shapes and in many forms. Each one unique and possessing inalienable dignity.

Jerusalem should be a microcosm of the broader peace we can achieve when we listen to one another, hearing the stories of those whose faith may be different to mine but whose fate is tied to the same common humanity we all share, namely love, dignity and peace.