As UCF students Natalie and Ben sat facing one another in the John C. Hitt Library, the only visible divide was in the colors of the stained glass behind them. In Israel, their people are separated by a wall.
Natalie, a Palestinian, and Ben, an Israeli, both spent the summer in Israel during intense war-like fighting. They each came home with experiences that led to fundamental differences in the way they view the country. However, as they sat down with Centric Magazine to discuss their trips, it became clear that they were willing to bridge the divide between their identities despite the severing events in Israel.
Centric: When did you first realize how intense the conflict had become?
Natalie: I remember waking up at 3 a.m. to gunshots and screaming. Turns out, it was Israeli soldiers coming to search homes, and they would shoot all the people who would protest them on the street. This is all literally right outside my window. That’s when I felt the effects of war.
Ben: We go outside and it’s maybe the biggest mushroom cloud of fire and smoke I’ve ever seen, maybe a mile away. Not that I see those often. It was surreal. It was a rocket from Gaza in Sderot; the Islamic Jihad took credit for it. When you think of Israel, you kind of see it as this nice, relatively safe country. Then when you see this pillar of smoke and fire in front of you, you’re reminded that you’re in the Middle East. Forget Israel, it’s a —
Natalie: It’s a war zone.
Centric: Natalie, have you always seen Israel as peaceful?
Natalie: Developed? Yes. Peaceful? No. I will recognize that the government of Palestinian authority and Hamas — I don’t support Hamas — is not good. But you just can’t deny the lack of human rights in the way that Palestinians live because of Israel.
Centric: What were security measures like when you were traveling?
Ben: Security was really tight. I can fully acknowledge that it’s much tighter for an Arab-Palestinian than for an American Jew, but I was detained a couple times.
Natalie: In Israel, between every city I had to go through a checkpoint. At the checkpoint, we had to get out of the bus, show our IDs, show our Visas and we were asked questions. Sometimes they even set us aside for more interrogation.
Centric: How do you feel about the situation, now that you’ve experienced it first-hand?
Ben: This whole conflict is a shame. No matter what side. Deaths on both sides are disgusting, terrible, and need to stop. I would not value an Israeli-Jew life over an Arab-Palestinian life.
Natalie: I wholeheartedly agree. Jewish blood and Palestinian blood are the same. You have to realize, genetically, we are brothers. We have very similar ancestry, very similar roots.
Centric: What was it like coming back to America?
Ben: To leave that intense of a situation and come back here — it took some time to get used to. It’s so much easier to breathe here.
Natalie: Here, I’m allowed to have Jewish friends. We’re allowed to argue about it. Nobody cares. At the end of the day, I’m still going to shake Ben’s hand.
Ben: This conflict, this Middle East conflict — ISIS, Israel, Syria — it’s not on another planet. It’s right here. Between our summers; between Steven Sotloff, a former UCF student; this conflict is not that far away.
Natalie and Ben’s last names were not included for their safety in traveling to Israel in the future.
Be sure to check out A Personal Tribute to Steven Sotloff, written by Centric's fall 2014 art editor, Nada Hassanein.