On Tuesday, June 19, 2018, it would have been my mother’s 98th birthday. I chose this day for my outbound flight from Tokyo Narita to Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport via Seoul Incheon, as my honor to her memory, since I like to think of her traveling around the world with me. She was supportive, although a bit concerned, with my first visit to the Middle East in 2011. That invitation was from the Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy to teach two sections of a graduate course in “Marketing Foreign Policy” at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a private Jewish university just outside Tel Aviv. In 2018, I was invited to lecture at the first international conference of the Policy and Conflict Resolution Studies Center at the Arab American University, the first private Palestinian university located in Ramallah and Jenin, West Bank.
Getting invited to lecture in Israel or Palestine is an honor. But trying to explain your acceptance of such invitations can take a little explaining. People want you to have binary thinking about Israel and Palestine. They want you to choose a side, either pro-Israel or anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian or anti-Palestinian. In sports, it’s like saying that you love the Boston Red Soxs and the New York Yankees. That’s incomprehensible. In the case of Israel and Palestine, it’s beyond sports rivalries. If only it were that simple. In the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, politics is a bloody sport, so if I have to choose, I’ll choose life, humanity, and people. And people like to have a place called home.
Right now there is no state, a permanent home, for the Palestinian people. They remain a stateless people living under occupation in the Palestinian Territories. Palestinian territories or Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are terms often used to describe the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, which are occupied or otherwise under the control of Israel. The world’s majority supports a Palestinian state that can thrive next to the 70-year-old state of Israel. I hope that I will see this come to fruition.
To arrive to Palestine, you usually go through Israel, as I did when I landed at Ben Gurion Airport. The trip was quite long–a few hours from Tokyo to Seoul, short layover, and then a 12-hour nonstop to Tel Aviv. An early morning departure at 09:00 placed me in TLV at a little before 21:00. My driver was Palestinian with an Israeli car tag (IL), which gave him authority to pick me up at the airport. Palestinian car tags (P) are not allowed. When I arrived, I saw my name “Nancy Snow” taped on the barrier that separates international arrivals from the people waiting. I went straight to my sign but there was no driver. So I taped the sign to me and waited for him to arrive. In a few minutes, there he was and off went. Now I thought it might get very exciting, but I was a bit too tired to be worried. I knew that we would have to leave the state of Israel and enter the OPT. But all that I noticed on my 45-minute drive was an empty checkpoint and a series of speedbumps, along with groups of Arab men sitting on chairs in front of businesses and homes. It was all quite peaceful and quiet. My ultimate destination was Ramallah, where I stayed at the Grand Park Hotel for the next four nights. My room was spacious and welcoming. The television had over 3,000 international films on demand, including Pretty Woman. I began to imagine a funny essay I’d write called “Julia Roberts is still young in Ramallah.”