Unexpected changes feel like the theme of this year, especially for those of us on gap years. A few weeks ago, I spent four days in an intense seminar on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I listened to twenty-three speakers with a range of opinions and diverse contributions aimed at resolving or easing the conflict. The seminar gave me some clarity on my political views, and also emphasized how stagnant the conflict has been in the last few years and especially since the beginning of the pandemic. Visiting some of the most contentious, awful places of tragedy in Jerusalem and the West Bank gave me the sense that although things have been stagnant for some time, the lack of progress had not meant an acceptance of the current situation but that it was only a matter of time until things boiled over. With recent escalations during the last few weeks and on Jerusalem Day, the celebration of the Israeli presence in Jerusalem, and the capture of the city during the Six-Day War of 1967, we are now in the most intense state of conflict in seven years.
My opinions that slowly crystallized and became more nuanced during the conflict seminar I participated in now feel irrelevant. In a matter of days, I’ve learned that opinions stop mattering when people are dying. I’m living in such a different social environment than the one I see on social media. In Israel, it feels like, regardless of what people believe, everyone just wants the suffering to end. It feels impossible to engage with people across the world arguing over which side is right and whose situation justifies violence. Frankly, I find it impossible to understand hatred and the spread of false information when I only feel pain for those around me. Sure, I disagree with certain actions and policies but it’s not something I can think about right now, let alone rationally.
I don’t know what this period of my gap year will mean for me in the long run. I will not forget it, nor do I want anyone to live through this reality. I know that this last month will require months of processing, and I’ll slowly derive meaning and a sense of purpose and action. Sadly, in less than a month my program ends I’ll fly back home. In a weird way, my year is ending similarly to how it started. I’m ending my year in a sort of quarantine, unable to go to parts of Jerusalem and Israel that are unsafe right now. This means I have the privilege of spending my last moments more intimately hanging out with my friends in our apartment, supporting each other through these difficult days. I don’t know if it diminishes from the moment to acknowledge the beautiful connections during times of pain. We hold on to each other more tightly, and hopefully the love we feel for those far from us, that fuels emotional arguments on social media, will be the hope that pushes us out of this moment.