Biting My Tongue

Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine

From City of 3 Faiths

Midway through Peace Corps Pre-Service Training, we met our counterparts and were supposed to confide in them our greatest fears about the next two years. Mine was a fear of political discussions, especially of regional issues like Iraq and Israel/Palestine, which are such personal issues in this part of the world. This fear was partly because I remembered how frustrating it was to speak to my Jewish friends and classmates at Goucher College about Israel/Palestine; how entrenched and adamant they tended to be about their opinions on the issues. Now, living in a city that is at least 80% Palestinian, most of my friends in Jordan have family in the Occupied Territories, and are equally entrenched and adamant about their own opinions on the same issues. So when I came on this trip, I was firmly resolved not to be sucked into political conversations.

From City of 3 Faiths

I did pretty well for awhile. Plenty of things were said about Palestinians that made me bristle like, “They all want to kill us,” or, “They don’t know how to take care of their homes,” or “I’m afraid to go through the Arab souq.” I managed to bite my tongue and just enjoy the beauty of Jerusalem, to take pictures instead of taking offense. I really genuinely liked the people we spent time with, and I certainly didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable in their own city.

From City of 3 Faiths

I do have to admit to being much more moved by the view of the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount than by our excursion to leave a prayer for a friend at the Western Wall, but for aesthetic reasons, not religious or political ones.

From City of 3 Faiths

In the evening, we took some wine up to a beautiful overlook of the city, listening to the sunset adhan from the mosques of Jerusalem. Halfway into my bottle of wine, and most of the way through Michelle’s, I lost my resolve. Michelle started to ask me how I could support Palestinian nationalism when it was a complete fiction, and there never has been a people known as the Palestinians. She asked, so I tried to answer, remembering what I’d learned in Prof. Magid’s class on Palestinian nationalism at Indiana University. I particularly wanted to talk about Khalil Shikaki’s results from polling about the Clinton Accords. But I never managed to finish an answer. (A bottle of wine does not a patient listener make!) Eventually I gave up.

But this is my take-away: There was almost nothing Michelle said that was objectively false. There is very little that my Palestinian friends say that is objectively false. But there is intense propaganda on both sides, which emphasizes some truths and ignores others. To parse just one sample argument from this evening: Yes, Gazans destroyed perfectly good settlers’ houses and have not built new houses in their place. This ignores the fact, on one hand, that Israelis will not allow Gazans to import building materials for new houses, claiming that those materials could be used for military purposes. It also ignores the emotional impact of living in the abandoned housing of one’s occupier. If the Jews had been liberated from the Warsaw ghetto, would they want to live in the former barracks of their Nazi oppressors? I’m pretty sure they would have torn those barracks down. The tragedy here is that passions are so inflamed on both sides that objectivity and empathy have become almost impossible.


  1. Wow…I love reading through your blog. This is my first time here. It's me, Steph Kim, by the way. Just stumbled upon your blog after finding the link on your Facebook. Keep writing. These are some great, acute observations about life in the Middle East.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s