My experience studying in Israel and Palestine

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India and Israel, in many ways have so much in common, yet at the same time they are completely different. Both emerged as independent countries from under the yoke of British colonialism, and more interestingly, both countries were formed on strong socialist principles – which can still be felt today, even as both countries flirt with and experiment with neoliberalism.

So when I had the chance to study a course called ‘Health in the Age of Globalisation’ in Israel, I jumped at the opportunity. It was particularly interesting for me, as an economics student, and someone who is interested in the relationship between economics and politics to understand how a country like Israel works, and if it really is as similar to India (politically) as I thought it may be.

The course itself was fantastic. We were essentially examining North-South relations, health policies and economics, through the lens of globalisation.

Along with the regular course work, there were field trips to various places such as a free AIDS clinic in the central bus station in Tel Aviv, near the red light district–an area which also witnesses many smaller conflicts between drug users, immigrants, and anti-immigration protesters. And not too far away, people protesting the soaring rent prices, and gentrification of low-income immigrant neighbourhoods.

Another interesting visit was to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem (which is now the Palestinian side), which I believe is one of the few full-sized hospitals in Palestine. Here, we were told stories about how hard it is for Palestinians to travel to and from the hospital, via the numerous checkpoints, and even then, only if they have been given permission to leave the West Bank and travel through Israeli-controlled land, to the hospital.

However, the place I really enjoyed was Jerusalem. In particular, East Jerusalem and the Old City, which is split into four quarters-Jewish, Armenian, Arab and Christian. It was almost like I was back in Pune near Shaniwarwada, with its tiny streets, and shop keepers everywhere you look. It is probably the architecture of old cities, which were so meticulously divided by products sold, and somehow wove the city together. Unity was never as big a challenge to the Old City (East Jerusalem) like it has been in the past years.

Jerusalem is also the the sight of the the Al Aqsa Mosque, sacred to muslims, the sight of the First Temple, holy for jews and not too far away, is the sacred town of Bethlehem. Three of the major religions of today, all started in this city. It was amazing to see how people who today are almost always fighting with each other, once managed to live here in this tiny walled “City of Peace”, without major conflicts. The growth of these religions, and passage of time, has drawn these ideologies too far apart to even measure their distance, and reasons for disputes.

My impression of Israel now, especially after travelling within Israel and Palestine, is that there seem to be several identity issues that have been fueled, much like in India, by ultra right political parties, that use this insecurity to their advantage.

People who for centuries lived side by side, now turn against each other, as a result of the actual creation of the State of Israel, the rise of Zionism and the subsequent land disputes, and in many cases blatant human rights violations. But what I found encouraging and extremely inspiring is that there are Israeli and Arab organisations that are working towards creating awareness of the situation and working towards  a sort of symbiosis in the region – in some cases with staunch opposition, such as Comet ME, Physicians for Human Rights and B’tsele m.

I feel as though the only way forward is to encourage ventures such as these, that actively engage and encourage dialogue between stakeholders. This is something we in India can definitely learn from, and even replicate, when you see how many inter-state and inter-community conflicts we have all around us.

This article is written by Zaeen De Souza.

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