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This is actually a true story about my living situation, and it is uncanny as to how much this parallels both the content of the peace studies course I took at AU last semester, and the situation here in Israel/Palestine at present. As one may have gleaned from previous posts, I live with Zack, a Jewish guy from New Jersey in room 107 of my building. We live amidst an interesting mix of other people, who I have learned more and more about as time has gone onwards. I will fill in more details over the course of this story.

When I first arrived in Jerusalem, there were two other American guys who were placed to live on the floor. I acknowledge that our floor certainly isn’t 5-star quality, but I also don’t happen to have their monumental sense of entitlement, threatening every Hebrew University employee they spoke to that first day that they would “call their parents and have them complain,” that they “weren’t willing to live in such a prison,” and other choice, “I’m a whiny rich kid” sentiments such as that. As per usual, the squeaky wheels got the oil – they were moved to the Student Village in about 2 weeks, as rooms opened up therein. That lovely pair of people aside, the rest of my floor was quite standoffish in their actions, as were Zack and I. I am not proud of this, but there was definitely “the stare” going on between everyone on the floor. From the very beginning, we figured out that our next door neighbors on one side were Arabic (from the talking we could overhear), and that our across the hall neighbor was probably Russian (he really looks like it, as well as listened to really loud movies dubbed in Russian with his door open). No one really said anything to us, and we didn’t have much inclination to speak to other folks on the floor so much (from this point on, I can only speak for my own inclinations and sentiments in our situation).

As time went on, my knowledge of Hebrew expanded from “Shalom!!” to have actually conversational skills, and my across the hall neighbor’s loud movie watching and video gaming continued. As my homework levels continually increased and his noise levels stayed at “really loud, approaching the noises of a war zone,” I finally decided I needed to speak to him about this. But, as a master of conversation (years of practice, several degrees and jobs in this field), I recognized that I should go in with some sort of positive topic of conversation. I know he loves computer games, something which I happen to enjoy as well. I came back from class one day to the sound of a war zone (one war-esque video game or other, with surround sound to add to the effect), and so I decided to pay him a visit. I went in and told him simple phrases, things like “I also like computers,” and “did you build this one?” He was really excited to learn that I too enjoy computers (it turns out that our respective machines are similar setups, and we both built them ourselves), and so we had a good conversation relying on my feeble Hebrew, his feeble English, and his computer’s English-to-Russian translator for assistance.

From my initial understanding of that specific neighbor as “Russian guy who likes video games but disregards the ability of others to do homework,” I now had a more mature understanding of my neighbor. He is actually a Ukrainian immigrant to Israel, and is studying statistics. He works for the IDF as a security guard for Jewish families near the archeological dig at the City of David (a predominantly Muslim area, which is an entirely different blog post), and loves video games and the like. Oddly enough, even though I learned all of that and understood him, he finished that part of the conversation by explaining to me that he actually dreams of being a famous chef (not what I was expecting, but more power to him). I also learned that he didn’t realize how loud his games could be with his door open, and he learned that I prefer to do my homework in my room. He turns the volume down, and keeps his door closed much more often as a result, and I had a friend on the floor (besides Zack) for the first time.

Just recently (a month ago at this point, I suppose), the Internet connection Zack and I were using in our room simply ceased to exist, and thus we were out of options for using the Internet in our room. This wasn’t doable for either of us, but neither was trying to get a connection set up in the middle of the semester: first, the Israeli company Bezeq is AWFUL and notorious for being such, would probably take a quarter of the semester to even set up the connection; and second, many abroad students at HU have had the hardest time canceling their Internet connections upon leaving and are charged for extra months after leaving. Therefore, we thought of the idea of somehow splitting the cost of the connection with one of the rooms around us, as their semester goes for a month beyond ours. Obviously we tried the room of my Ukrainian friend first, but he explained that he gets his connectivity through his cell phone company and so had no router. That settled it – time to finally introduce ourselves to our neighbors and see if they had a connection.

Later that week, we stopped by when they were home and spoke to one of them, explaining our problem. He introduced himself, and sympathized with our problem, telling us that we could simply use his Internet connection for free once it was set up (rather than letting us split the cost with him, as we wanted to do). We thanked him very much, and subsequently always greeted him when we saw him (although he wasn’t around very often for some reason). After several days, I ran into him as he was sitting in the common area and studying, so I decided to sit down and strike up a conversation with him. As it turns out, he is an Israeli Arab Christian (quite the mix, right?) from Nazareth in the north. He is studying nursing, as are several other Arabic guys on the floor, and this explained two things: they take all their classes at the Givat Ram campus on the other side of the city, so they weren’t around much; and they also worked a bunch of night shifts doing practical nursing as part of their problem, which explains why they like to be noisy at like 2 in the morning… they just woke up and are about to leave for work.

Just a few days ago, he and I managed to sit down and speak some more, and some very interesting sentiments came out of that conversation. I knew he was from Nazareth, and we discussed religion and the upcoming visit of the Pope in May. After looking at the Pope’s intended schedule, he told me “Michael, we’re both going to be sick on Thursday the 14th, so we can go see the Pope in Nazareth and then I can show you the churches there.” This is an amazing opportunity in several ways, and one I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t made friends with him due to my interest in sharing an Internet connection. He also explained to me (and these are his words entirely) that as an Israeli Arab, he is consistently and totally discriminated against by “security” forces, police officers, and soldiers. He also made the statement that he is willing to accept this, as he believes that his opportunities as an oppressed Arab in Israel are at least 10 times better than they would be anywhere else in the Middle East. Strong sentiments indeed, and ones I would have never heard from anyone if I hadn’t made friends with him.

This, of course, still leaves a bunch of folks I don’t really know. There is a pair of Russian guys who definitely give dirty looks to the Arab guys, and also seem to look down on the Ukrainian guy. The Ukrainian guy, while nice, does have the awful tendency of playing violent computer games with his door open and the surround sound turned all the way up… including last Friday, when about 30 Arabic guys had a prayer service in our common area and asked him to turn the volume down. I am friends with the Israeli Arab Christian guy, and perhaps he is the key to my getting to know some of the other Arabic guys – although to be fair, I make a point of saying “salaam” whenever I see them and receive a greeting in turn, but we have never sat down and actually verified that the other side is *actually* human (that is the most facetious statement in this whole post, by the way). I can promise you that not everyone on the floor will love each other at any point in the near future, but I would like to believe that if I have been able to break the ice in some ways, maybe other people on the floor can at least greet each other once in while (not even every day). Then again, maybe not – an unfortunate parallel to the real situation here.

And, having made those points clear, to emphasize the “peace studies” portion of the title of this posting, I am surprised to tell you that one of my peace studies courses from last semester was right on the money with one of the concepts it taught us. Called interest-based or integrative negotiation (and based on this book), we learned about the fact that it is usually much more successful to negotiate only in terms of what each party wants, in order to have a worthwhile outcome. This was definitely not the reason Zack and I asked around about a collective Internet connection; we just wanted the ability to use the Internet in our room again. At the same time, sitting down and talking with our standoffish neighbors about what we wanted and what we had to offer them (partially covering the cost of a commonly-desired good, an Internet connection) is sort of what integrative negotiations are all about. I know I didn’t like the loud volume of a certain neighbor’s computer, but it was the fact that I pursued quiet as a friend after sharing similar interests that I got it and didn’t make a bitter neighbor for seeming rude. Maybe this sort of negotiation could help refocus the situation here: there are a lot of people, with a finite supply of resources and space, and a number of locations which are valued by different religious traditions. Although not easy, perhaps an outside influence reminding the parties involved that simply hating the other side hasn’t work so well thus far could allow for this sort of positive, win-win type of negotiating between all involved parties. Simply some more of my musings on peace in this worn-torn land, with some personal anecdotes and evidence to back it up.

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