The Difficulty Of “Belonging” — And Not Belonging — To Israel
by Kevin Douglas Grant, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.
As we cruised southeast from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport to Jerusalem’s Old City, our Palestinian driver Yasser — “like Yasser Arafat,” he reminded us — pointed out Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, just to our left. The West Bank, we realized, was immediately adjacent to the Highway 443. We passed village after village, walled and fenced, the minarets of mosques visible in the distance. Ofer Prison, where a year ago 200 Palestinians "rioted" against the detainment of Fatah leaders there, slipped by. Its gray guard towers and barbed wire almost matched the rainy sky.
Yasser said he has the proper card that allows him to work as a driver, which means he “belongs to Israel.” As we passed another village, this one with uniform cement buildings lined atop a craggy hill, Yasser said that particular Palestinian area had achieved the same status from Israel. Later, two of us caught a ride into the Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Adumium on the same Highway 1, invited to attend Shabbat dinner at the home of a Jewish peace activist and construction worker. The guard at military checkpoint outside the settlement waved us through without hesitation.
“Palestinians have to have a permit,” explained Leah Lublin, originally from Canada. She and husband Al immigrated to Israel with her husband 17 years ago. They chose Ma’ale Adumium because the cost of an apartment there was right, far cheaper than one in Jerusalem a few miles away. Over more than a dozen courses, the two took turns lamenting the way many of their neighbors fear Arabs, and said they’re working through their own ingrained mistrust:
“When the Arab laborers are working on the street, people get on edge,” Al Lublin said, explaining that he loses some construction jobs because he employs several Arabs. ”They’re just focusing on their work, but everybody gets nervous.”
Talk ranged from their children’s service in the Israel Defense Forces to Egypt to The Rolling Stones. Leah leads interfaith dialogues to try to bring Jews, Muslims, and Christians together without getting too mired in politics. The husband and wife said they both preferred to focus on day-to-day living and peacemaking, blocking out somewhat the fact that they live in disputed territory. ”I’m more spiritual than religious,” says Al Lublin. “For a Jew, living in Israel is more important than all the other 613 [mizvot, “commandments”]. So I have more freedom to focus on the people in my life.”