Fifteen minutes can lead to lasting peace

Spinnaker

UNF junior political science major Jason Kroitor recently took a trip to Israel, which happened to
coincide with the beginning of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict. Kroitor, the president of the Student’s Organization for Israel, wrote the following account for the Spinnaker based on his experience. You can e-mail Jason at [email protected]

My latest trip to Israel could not have come at a worse time for my mother, who has never been to Israel. Every time I go to Israel she is nervous, and I never understand why.

I try to assure her Israel is different than portrayed in Western media outlets. I make sure she knows life in Israel is not much different from life in the U.S., but it is never enough to reassure her.

But this trip to Israel was different. I was generally nervous about going back during the latest Israeli-Hamas conflict.

As fate would have it, Israel started bombing selected Hamas targets inside the Gaza Strip the same day I was set to leave for Tel-Aviv with a group of forty pro-Israel college students from around the country on an American-Israeli Political Action Committee sponsored mission trip.

Our group was set to meet with lecturers including top-level diplomats, politicians, journalists and leading Israel and Palestinian political activists. When I signed to go on this trip, I was excited to be representing UNF, but the only thing I could focus on the day I was leaving was the non-stop images on CNN at the airport, and I did not like what I was seeing.

This is where I made a critical mistake. I allowed myself to get sucked into the 24-hour cable news vacuum that represents everything from a very narrow point of view. I should have known better from my previous trips to Israel. When it comes to how the news media generally portrays Israel, the security situation is usually overplayed.

From all the news coverage, one could expect to arrive in Israel and find a country on edge. The fact is when I arrived, I found Israel was not at all on edge. People were out and about everywhere I went, and no one looked tense.

I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that this latest conflict with Hamas was a long time in the making. Since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, more than 6,500 rockets have been fired into Israel. Many Israelis I spoke with believe it was only a matter of time before Israel launched a counter-offensive against Hamas.

The second reason is that Israeli citizens are an incredibly resilient and tough people who do not let the threat of terrorism or war alter their daily lives in any way. It is important to note that during this time, according to any one of the cable news channels, Israel was at full-blown war with Hamas, and there was absolutely no hope of there ever being peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, it was at this time that I lost my cell phone in a taxi cab. Ordinarily, losing a cell phone in a taxi cab is no big deal, but not in my case. My cab ride seemed completely normal to me at the time. It lasted about 15 minutes, and I had a very lively conversation with the cab driver – although he spoke very broken English – about the events in Gaza.

The driver’s biggest complaint about the conflict was that business was down. The driver was very pragmatic in his explanation of why the conflict was bad for business. He asked me why I was in Israel, and I told him I was there with a group of pro-Israel students from around the U.S. I told him how hard we all worked back home to ensure that the U.S.-Israel alliance remained strong and intact.

At this point, I was on a roll, so I told the driver no matter how many times I come to Israel I am always amazed that after almost 2,000 years, there is again a Jewish state in Israel. Before the driver could comment on my last remark, we arrived at my hotel, and I left the cab.

Everything I said to the taxi driver was great if I was talking to an Israeli but I later found out I had been talking to a Palestinian named Jihad from East Jerusalem the entire time.

I discovered this when I dropped my cell phone in the cab and Jihad, trying to be nice and return the phone, called “home” in the phone book. He was connected to my mother, who he spoke to in Arabic and frequently used his name, Jihad, during the conversation.

This put my worried mother, who does not understand Arabic, into a full-blown panic because she thought I had been kidnapped. Even after hanging up, Jihad continued calling numbers in my phone until he was connected with someone who told him it was mine.

But Jihad went completely out of his way to get my phone back to me, even though I said some things I’m sure he did not agree with. Yet we were still able to find common ground and talk for 15 minutes about politics during very trying times for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The issues that surround Israeli and Palestinian relations, as well as Israeli relations with the rest of the Arab world, are extremely complex, but I have come to believe that if any lasting peace is ever to be achieved, then it will start with more lost cell phones and 15-minute conversations.

–  Jason Kroitor