Eyes Wide Open

By: Bahati Mwitula (Chicago, IL)

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Bahati standing along the separation/security wall in Bethlehem, Palestine. 

When asked about my experience in the Holy Land I say, “the most spiritually, mentally and physically draining experience in my life. And yet, one of the most groundbreaking.”

I have always had an interest in Middle Eastern politics, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Going there opened my eyes to a world I never thought I would experience. Being able to interact with Israelis and Palestinians was eye opening and allowed me to briefly look at life through their lens. There is only so much you can learn from reading publications, watching the news and documentaries, especially considering bias and advancement of personal agendas. From the day I landed to the day I left, I felt various emotions ranging from anger and disappointment to joy and hope. Immersed in the rich yet complex history, I came back wanting to become involved even more.

One of the most memorable interactions was with the Bedouin community, Umm al-Khair in the West Bank. A young man around my age spoke on his experiences having his home and village destroyed by the Israeli government – he described bulldozers at the break of dawn rolling over concrete houses. A few hundred feet from his village is one of the many illegal Israeli settlements occupying the West Bank. Despite the destruction of his village, he still believes that peace is possible. They are now living in tin shacks, they have to take water from an Israeli waterline, which provides fresh water to the neighboring settlement. Even after at this, he doesn’t want to bring harm to the nearby settlers or Israelis. He just wants to live in peace and be the best man he can. Strikingly, he doesn’t believe a two-state solution is possible at this point but rather a one-state solution. After having a conversation with him I agree. I think that the conflict has gone too far for a two-state solution: What would you do with settlements? What would happen to the Gaza Stripe? Equal access to land, water, and trade ? Open elections? Equal representation of Palestinians in the government? The list goes on and on.

I recommend anyone who has the slightest interest in Middle Eastern politics to participate in Peace Not Walls. Know that it’s a challenging experience and stirs up many emotions. Some that even keep you up at night. But the only way be can spark change is to engage on the ground.

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