For once, I will not be getting intoxicated this New Year's Eve. That is because early tomorrow morning, at 10:46am, I will be boarding a flight for Tel Aviv, beginning a ten-day educational trip to Israel-Palestine with the Olive Tree Initiative.
It will have been exactly a decade since I last set foot in the region.
The circumstances on the ground will have drastically changed, as has the nature of my trip.
In my last journey, made during the dying days of the Second Intifada, I encountered a nation locked down under the (purely) psychological siege of suicide bombers and ready to brutally retaliate against the "existential threat" of Palestinian militancy, whether from the secular Fatah or religious Hamas.
Today, with most of the "Separation Barrier" (or "Security Fence," per Israel, completed), Israelis not only are freer from violence than they have ever been in their state's tumultuous history but they have become ever more detached from the troubles of the Occupation. The experience of the Intifada, however, continues to embitter many, even on the Left, towards Palestinian nationalism. As a result, the silent majority of Jewish Israel cares about doing nothing to change the status quo.
On a personal level, my political orientation has changed from Zionist to non-Zionist in the course of time.
Since I traveled with a Jewish Day School on my last trip, I was naturally immersed in a traditional Zionist milieu. We traveled only to sites associated with Jewish history (e.g. Jerusalem, Masada, the Palmach Museum), avoiding even rest stops in Palestinian towns. The maps we received showed an "Israel" that encompassed towns like Hebron and Schehem, from the river to the sea...
This trip, I will be traveling with a Conflict education group, dedicate to equal exposure of both sides. In the course of 10 days, I will traverse Israel-Palestine, warts and all, from the Separation Barrier to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Western Wall to the Golan Heights.
Through it all, I hope to gain first-hand observations that can substantiate (or challenge?) the nuanced positions that I have acquired through years of research on the subject.
I hope everyone has a happy New Year and hope to have lots to discuss on my return.