I've been trying to figure out how to articulate what it feels like to be here on this delegation. I’ve come up with a rather unlikely comparison, but one that fits nonetheless. Newton’s third law of physics states: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Meaning, here in Israel & Palestine, just when you get comfortable or confident on one side of the issue, someone tells you a story, or a news headline catches your eye, or a friend’s Facebook post comes across the feed, and suddenly the pendulum swings to the opposite side, over and over and over again.

 If you think you’ve figured this conflict out, think again. What this delegation has taught me is that the situation between Palestine and Israel is so much more complex than just the simple two sides we’ve given it.  Different perspectives are peeled back with each day of our delegation, and just when we begin to feel cynical and defeated, we meet someone who inspires us because they embody the peaceful cooperation we’re all searching for. 

 I wrote previously that being here on this delegation would allow me to get involved with a peace process without being political. I spoke too soon. Everything about this place is political because people are emotional. There is real pain in this part of the world and people have experienced real suffering. To try and remove politics from the conversations at times feels insensitive, as if we’re not recognizing the difficulties and adversities that people face here on a daily basis. It’s tricky to parse through the politics, but this doesn’t mean there’s no hope.

This past week has shown me an Israel I have never seen before, and for the better. We have met with someone or some organization each day that believes peace and coexistence can exist and they’re making it happen; from Israeli and Palestinian physicians who operate together to save a child’s life, to midwives who want to empower women and give them the care in pregnancy and birth they deserve, to volunteers crossing checkpoints so patients get their diabetes medication on time, let alone at all. People want peace here.  So what’s stopping this from happening?

This delegation has me thinking a lot about the conflict at large, not just the issues or possibilities in health care. The obstacle to peace is the history of this place, leading people to take hardline ideologies as the result of too many failed peace agreements, too many intifadas, too many rights denied under occupation. On a simple level, Israelis and Palestinians can be friends, colleagues, and even allies, but the system as a whole has let them down, and now people don’t want to believe that their neighbors have mutually valid points and mutual interests.

What this delegation has helped me grasp, is that recognizing the human rights of “others,” doesn’t mean jumping ship or the abandonment of your own rights; Sympathy and acknowledgment of others’ pain, doesn’t take away from your own. It’s complicated here, I’ll admit. In a place like the Middle East, it’s so hard not to take a side, fit in a box, and live in the black and white. Life is often much more clear this way. But the only way to peace here, is to talk to one another, help each other understand, and being here I see first hand that this can be facilitated through medicine and health care. Peace and coexistence is happening!

One belief that keeps coming up with everyone we meet, and the message I want to convey to the world from this delegation, is that disease and illness do not discriminate, sickness knows no borders, and that our enemies are not each other.