Thursday, May 2, 2013

Weblog Journal #3

Thinking about symbols and symbolism in my life, I feel as if I could write a book. So many of my posessions have meaning, have a story, and remind me of a past experience. Thus, I will focus on the material symbols in my life. I am currently on the road, somewhere I love to be. Every hour on the road means a new experience, meeting and connecting with people new and old. So I cannot look around my room and describe things that are most significant there, but I have realized that the things in my car can basically tell my story.

Let's start in the trunk. There lies two items that have consumed much of my time in recent years: my camera tripod and my climbing helmet. My tripod represents my camera, which is basically an extra appendage of my body. Wherever I go, my camera comes with me. With my camera, I am able to capture the images of experiences, people, and places that are important to me. I don't  journal, rather take photos. I feel that through photography I can represent my life with an alternative creative edge.

My climbing helmet represents a few things. First, the fact that I love rock climbing. I love climbing indoors and out, as it provides a physical and mental challenge, and always allows me to have an adventure. I love exploring, and rock climbing or outdoors adventures are a great way to experience the world and also offer an opportunity to escape from the stress of the world when it becomes a little too much.

As I move out of the trunk, theres a whole plethora of things that represent my life. I will just choose two more to tell you about. First, colored pens/markers. I have always enjoyed art, and having pens wherever I go is a good way to make sure I can always sketch, doodle, or jot down something that I want to remember in the creative sense. No matter what type or creativity I choose to engage in on a given day (sculpture, photography, drawing, writing) these pens can always come in handy.

And lastly, there is my music. I am NEVER in the car without music on. I have written about this before, so I will keep it brief, but music narrates my life. I love hearing a huge variety of genres, and whatever music I listen to on a given dy changes how I interact with other people and the world. So my music is a crucial part of being on the road.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Response Paper

Living Jerusalem                                                                                           Ethan Bennett
Final Response Paper

            After a semester of participating in the “Living Jerusalem” project by way of a class at Indiana University, I have a multitude of reactions. Overall, the class was incredible. I came to the class with quite a large expanse of knowledge on the topic of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, with great interest in the politics, culture, and society of each entity. Though, while I lived in Jerusalem for 6 months, I did not have quite as specific familiarity with Jerusalem as I would’ve liked.
            The great thing about this class was that through learning in depth about Jerusalem, we engaged in discussion, academic discourse, and debate on the greater socio-political conflict. Jerusalem became the microcosm on which all other knowledge was understood, as the small city offers so much in terms of politics, culture, people, history, and more.
            Though despite the focus on Jerusalem, the class was very flexible and it was always exciting coming to class because the nature of the class allowed us, the students, to engage in discourse about a variety of topics amongst ourselves and with others, such as academics from around the world. We quickly found ourselves comfortable enough with each other and the nature of the class that we were able to diverge from outlined topics as we delved into specific elements of the Middle Eastern conflict in discussions from which our knowledge greatly benefitted and our beliefs were very frequently challenged.
            Overall, I am very happy with this class. This below sections will each outline reflections and suggestions that I have on specific parts of the class.


            I have never kept a blog for a class before, and it was an interesting way of interacting with course material. It definitely was an effective way at forcing students to keep up with the reading, as each reading required a written response. I liked that I could add my very personal anecdotes as I responded to the readings, but I did feel quite overwhelmed with this aspect of the class, especially at the beginning of the semester.
            Taking into consideration the nature of a new type of homework, it was difficult to meet deadlines that were not in line with class times. In addition, while each time I was able to read other classmates’ blogs I was intrigued and challenged, the expectation to read a certain number of blogs per week AND comment was quite burdening. I would’ve rather had more opportunity to respond to blog posts in class and use ideas projected in blogs more often as class discussion triggers. When simply responding via the blogs comments section, I often felt like my comments went unnoticed, as did many other students. While the idea of holding discussions over the blogs is great, it was unrealistic for students to keep up with that many levels of blogging, responding, and responding again.


            I thought that the readings were a bit repetitive at times. While I found the book by Karen Armstrong to be complete and relatively unbiased, I felt that the immense focus on history might have been a little excessive. This may just be personal, as I tend to only take history into minor consideration and rather look at the present situation and conflict. Nonetheless, Armstrong’s book was just a little dry for my liking.
            Inversely, the supplemental readings such as those by Edward Said were a great addition to the readings. The smaller personal narratives that we read helped understand the emotion that stands behind so much of the opinion and conflict in Israel and Palestine. I also really enjoyed when we had the opportunity to watch videos in place of readings. Being a very visual person, I feel that when I am able to see what a person is talking about, I can much more easily place myself in that narrative, and further understand the emotion and feeling behind a story. I actually would have liked more videos, especially as we looked at the modern social situation and subjects such as gender and sexuality rights, as it would have helped the class better visualize the reality of Israel and Palestine in the modern day, as opposed to the images so beautifully portrayed by Karen Armstrong.
            One suggestion that I have with readings is that it would have been nice to offer readings more relevant to the end of semester group presentations. If our groups had more time to plan towards the first half of the semester, we could have even brought our own readings to the table and used class discussion and reactions to alternative, presentation related readings in order to better adapt and shape our presentations.

Guest Speakers

            I found the guests we spoke with to be an amazing addition to the class, one that very few other classes offer. The opportunity to hear the personal narratives of individuals who are directly involved in the matters about which we were learning allowed us to further relate to stories and emotions.
            One note is that I felt there was a Pro-Palestinian (for lack of a better word) bias when it came to guests of the Palestinian nature. While it was very beneficial to hear these voices, I felt that it tended to blame and criticize Israel more often than not, and portrayed a slightly unequal legal and political playing field. I would have loved to hear from figures on both sides, such as actual Political figures, who could offer (albeit possibly very biased) opinions that are directly representative of each group, rather than some who claim to be neutral but don’t actually come off that way.
            With this, I feel that eliminating some of US-based guests in order to allow more speakers from Israel and Palestinian would have been very interesting. In terms of hearing real life stories, this could help many formulate more direct opinions.
            On this note, I don’t have much to say about the videoconferencing with the OSU class other than I didn’t find it to benefit in any way and only added another technology barrier that frequently held us back from moving forward as a class.


            The presentations were quite a treat at the end of the semester. I loved to learn from fellow students and see how each student really feels about specific topics for which they are passionate. I felt that all of the presentations were very well put together and informative, even if they were quite biased at times.
            One issue with these is that I would have loved to see more time for group presentations. I personally felt very rushed in my presentation, and felt that some of the presentations did not have time to fully present the topics. Maybe cutting the expectations and pushing groups to focus on tighter, more manageable topics would have helped with this. On this note, while we did have time for questions and responses to presentations days after all were finished, this hindered students’ responses and inquisition to presentations because the energy was no longer the same as during or right after the presentations and the information was not as fresh in our minds.

    As started earlier, I absolutely loved participating in this class. The topics we discussed, the people we met, and the in class discussions challenged my views, pushed me to thing harder, and taught me a lot. I hope that along with the rest of the class, I will continue to move down the road of understanding we began in the class. While I am unsure if I will ever fully understand every detail, I hope to continue to ask and challenge others’ opinions while being questioned and challenged myself.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Web Journal

My position. I find this post difficult to write, because I never have been able to clearly define my position. Those who are strongly pro-Palestine often see me as biased for the pro-Israel side. Those who relate to the pro-Israel views have seen me as more neutral or even pro-Palestine before. But I hate these terms, pro-Palestine and pro-Israel. They make it seem that one can only pick one side. And no, I'm not going to go into the whole "pro-peace" thing either, because while it's a beautiful idea, I don't think it is going to get us anywhere.

So where was my position, and where is it now?

I used to say I supported Israel everything. I was an avid AIPAC supporter, and while I felt for the Palestinian people, I could care less for their political establishment. To some degree, this is what I was taught by a majority of the American and Jewish public. At least that's what I thought. But that was long ago.

I lived in Israel for a year. I was on a Zionist program. I wrestled with Zionism, and found that I could be a Zionist while also feeling compassion for the Palestinian situation. When the term "Zionist" is used in a negative context, I am disgusted. Because I see it as nationalism, and as pride. For what we do have, and the idea of what we want. I won't go into who I see as "we."

So I am a Zionist. But still, where do I stand? My views in fact became a bit jaded while living in Israel and learning and experiencing the reality of the situation. I began to feel a connection to both narratives, and felt sorry for the situation as a whole. But I didn't see it going anywhere.

This is where the position that I began the class with and I still have was born. I believe that until major changes are made in the political and social institutions that represent both parties in the conflict, there is no way we can achieve peace. I would love peace, but as I have stated numerous times previously, I don't see it happening. So I want to make the best of what we have. Create a status-quo that is habitable. Create stability until there is actual evidence that the two parties want change. That evidence is not yet transparent.

With this class, my position has in fact strengthened. I love the dialogue that we have engaged in, and I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing the opinions of others. This is good. It is step one. But, where do we go from here? I don't know. I feel that it is very hard to move on when we hear other opinions, but we still identify them as "other opinions."

This post is all a bit gloomy, but I think that is the reality I have come to accept. I love Israel. I love Palestine. I love politics. I want to learn more about them, experience them more, and continue to pursue a greater understanding, but I am not quite sure why other than the fact that I cannot stay away. It's too exciting. Maybe I'll find the answer in the next step of my journey.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March 28

One issue that I have had quite a bit this semester is the whole question of "so what?"

I thoroughly enjoy learning this material, and I think it is hugely important that we (as Jews, Christians, Muslims, pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli, pro-peace, pro-security, neutral, etc) learn and understand the giant balagan of the situation. We may never understand, but we must try. What I have struggled with is   answering my questions. I am unable to find answers to the hard questions. Where are we moving on the matter by just learning it? What about peace negotiations? I have further set in stone my belief that there won't be 100% peace in the region, with the matter, so I keep asking myself why is this worth it?

What can we actually achieve by just discussing. Why aren't we acting? How can we act? I hope that this will all get better, but I honestly don't see it happening. So i return to my idea of idealizing the status quo.

I will say that I only see this politically. I try to look beyond the religion, because it won't actually define anything, and won't get us anywhere. Political boundaries shift more fluidly than do religious ones. So my issue is - why are we focusing so much on the culture? Does learning about gender and sexuality issues, or music (besides the politically themed songs) actually help us understand the already incredibly difficult to understand Israeli Palestinian conflict? Or does it just complicate matters.

I have loved learning all of these topics, but I wonder if we focused on just the greater issue and thought on the big scale, could we actually achieve greater things?

So often, with peace negotiations, we try to figure things out without discussing Jerusalem. The thought is to get everything else down, then talk Jerusalem. But maybe we should start with Jerusalem. You can't uproot a tree by pulling on it's leaves... you must start at the strongest (albeit most difficult to manage) part, and move on from there.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Interesting film

Check out this trailer for a documentary about J Street. It offers a glimpse into an AIPAC alternative. An alternative that I think will be better for Israel in the long term.

(I don't have permission to embed the video here, sorry)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reading Response

The websites of the different LGBTQ organizations were very intriguing. The cause of LGBTQ rights in Israel and Palestine is clearly an interest of the more liberal-leaning side of the political spectrum. And this alignment along the spectrum brings up an interesting thought. So often in Israel/Palestinian politics, we align ideas and issues along a 2 dimensional political spectrum. Yet as we dig deeper and deeper, I find it hard to see such a distinct spectrum. The left/right alignment of LGBTQ issues are not necessarily parallel to security issues, or humanitarian issues.

This idea is one which I tend to find myself struggling with quite often. Whereas in US politics, I find myself very left-aligned, when it comes to Israeli/Palestinian politics, I am all over the board. I find myself to be very pro-humanitarian issues (left) but more center-right when it comes to security. These two identifications don't necessarily agree with each other. But I think this way because to me, security is a short term issue, meaning that it is crucial that people are safe now. But, humanitarian concerns create a difficulty, because it is sometimes hard to protect people without appearing to be violating the rights of others.

But back to LGBTQ matters in Jerusalem. I think it is clear that the number of activists in this field are growing in Jerusalem, but because of the sheer nature of Jerusalem, as an incredibly religious city, I unfortunately do not see the LGBTQ community becoming as large or accepted as it is in Jerusalem. While I don't agree or necessarily understand why this issue is not as accepted by those following "traditional" or "religious" teachings, cultures, or lifestyles, the two just don't seem to fit together.

I was in Jerusalem during the 2011 Jerusalem pride festival. It was an interesting image. First, I did see Arab Palestinians as well as Israeli Jews. The colors of the parade did not quite seem to fit with the image of Jerusalem. Such an old image, with faded colors, mixed with the bright, progressive colors of the movement. It was a challenging image. It was exciting, but it made me wonder how far the activists could really get in Jerusalem. The work that LGBTQ activists are doing in Jerusalem is beginning to grow in Jerusalem, but where do they hope to get? The number of Ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews who opposed, verbally and even violently, these movements, is saddening and challenging. If this group in becoming a growing majority, is the fight even worth it? Or should the efforts be focused on other locations where theres more possibility for success?

I don't necessarily agree with this idea of giving up, but in the grand scheme of things, I see it to be fairly similar to to the idea of a two-state solution. Can the proposed solution of an international Jerusalem be seen as giving up? This idea is often seen as the best (although proponents of this are lessening) choice for a solution, but I think the reason it won't ever work is because both sides would be winning, but also both would be losing.

So where do we stand on the conflict, and where do we stand on LGBTQ issues? What can we do for either? Can this ever be solved?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reading Response

These stories were very insightful, as they allow the reader to hear and even imagine themselves to be part of a first hand account. Hearing of the life of a Palestinian, living in such hostile land, is really something that is not possible in other places. A few important things that I noticed.

Children. Throughout much of the readings, there are references to children. Whether family or just children in the neighborhood, they are always there. And I think this is important to notice, because so often, we look at a conflict as one between adults. Or maybe between nations or groups, but always fronted by adults. But the children are always there. And while the idea of using references to children is a tactic used in conflict argument (it is always possible to bring the general public to your side by mentioning the "work you are doing to better the lives of children"), it is also important to note that we cannot just treat them as a part of society when debating the future. They are a vital part, an individual part, and any negotiations and actions taken now, by adults, will affect their lives.

I also found it interesting how Saud used such an iconic image as the gas mask right from the start. This imagery brings into focus the reality, the immediate threat that the conflict poses. As the story builds, the image of families in gas masks remains, no matter what they are doing. because of this, the greater image of daily life is altered.

In Saud's preface, an idea is mentioned that I agree with greatly. "I don't think I ever understood or, for that matter, forgave my parents, or the hundred of thousands of Palestinians who fled their homes in 1948, until my husband and I had to flee our home in Ramallah..." This idea is very important. While a huge part of the conflict, and the future of the conflict, is how those outside of it believe to understand it, we never can fully understand it unless we live it. On this thought, I think it is important to remember that a third party (the US, the UN) can play a role in trying to better the situation, but until both sides make great steps towards a solution, nothing will actually change.