June 2-3, 2012: Departing DC and Zurich, Switzerland!

Hallo aus Zürich! Dillon and I are sitting in Gate E of the lovely (but somewhat boring) Zurich Airport after our 8 hour flight from Dulles that left at around 6:00 PM EST (on June 2, 2012). Actually, the flight didn’t really feel that long, mostly because I was sitting with a lovely woman from Colorado who was telling me all about her upcoming travels in Zurich and her life as an educator traveling all around the United States and the world. I also got through a lot of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and watched “Beauty and the Beast,” which was being shown on the plane. I’ve got to say, watching it as a 19-year-old is really a whole different experience.

Anyway, we’re waiting in Zurich now on a four-hour layover before our flight to Muscat, Oman via Dubai. At least we get a little break before getting back on a plane for six more hours. Interestingly enough, the girls on the trip and Mark are on a totally different set of flights going through Frankfurt. We’re all meeting at the hotel in Oman this evening, where I’m sure we’re all going to collapse after a long day of travel. More to come on Oman once we land there, but things have been pretty uneventful today.

Saturday (June 2, 2012) in DC was pretty uneventful as well. Jake and I woke up around 9:00 AM, ran around the corner to grab some breakfast at a bakery, and then joined the group in the lobby of the hotel at 10:45 to start off our day. We met our hilarious cab driver shortly thereafter, a ridiculously funny man from Gaza who was able to drive with no hands (or as he said “Of course I can! I’m from Gaza!”) and kept us all laughing and kvelling over adorable pictures of his two little children the entire length of the trip to Georgetown for lunch at a cute French bistro.

At the restaurant, we had our first of what is sure to be many fascinating lectures from Mark. Today’s topic of choice: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and a Two-State Solution (with some undertones of the Arab Spring/Awakening in there too). It was really great to hear his take on the conflict following the unique approach to the situation we heard from Akram only an afternoon earlier. By Mark’s count, there are four entities at play here: a recognized Jewish state of Israel in the pre-1967 UN borders, a “runaway proto-state” of Jews in the West Bank (or Judea/Samaria as these settlers refer to it), a Palestinian would-be state under the PA in the West Bank, and a second Palestinian would-be state in Gaza under Hamas. Following this thinking, this is not an issue of a single Israel vs. a single Palestine, but rather two Israels vs. two Palestines. An incredibly mind-boggling thought thats adds a whole new dimension to the conflict that I hadn’t previously considered. Contrary to Akram’s argument that Palestinian Nationalism was not born until 1987, Mark argued that 1987 was a culminating point in Palestinian Nationalism, in which an agreement could have been reached where 78% of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea would belong to a Jewish State of Israel, while the remaining 22% would comprise a newly recognized Palestinian state.

So the question is now this: how do you move from four entities to only two? How do you reunite the two Israels into one and the two Palestines into one? Well, that’s the golden question in the conflict. If I had an answer to that at this point, I’d have a Nobel Prize. Alas, I do not. If I figure it out, you’ll be the first to know.

Mark argued that for the Two-State Solution to be plausible at this point in time, there must be “addition through subtraction.” But how? Does the Israeli government take the Jewish settlers out of the West Bank (or their Judea/Samaria)  and give it to the Palestinians? Do they just give up Judea and Samaria, and its settlers along with it? A large minority of these settlers are already angry enough at the Israeli government for even considering “de-occupation of the West Bank.” To this large minority, these Jewish settlements in the West Bank should be part of a future, enlarged Jewish State of Israel that would take up more than the 78% land-block previously discussed. A small group of them (that Mark has labeled the “red” group) have moved past the civil disobedience and protesting against the government promulgated by their parents toward outright violence toward the Israeli government, which they refuse to recognize. Can the two Israels be unified?

How can Hamas and Fatah reconcile? Reunification of the “two Palestines,” between Hamas and Fatah, has been tried and failed twelve times already and the thirteenth try is in the works right now. An Electoral Commission that sits in Ramallah under the PA has just been agreed upon by the two, but now they need to get on the ground in Gaza to determine who can vote to actually create and ratify a Palestinian constitution. But even if this were to happen, can a unified Palestine achieve the 22% land-block as previously discussed?

Again, I don’t know the answers. Nobody does, really. But that’s what this trip is all about, isn’t it? Starting to uncover the answers. Starting to piece together the puzzle and figure out what the Middle East is all about. For now, I’m happy just asking questions and taking it all in. I’ll tell you one thing – in just about 10 hours, I can’t wait to start getting my hands dirty and hit the ground running in Oman.

Safe Travels! – Jake

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