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Photo of the Dome of the Rock within the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. // Photo courtesy of Dezalb/Pixaby.

From Ignorance to Relevance: A reflection on my Israel experience

By Hafiz Datoo, July 21 2020—

In February 2020, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel as a part of a comparative public policy course with the University of Calgary. This journey changed my view of the Middle East from one of ignorance to one of relevance. Seeing young adults casually swinging their assault rifles over their shoulder sparked an epiphany for me as it may have for you. Life is just different in Israel. This narrative is a snapshot of my recollections based on the terrain, people and theory-based knowledge gained from my rewarding travel to the “centre of the world.” 

First off, I should preface this with the fact that I find myself to be exceptionally interested in politics, history and truths. The premise of my knowledge going into this trip was highly influenced by the news and media. I grew up seeing negotiations between Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat. I understood Israel as a Jewish Nation. My definition of a Jewish person was one who followed the faith of Judaism. As noted in the Old Testament — the Hebrews return to Canaan. I conceptualized that this region would have been presumably, present-day Israel and thus the connection Jewish people have with the region.

Well, there were a lot of missing pieces. Some of these included understandings of Zionism, the Arab-Israel conflict, the tribes of Israel, the political system, geography and economics, Golan Heights and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Jerusalem (the divided city), Jewish Identity and the Holocaust, Tel-Aviv and business in Israel. Honestly, I could probably write an article — or five — on each of these, all filled with my own understanding of their beautiful history, people, stories and a ton of academic and political jargon. But more importantly, I was able to hear it. Not because of what I had to learn but how I learned it. 

Much of the audio information was presented by our educator Michael who lived in a Kibbutz with his wife and children in rural Israel. He was humorous, honest and kind and he led us with authenticity and grit. He explained the history and presence of the landscape with passion, love and detachment — it was inspiring. Of course, at times the amount of knowledge, like many trips of this nature, was like drinking from a fire hydrant but I presume that was exactly the point. 

Readers may feel distanced from an opportunity like this, especially as a trip of this nature is usually quite expensive. So, I wanted to share that this too came up for me. Financial cost aside, I was embarking an unknown journey to a place where up to minutes prior to my flight my wife was checking the travel advisory risk. I was leaving my two girls. It was not easy. But it came down to this: what is an experience worth? For me, every breath was like fresh oxygen unavailable anywhere else, every old school, handwritten journal was like a novel starving for more ink. Every conversation with my crew and the people of the land was nourishing to the soul. I was living history, present and future — I was finding so much more than knowledge. So, my only advice is that if you get an opportunity for an experience like this and COVID-19 does not hijack your opportunity, take it because the reality is, it is a truth worth finding. 

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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