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My relationship with Israel has been long and evolutionary. Growing up as a Jewish child, Israel to me was an inherently Jewish country, universally accepted as so, where people ate hummus and spoke a language I only barely knew how to read. I grew up loving this country, not out of patriotism, but perhaps because the flag bestowed a symbol so iconic of my own identity, even thousands of miles away. I was 18 when I realized that not everyone loves Israel the way I had. 

Stepping foot on a college campus, I saw banners reading, “FREE PALESTINE,” and people shouting words like, “occupation,” and “apartheid,” things I had never associated with my beloved ancestral homeland. My relationship with this country has been in flux since. With one foot on either side of the issue, I frequently grow tired deflecting the criticisms from both camps, never really fitting in. Trying to remain objective and rational often feels like a losing battle in a conflict that has spanned over centuries and is intrinsically political at its core. Even simply to name the topic using the words, “Israel” or “Palestine” are sources of fervent contention. Needless to say, my pursuit for truth and for peace has been a difficult one. However, this lifelong mission is inextricable from who I am, the goals I seek, and the career path I chose.    

As COHI leadership on the Peace Through Health Delegation, peace is personal. This delegation allows me to be involved with a necessary and delicate process, without having to be political or take a side. I’m combining my love for the region and its people with my passion for health care as a means of social justice. I’m seeing this place from an entirely different and new perspective, a refreshing perspective that is much needed after years of hearing the hopelessness and cynicism that typically underlines the conversations about the Middle East. Our team of delegates are visiting hospitals, clinics, NGOs, individual professionals, patients, mothers, children, in Israel and the West Bank. We’ve traveled from Tel Aviv, to Ramallah, to the heart of the Jordan Valley and the Negev desert to observe and learn as much as we can. Going into this, I have allowed myself the gift of neutrality which is not at all easy. But I want to be optimistic that our delegation will show the rest of the world that health care can be (and already is) a platform for cooperation, partnership, conflict resolution, and peace. 

In the mere 24 hours prior to me arriving, after I had already boarded my plane to leave Austin, two acts of violence took place in the region. Rather than leave out of fear, we will stay here with confidence, knowing that what we hope to accomplish is needed. For these events, while tragic, only reinforce our delegation’s purpose, and motivate me even more to pursue peace through health.