I applied to go to Israel as a first semester freshman with little knowledge of the conflict. When we stepped off the plane, I stood surrounded by government majors afraid that I was completely unqualified, but I ended up making 11 new amazing friends while learning about a subject matter that gave me a new perspective on life.
I went into the trip with a view that the conflict was one united Israel against one united Palestine, but found that this view was the opposite of the reality in Israel and the West Bank. I learned that there are cleavages in both Israeli and Palestinian society between the secular and the religious, the Arabs and the Jews, and the leftists and the right wing that prevent a unified opinion on a solution to the conflict. Through discussions with peace activists, settlers, Arab-Israelis, Palestinians, and even a rabbi, I discovered that both Israeli and Palestinian society are fractured over basic issues that make it almost impossible to unite on solution to the conflict.
The trip was so important because I learned things through experiences that I could not have learned through readings. A great example of this is the Israeli occupation and settlements in the West Bank. No matter how much you read about the effects of occupation and settlements, you can never actually visualize the reality of them until you see places like Hebron where a ghost town has developed in an area where Palestinians have been banned from. We saw once booming Palestinian areas that are now uninhabited and Israeli settlements that I imagined to be shantytowns, but are instead booming suburban neighborhoods. It is not possible to imagine the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without being there and talking to the people that feel the effects.
Now that I have returned from the trip, I feel that I have a better understanding of the conflict as a whole. The personal experiences we had with secular Israelis, Palestinians, and Israeli Settlers makes me feel that I have a well rounded understanding of the conflict because I could see all sides of the situation.
If given the opportunity, I would definitely go on this trip again. Although I have a good understanding of the conflict, the situation is constantly changing in both Israel and the West Bank, so I could have a completely different experience in a couple of years. If educational reasons were not enough, I could definitely go back to enjoy the delicious food and the exciting night life of Tel Aviv! The trip was life changing and has given me a new look at the conflict and global politics in general!