Broken Promised Land: Students Share Perspectives on Israel

3 mins read

Photo Credit: Ben Witeck

Driving down the streets of the Gaza Strip, junior Ethan Marcus was surprised to see Palestinian children lining the sides of the narrow road up ahead. As his armored car approached them, the kids began pelting the car with rocks and fruit with razor blades embedded inside of them. “The whole experience was kind of shocking,” said Marcus, “not because I necessarily feared for my safety, but because I wondered how those kids could develop such a strong hatred of [Israel].” 

Marcus noted that this was a common occurrence in Palestine, with children being “brain-washed” from a young age to hate Jews and everything associated with Israel. “While I see similar anti-Palestine propaganda in Israel, I think that this is a bigger issue in Palestine, where groups such as Hamas have convinced people to blindly hate Israel” (Hamas is a Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist militant organization and the de-facto governing organization of Palestine since 2007).

A view overlooking the West Bank. Photo credit: Ben Witeck

“The trip I took to Israel really helped shape my views on this issue. I think a lot of people in our community approach this issue without complete information as to what is going on.” said Marcus. “Many of the criticisms I see about Israel are strongly rooted in anti-Semitism and a hatred of having a Jewish state.”

However, not everyone in the M-A community agrees with the sentiment that Palestine is mainly to blame for the conflict. Miranda Mueller ‘19, who is also Jewish, said, “Fundamentally, I believe that Israel is a settler-colonial nation. Much of conflict Israel is embroiled in is a result of oppressive Israeli policies that show blatant disregard for the lives of the people who lived in Palestine before Israel was recognized by the United Nations (UN) in 1949.” In contrast to Marcus, Mueller believes that the dominant discourse of western media often confuses legitimate critiques of Israel as anti-Semitic. “I think it is very problematic that a country that purports to be the Jewish homeland oppresses non-Jews. In my opinion, that runs counter to Jewish principles.”

The issue of Israel being a Jewish nation-state is something that brings up controversy among M-A students. President of the Jewish Culture Club and junior Ben Witeck said, “I think it’s fair for the Israeli government to preserve a majority Jewish population. Just like the US has its laws based off of mainly Judeo-Christian values, Israel is entitled to base its values on the moral and ethical arguments made in the Torah.”  

However, not everyone agrees with this sentiment. Freshman Karim Nasr, who is half-Lebanese, said “while I’m definitely sympathetic to the plight of Israel, I know that many people in Lebanon—especially Palestenian refugees—feel irked by the fact that they were forced off their land to form a nation that they believe they cannot even partake in.” 

Another issue that brought up controversy was that of Birthright, which is an organization funded by the Israeli government and American Jewish organizations that subsidizes trips for Jews aged 18 to 32 to fly to Israel and learn more about Israel. For Marcus, these trips are important to reinforce the Jewish culture and allow Jewish people a better understanding of their heritage. “I know that one of the places [the organization] makes sure to take kids is Yad Vashem, which is the Israeli Holocaust memorial museum. I think this is really important for all people to see as it truly puts in perspective the importance of having a Jewish homeland.”

However, Mueller fundamentally disagrees with the premise of the trip, viewing it as propaganda designed to push the narrative of the Israeli government. “If you look at the mission statement for these groups, many of them explicitly say that they are trying to strengthen the connection between Jewish communities and Israel. I think this is incredibly problematic because Jewish identity has existed for literally thousands of years without a nonsecular Jewish nation-state, and the notion of trying to tie the abstract idea of what it means to be Jewish with the existence of Israel, which claims to protect Jewish interests while claiming to righteously battle the original inhabitants of Palestine, is false and extremely problematic. Meanwhile, American Jewish organizations regularly push this narrative, and continue to indoctrinate millions of young Jews every year in synagogue, Sunday school, and summer camp while ignoring the suffering of millions of Palestinians.” 

Some students also expressed concerns about biases expressed by teachers. According to Marcus, “For some teachers, it is pretty clear that they are explicitly pro-Palestine and they don’t take the Israeli perspective at all.”

 However, sophomore Jacob Siegel said “I think the bias reflects both sides’ perspectives on the issue. At M-A, I think you get a little bit of both.” 

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is mostly taught freshman year in world studies. World studies teacher Samuel Harris said, “One of my favorite parts of the unit is when we show the kids the movie Promises; I think for many kids it really puts a human perspective on the conflict, but our curriculum is designed to stimulate discussion amongst students and have them come up with their own views on the issue. Last year, I had an Israeli kid and a Palestinian kid, both of whom had strong views on the issues. Although they disagreed strongly on certain issues, the conversation was really civil.”

Sathvik Nori is a senior and one of the Editors-in-Chief of the M-A Chronicle. He enjoys writing stories about sports, the M-A community and youth issues in general. In his free time, he loves to debate, read, and spend time with friends. He is also the Student Trustee for the Sequoia Union High School District

1 Comment

  1. Excellent article. It’s not that difficult though to understand why a kid would be angry with an armored car driving through their neighborhood. Those kids don’t see real people inside of that car. You have to live with people and see them as human before anything can change. It’s not a safari.

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