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In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania it is:
MARCH ONLINE IMPRESSIONS EDITION
Israel: Whose land is it
I feel quite fortunate to
have actually visited Israel with my family. While I was only six at the time,
and therefore was left with memories that will have to be supplemented at some
later point, the things I do remember stick out. The most vivid memory is that
of sitting with my younger sister and being told by my parents that if we see a
toy or some strange object lying around, we were not to touch it.
They did not hype it up, but even as a child you often knew – it could
be a bomb.
Israel is a fascinating
place, regardless of any religious value you attach to it. History does not force itself on you; it is just there –
the feeling of age. Curious places
like the Dead Sea and the old city of Jerusalem are examples.
News items flourish, in a
country 54 years young, with the focus of attention being on a fight that has
been raging for well over two millennia.
What is the cause people
continue to fight for? Land.
are always talking of “revenge”, or “action taken in response to attacks
on…”, or “retribution”. As is often pointed out, there is no innocent
party here. Yes, there are
blameless victims on the ground, but the governments and
leaders directly involved, and those supporting them, cannot claim to be without
some blood on their hands.
As a lowly student a long way
from home, and further from the Middle East, I do not intend to point fingers.
Instead, I would like to offer up some insights and possible beginnings of
A recent article by BBC News
reported the refusal of over 100 Israeli reservists to serve on the West Bank or
Gaza Strip, territory, occupied by Israel since the war of 1967, which contains
many Palestinian settlements. Soldiers
claimed that they had “received orders and instructions that had nothing to do
with the security of the state and whose sole purpose is the perpetuation of our
domination of the Palestinian people.”
Letters posted to The Times
last August highlight some different thinking.
One letter suggests that the Israeli government and Palestinian officials
offer an invitation to the United Nations to move their headquarters from New
York to Jerusalem. Needless to say,
that would bring a good deal more attention to the situation by widening the
circle of world leaders with a real concern for the region.
Another letter draws
comparisons with the creation of Pakistan, which also occurred shortly after
World War II. Both countries were
formed in areas where the indigenous population had to be displaced to make way
for the immigrants.
While India was very
accommodating to the influx of Sikhs and Hindus, the Arab states ignored the
evicted Palestinians so they could use them against Israel.
Finally, one diplomatic
serviceman notes the unfortunate change in Israeli policy that led to the
approval of colonization plans for the Golan Heights, and later, other areas.
This colonial action certainly lies at the heart of the present conflict.
The irony is, of course, the current US support of such action
considering that the US has made the disassembly of colonial empires a foreign
policy priority for nearly 60 years.
Whatever steps are taken in
the future, it is clear that something decisive needs to be done.
Like the conflicts in Northern Ireland and what used to be Yugoslavia,
self-perpetuating hate attacks have roots going back further in history than
most people realize. The Israeli conflict has its roots well planted in the time
before the great kings of Israel: Saul, David and Solomon. Whilst the present situation – daily reports of the latest
element of another Intifada – saddens me; the situation could be a lot worse.
I truly believe that there can be a lasting peace in the region. This can be achieved not by some mass coalition of parties with mutually exclusive beliefs, but with a lot of patience, generosity, and forgiveness from all parties.
“Mi casa es su casa”: My home is your home
On returning for a second
semester at the University of Pittsburgh, I was embraced by a gust of chilled
air, a blanket of snow and towered upon by the grand and dominating skyscrapers
of downtown Pittsburgh. The striking serenity that snow brings to a landscape
filled my senses while traveling along the 28X route back to my dorm on campus;
but was a world away from the sun filled desert and mountainous regions of
Mexico, where I had been incredibly fortunate to pass my winter break.
Having been back in Pittsburgh for just over a week, I have
once again become accustomed to the sandy colored brick buildings of Oakland,
the lush green hills of Pennsylvania, orderly driving, and an American twang.
Everything feels so far away from the arid and dry landscape of the north of
Mexico, desert palms and small desolate trees struggling to survive under an
No longer surrounded by the
excessive beeping and skidding of cars in Monterrey, Spanish speaking tongues,
bold and brilliantly colored housing, an excess of Coca Cola advertisement,
cactuses, rodeos, the Volkswagen Beetle car, and of course, the picturesque
mountainscape; one thing still sticks out in my mind. Despite having visited
many wonderful sites, such as the Teotihuacan Pyramids, to the north of Mexico
City, I always believe it is people who make a place.
And in Mexico, this sentiment
is particularly striking. The importance of family and maintaining strong
relationships between family and friends is overriding. Speaking as an English
foreign exchange student in Pittsburgh, the strength of the family stands out as
a major difference between Mexican society and Western societies such as the UK.
Coming from a person who dislikes generalizations, this is still one factor that
can be distinguished. In a country where the term “dysfunctional family “ is
prolific to the point of being celebrated, and Jerry Springer type shows are
epidemic the strength of the family unit is very touching.
Family is the fundamental
entity around which everything is centered. Unlike in the UK and US where family
disputes can be allowed to override and allow for the breakdown of families, and
in which siblings strive to find and socialize with friends outside of the
family in a search for individuality and distinction; in Mexico, a friend of one
of the family is very much a part of the whole family.
Relations are much warmer,
and there isn’t so much of a distancing between strangers, often associated
with British reserve. The celebrations during the Christmas period were
emblematic of such associations. I attended numerous family parties – posadas
– where all family, extended family and friends gather to celebrate the
Christmas festivities, sing, drink, eat and be merry. And, of course, engage in
the piñata tradition, where I too, was blindfolded and made to beat a candy
filled vessel all in the name of…obtaining candy! It is true that such
gatherings continue in the US and UK, but it seems we are more concerned with
“keeping up with appearances” and putting on a show for extended family and
friends rather than truly enjoying our company. And even though these are merely
surface observations made in the space of three weeks, speaking to friends has
confirmed such convictions.
While the election of the new
President of Mexico, the divorced Vicente Fox is possibly a symbol of a
departure away from the strong tradition of marriage and family, this convention
runs right down into the ranks of the younger generation. While teenagers of the
US and the UK revel in adopting temporary superficial relationships with one
another, (another generalization I know), or celebrate their individuality, it
appears that “the couple” is still an important unit for Mexicans, young and
However, what I found to be
most striking was the open and genuine generosity of people, with friends
treating each other’s homes as their own, and addressing each others’
parents as aunts and uncles; and this hospitality was extended warmly and
sincerely to strangers and foreigners alike (like myself). Being unable to speak
much Spanish was no bar to being warmly welcomed into the family, and this
sentiment was not limited to my friend’s family with whom I resided.
Friends repeatedly told me I
made “Mi casa es su casa”. Often when phrases are continually and commonly
said, whether out of politeness or routine they begin to lose their true
meaning. No greater example is there than the “Have a nice day” phrase. Yet
coming from Mexicans, this was a truly genuine invitation.