Blake Students caught in International Crossfire

IScreen Shot 2014-09-30 at 6.20.21 PMSam Gittleman
lyssa Gainsley ‘16 boarded a plane in June, knowing its destination was a war-zone.

    While anticipation stewed amongst the students, tension swelled in the heat of the war zone in the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict.   This was the reality for numerous Blake students that traveled directly into the heart of the long-fought Israel-Palestine conflict.

     The modern Israel-Palestine conflict has been a significant global conflict since the mid-20th century, marked by the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel and the beginning of the first Arab-Israeli War.

     What originally started as a mainly territorial dispute between Palestinian and Jewish immigrants has since spiraled into over 20,000 dead between 1965 and 2013, leaving millions of homes destroyed and heavy international intervention.

     This year’s recent conflict was sparked by a combination of events;  both Israel and Palestine were accused of violating the 2012 cease fire agreement, and the West Bank was invaded in response to the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers.

    Over the years, Israeli and Palestinian forces have obtained thousands of missiles, rockets, and other weaponry used to carry out attacks.  Most notable is Israel’s Iron Dome, a device used to intercept rockets and artillery shells en route to civilian areas.

     As stories of civilian deaths continue to surface and the break of another cease fire and close-calls for rocket strikes become more frequent, one can’t help but wonder how Blake students felt before boarding the planes. Sam Gittleman ’16 said that, “The thought of what was happening was always there, but it wasn’t the main focus.  There was a lot of pride and coming together of the people of Israel, and everyone on the trip was excited to be there.”

     Despite the risks, Gittleman says, “We were told everything, and we were already watching the news so we were already pretty informed.  There wasn’t much escalation before the trip.”

     Elizabeth Ben-Ozillio, an English teacher that recently came to Blake after living in Israel, says Americans should be aware of the conflict in a bigger picture rather than just what the media portrays.  Ben-Ozillio says that the media’s “representation of Israel tends to be focused mostly on the conflict in the territories. I would even go as far to say it’s one dimensional.  Although this type of journalism is understandable, it rarely, if ever, paints an accurate picture of a country.”

     As tensions rose, students also experienced new safety measures to ensure the security of Israeli citizens.  Ben-Ozillio states she “grew to feel safer there than (she) does as a woman in the United States.”  Standard security includes getting bags checked, a lengthier airport security system, and seeing soldiers stationed with machine guns.  The Israeli military is also on guard 24/7 in order to keep its five million residents safe from danger.

     Besides the students’ worries, their loved ones had fears of their own.  One student, Danielle Pohlen ’16, flew home after sleeping through a bomb alarm.  Pohlen says, “I was so exhausted from being paranoid all the time so after sleeping through the alarm, I was scared something might happen to me.”

     Gainsley says that her mom “didn’t sleep for weeks.  It was hard for her to see what was happening on the news and believe that [she] was safe.”

     Gittleman says his parents “knew we’d be fine because of the Iron Dome.  I can see where they would be scared, but my parents weren’t that scared.”

     The looming conflict did not stop the students from enjoying their time and experiencing all that Israel has to offer.  From shopping at bazaars, visiting the Western Wall, being with friends, and soaking up the sun at the beach, there was a sense of adventure and fun to be had.  Favorite things included visiting Masada, the Dead Sea, hiking, Jerusalem, and being spending time with friends.