Hey lady where do you come from ?
Germany , I answered.
Oh wow Germany , I love Germany, are you a Christian ? the man asked me with a face expression of full on excitement.
No , I am an atheist , I answered.
His face expression drops. He loses all sparkling in his eyes and his face turns into a big question mark.
Why ??!?! he asked desperately.
Why not , I said.
Wait let’s have coffee and talk about this come , come!
No, sorry I have to go, I say and start walking again.
I am open to meet new people and open to any kind of people but that day I definitely did not have the energy for another conversation about religion and history.
This wasn’t the first time I was met with none understanding when I state that I am an atheist. Here, in Jerusalem, you meet a lot of different people and besides the other international people from Europe or the US, almost everyone is religious, more or less. Christians, Jews and Moslems. Religion is present everywhere, we are after all in the ‘holy land’. As religion is at all time present so is history, and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. I have met many new people here and no matter if they knew what I am here for or not, the conversation would move at some point to either the topic of religion, history or the conflict. Trying to make my point to a Jewish guy I met past 00.00 on a party why I am an atheist and why I don’t agree with some Israeli actions can be quite challenging.
Sometimes I have the feeling I have written on my forehead ‘provoke me and I am willing to put all my passion into a conversation to make my point even though I actually had two glasses of wine too many for not getting biased.” Well, I guess that makes life interesting.
I enjoy learning new things, I enjoy listening to the stories of different people of different ethnicities and religions, I enjoy trying to build my own opinion as little biased as possible. However, if you have heard many different opinions about one conflict from both sides and from people or organizations which claim to be neutral, from people you liked, from people you disliked , from people you consider as intelligent and people you consider as rather narrow minded. When you have read many articles and watched many videos from different sources and have really tried to consider all sides, one gets seriously confused. I am not afraid to state that I am trying to stay neutral but I am not always succeeding due to simply agreeing more with the Palestinian side after extensive research and thinking since I arrived in this city over 2.5 month ago. I have Israeli friends which I consider as great and smart people and so do I have Palestinian friends which I consider as the same.
What I found more than sad is that all the people I met (apart from two douchebags who were too stuck in the narrow minded world and not able to listen to any other point of views) from various religions and ethnicity no one was filled with hate or great amount of dislike. Everyone seems tired, apathy is the daily companion and most have a hard time believing that there ever will be a solution. The vast majority wants peace and then there are two problems. Extremists on BOTH sides who actually do not want a shared country or not even peace and try to boycott any moves towards a peaceful solution. No matter if that means expansions of illegal settlement or terrorist attacks. The second problem is the government , again on both sides. I have heard people talking (Israeli and Palestinian) who shared the opinion that the government actually is not capable of finding a solution and hopes for normalization and profit. If there will be peace then the people have to take action and the international community has to put more pressure upon the conflict.
Making one thing clear, I have not been able to form my own fully developed opinion about the statement that the government actually does not want to find a solution which benefits both sides. It is difficult to find credible sources when researching in the internet. It is hard to find non-biased people due to their experience. I am certain I could not stay neutral if my home was demolished in the middle of the night or if I had a loved one in a bus which was blown up. Some things people state almost sound like conspiracy, they often make sense to me and I want to believe them but I try instead to solely consider them within a bigger picture.
I want to be taken serious and not getting labeled as some European girl who actually has no clue but is pro-Palestine because it suits me with my rather left-winged and open minded attitude. I try to be ‘pro no one’. I am pro trying to understand different point of views and I am pro Human Rights and equality no matter which religion or country one belongs too.
To me there is a difference between being ‘pro’ a whole side of a conflict or simply sympathizing with individuals and their stories and standing up against things which are not right and against treating anyone in a different way than another. Sympathising with equality and fairness. I am against putting everyone in boxes. However I am not saying it is easy to not do it. Everyone does it sometimes.
In my opinion it is important to keep in mind that government actions or military actions do not necessarily present the majority of the population of the respective country. If you want to be against someone or take a side in a conflict be for the people.
I am an emotional person and that makes it not easy for me to always act in the way I expect from myself. If I would only follow through on my emotions and feeling when it comes to the conflict, I probably would have a much more extreme opinion.
A healthy balance between emotions, rationality, considering different aspects and simply respect for humans everyone should try to carry with them. Again, I am aware that this is not an easy task. The long lasting conflict, history and unjust happenings sometimes simply do not allow people to act reasonable, and I have understanding for that. However sometimes one has to leave the past behind, not forgetting it, but focus on the present and future and thinking about the coming generations. I am sure no matter if Israeli or Palestinian everyone wishes for their children to grow up in a peaceful environment. I am aware that it is easy for me to talk in this way as I grew up in Germany without the constant presence of a conflict , I did not lose family members in wars, I never had my house demolished or was threatened to lose my home in general. I did not lose anyone in a terror attack. However I was taught to see everyone as equal and not judge people upon the ethnicity or religious aspects and I have been taught to forgive and to seek out for peace in difficult situations.
I am just someone who tries to understand , someone who has not lost the hope for the people here to come to a non-violent solution, someone who tries to solely to judge injustice and violation of Human Rights and respect. I wish I could present a solution to this deep-rooted conflict. I can’t. I can only make a very basic recommendation build upon what I have learned so far in my work here.
I have not too much hope in the government in this country and its capability to solve things, however I have hope in the people. People have to start approaching each other, overcome the actions of the past generations and interact with each other with focus on the future. Overcoming apathy and frustration and promote equality, human rights and respect. Overcome the inner division of both sides and showing clearly to the extremists or ultras that you do not support their way of handling the situations. Moreover the Middle Eastern region and the international community (maybe not with the US as the main actor…..) have to put non-violent pressure upon the situation and raise awareness, seeking direct talk.
These were solely my own thoughts and views which I have built in the last 2.5 month. I am sure my opinion can be developed more and will be over the remaining month I will be here. I do not claim that I am universally right and I encourage everyone to build their own opinion and thinking outside the box and trying to understand all parties. You do not have to agree with anyone but you should try to understand why people act in certain ways, so you can be capable of trying to see the right and wrongs and everything you can find in between.