Compelling Memories, Surprises, and More
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Reflecting on Memorable Experiences
The most memorable experience from the trip was visiting the holy sites in the old city of Jerusalem. As a Muslim to visit the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque is itself a spiritual accomplishment but because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, also a historic accomplishment. It may be historic because there are not too many Afghan-Americans or Afghans can the trip to visit the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque because the Afghan government and Afghan Muslims refuse to recognize Israel as a state until the occupation ends and an independent Palestinian state is created.
The reason why the visit to the Old City, particularly the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque stood out because my first attempt to enter the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque for Maghrib or evening prayers was prevented. Two Muslims students, Ahmed and Ja’far and myself were prevented by Israeli guards at somewhat of a checkpoint by a gate, where the Israeli guards deemed as young males under 50, we were a security risk to the Jews by the Western Wall during a Jewish holiday. Therefore we were not allowed access to a holy site. The Palestinian Muslims who also were denied entry along with Ahmed, Ja’far and myself performed Maghrib prayers on the floor of the old city where we took off our sweaters and jackets and placed it on the floor so that none of our heads directly touched the floor of the old city. After the prayer was over, Muslims sometimes shake the hands of the people they prayed next to and one of the Muslim students of the group shook the hands of the Muslims he just prayed next to. Afterwards he stood up and shook hands with the Israeli guards who prevented the Muslims from entering their holy sites. As a consequence, the Palestinians who just prayed along with him were in an uproar and it was only after the quick thinking of one of the Arab speaking Muslim member of the group, that the situation was resolved relatively. This experience along with later successful attempts inside the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa makes the old city visit the most memorable and the most compelling.
Reconsidering Surprising Realizations
The most shocking and provocative to myself was on June 3rd when the group visited the settlement known as Shiloh where the group was presented with the viewpoints of members of Shiloh. The shocking experience occurred because of the narrative of Danny Dayan. He does not believe in the alliance between Jordan and Israel nor does he believe that the Palestinians should be granted full citizenship. He did not offer an alternative to the two state solution but he argued against it vehemently and when Lior Amihai asked Danny Dayan what Danny would say to a young Palestinian child who is in a refugee camp, someone who has done no harm and Danny responded that he would reply that the child is in an unfortunate situation because of the decisions that other Palestinians made and he will have to continue the suffering.
Danny’s narrative, tone and demeanor as the head of the Shiloh settlement surprised me the most and it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences during the trip and that was why it was the most shocking experience on the trip; he appeared hostile to a group of students from different faiths and identities who disagreed with him. He was a very aggressive in his tone and language towards the students as well as Professor Rosenblum when he decided to challenge him on some issues. Upon someone challenging Danny, he often raised his voice to win the argument rather than form a greater argument. I remember one student, Daniel, who has an uncle who lives in the Shiloh settlement, looked to Daniel and told him that he believed Danny was doing a good job with his tone and answering his questions whereas once the students went back to the bus, the majority of us did not believe Danny Dayan did a good job at all.
One misconception I had about the Middle East that was proven wrong was about social entrepreneurialism regarding Women. I unfortunately, believed the stereotype that women did not have leadership roles in business settings in the Middle East, not because they do not have the capability to do so but because they were not given the opportunity to do so by their male counterparts. When the group went to UAE, my perception of Arab women changed. In the UAE, the group met with the President of Virgin’s Middle East division, as well as other women in leadership roles such as Rasha Shehada, who is in charge of her family business Diamond Line, a leader in hotel supplies. Her family was from Palestinian decent and her religion is Christianity but her family came to Dubai under her father Kamal and he started the business but passed down the torch to Rasha because she was the most qualified. We had also met Huda Ali Redha Al Lawati from the ABRAAJ group, a private equity investor group. She had worked with the company for over 10 years, and the company in 2002 pioneered the field in GCC and Levant projects such as oil, gas and health care. In Dubai, at the Hub, we heard the editor in chief of a new media website called Barakabits, which focuses only in positive news from the Middle East. The women that I had met in the UAE changed my view of the ceiling of Arab Women; there is no ceiling for Arab women once they are given an opportunity.
I believe there was no single moment that bonded the group together but small accounts of adversity helped the group bond together. For example the group always traveled by a large van and there were times where the group had three or four meetings in a given day right after the next, and everyone in the group would be tired, fatigued collectively. I believe those small moments of adversity along with the long plane rides, baggage claims, visa lines helped bond the group collectively. One incident occurred where I knew that the group had bonded and that incident was during the groups’ ride back into Jerusalem from Ramallah. At one of the checkpoints, young Palestinian boys were throwing rocks at the wall and rolling tires that were on fire at the Israeli wall, that the Palestinians have called an apartheid wall but the Israelis argued it was a measure to stop suicide bombings from occurring. The Israeli soldiers launched tear gas to disperse the crowd and there was plenty of traffic and everyone in the van looked at the incident and while not everyone had the same sentiment from the incident, it was that moment where I felt the group was bonded because there was a collective range of emotions that the group shared with each other.
Jemal Rahyah is a member of the 2014 Ibrahim cohort.