by Loor Alshawa
In May, a group of students from Butler University travelled with Dr. James McGrath to Israel and Palestine. They flew into Tel Aviv, and visited holy and historical sites in cities including Jerusalem, Acre, Jericho, Haifa, and more. These regions in the Holy Land do not only have plenty of religious significance, but political and social importance as well. As a result of that, this visit to the Holy Land proved to ultimately be a different, but overall enlightening experience to each person that went.
I went on this trip, and it was probably one of the most life-changing nine days thus far in my life. The region has huge significance to me; I am originally Palestinian, and I am also Muslim. So I was obviously ecstatic about visiting the Holy Land, which is also where my ancestors came from. I am the first in my family to go back there; my father’s parents fled the region prior to his birth, my mother fled at the age of 5, and my sisters have never gone either. We have visited other countries in the Middle East, such as Jordan, Syria and Egypt, but never Palestine. Words cannot describe how excited not only I was, but my family as well, when we heard that Butler was taking a trip to where we are from!
Experiencing Israel and Palestine was incredible on many different levels. I got to see the beauty of the region. I got to feel the holy significance of sites such as the Dome of the Rock; it was almost like a pilgrimage to me when I got to pray in the Dome and in the Al-Aqsa Mosque because I felt so connected physically and spiritually to my religion there. Finally, I unfortunately also got to see the tension arising from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I witnessed tension between Israelis and Palestinians. I saw discrepancies in the quality of life in Israeli cities versus Palestinian cities. Being Palestinian myself, I unfortunately experienced discrimination in Israel. I will not elaborate on this, although I did often feel that the discrimination I had to put up with did dominate my experience in the region. However unpleasant that was, it was truly eye-opening. I gained first-hand perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I never had before. I believe that the students with me also gained perspective that they wouldn’t have had if I, a Palestinian, was not with them. They just got to see more of what the reality of the situation over there is. And on a lighter note, they also got better deals at Palestinian-owned shops since I was better able to haggle for good deals with my fellow Palestinians!
Overall, my experience in Israel and Palestine was multifaceted. It was spiritual, it was beautiful, it was enlightening, and of course it was fun!!! I am so thankful that I got to go on this trip and have the experience of a lifetime there.