Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Painting my Pain

I always wanted to be in the army, but there was an obstacle in my way: my parents. They didn’t think it was a right choice for me so they strongly disagree with my decision of joining the United States Army. In the end I didn’t join because I wanted to honor my parents’ wishes. I might neve];r join the army but I got the chance to experience the combat level of being in it from the Israel perspective.

I got the chance to paintball at Caliber 3, a counter-terrorism training academy in the West Bank. Caliber 3 works closely with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the field of counter-terrorism. In America, paintballing is considered a game or a sport while having the illusion you’re in the military. In Caliber 3, it was a whole different experience. I got the chance to learn how to clear a house of an enemy and the ready position- so you could snap into combat mode in less than three seconds. When we got the chance to actually play paintball I felt my adrenaline kick in and I was ready for battle. I wanted to win every game because this would be the closest I would get to being in combat. Even though we were wearing protective gear I got shot on my left thigh. The irony of it is that I have an AK-47 tattoo on my thigh which is a symbol for my desire to join the army and I got shot right next to it. For me, that shot was filled with a bullet instead of paint. To me that wasn’t a paintball shot by a member of the other team but an actual bullet by a terrorist.

The Caliber is a very important resource for Israel because it not only does it train top elite solider but help civilians understand how the Israeli army go out to the enemy land and make sure there are no civilian casualties and get the job done in an efficient way. I am glad that something like Caliber 3 exists so people like me can experience and learn the combat zone.


A journey into northern Israel

The chance to see country in Israel similar to my native far Northern California stomping grounds was exciting.  High hills and green vegetation awaited us in northen Israel.  For the penultimate day of our ten day trip to Israel, while on the bus ride to the Golan Heights, our guide gave us a brief backstory on how the Golan Heights became a part of Israel through the Six Day War in 1967.  He pointed out that Israel nearly doubled in size during that brief war with four other nations surrounding Israel.  Much of the captured land was given back to the former enemy countries after the war, yet the Golan Heights were kept. Our first stop was to a lookout point where a battle involving Israeli tanks and soldiers took place around a hill overlooking a valley.  He described several sacrifices that Israeli soldiers made to win the small battles that enabled Israel to win the Six Day War, despite many problems arising with the Israeli military and how they overcame those problems.  One soldier was said to have risked direct enemy fire by jumping on a barbwire fence in order that his fellow soldiers could easily make it over the fence to attack the hill.  Stories such as those are remembered by the Israelis, and continue to inspire them.

We then went farther northeast to see the border between Israel and Syria.  We were shown where the border between Israel and Syria curved throughout the valley, and the identifying features that separate the two countries.  Big black portions of ground where the vegetation had been burned are defining marks of the start of the Syrian country. 

Our final stop was to the beautiful Sea of Galilee.  The water was warm, and the atmosphere was even warmer.  Our trip leader, Pini, informed us of the strategic necessity of the Sea of Galilee to Israel, and how it is a good source of water to the country and people.  The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater body of water that is continually filled from the north by the Jordan River, and then water flows out the south end into the Jordan River, which continues south to the Dead Sea.  Of course, our group didn’t leave without spending some time in the water. 
Tyler Pochop


Roses and Honey

Politics are never easy. Everyone has their own opinion, their own political affiliation and their own perception. Trying to explain what it means, or where you stand, can be confusing and infuriating. Trying to understand these explanations can be downright maddening.

The last 6 days have been a whirlwind of political emotions for me. I came here thinking I was set in my self-declared right wing opinion. But, as the speakers progressed I felt more and more drawn to the left. Why? We heard many speakers, but until today I did not feel that any speaker was being honest or forthcoming. I felt that I was hearing the opinions that were convenient to convey, rather than all sides of the story. The speakers we heard until now, although all very intelligent, spewed out a lot of right-wing, sometimes narrow-minded facts. Sorry, that doesn't cut it for me. I want to hear the meat, the details, and yes, the ugly truth.
I am a critical thinker. How can I critically approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or properly advocate for Israel on my campus, when I don’t have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing BUT the truth? Up until this point, I felt like I've been getting half-truths. When I asked one of our speakers about the ethics of the settlers in Hevron, Rather than giving me a proper, evidence-based answer, the response I got was “That’s simply nonsense; the Israeli settlers would never do that.” Some of the other questions were partially answered, a lot of politically correct terminology had been thrown around, but I hadn't gotten the meat, the honesty.

Today, that changed. Today we got to converse with Inon Tagner. Among other things, Inon told us about the struggles the Israeli-Arabs face in Israel. He spoke of the discrimination, but also the privileges. We heard about the intricate and sometimes exasperating legalities and parties in the Israeli Parliament. Most of all, we heard another side. He told us why the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank do not have Israeli citizenship, and about the tensions between the Palestinian-Arabs and Israeli-Arabs. Nothing was sugar-coated or made to sound like “roses and honey” as Inon explained. The half-truth we had been getting until now suddenly fit into the whole truth.

Not to say that one side is more correct than the other or that there is a more “truthful” truth. But, no story should be taken at face value; no ‘truth’ should go unquestioned. We should always feel like we are getting all the facts, not just the convenient ones. We need to arm ourselves with every piece of knowledge and information we can. If we don’t let ourselves hear every side of the truth, even the ugly parts, how can we truly advocate for Israel?

In my journey in the last 7 days, I did not once doubt my desire to be a pro-Israel advocate on my campus. I love Israel. For me, asking tough questions, and getting painful answers is the best and only way to advocate for Israel in the most honest and effective way possible.