By Jemmie Tejeda, Clark University CAMERA Israel Trip 2014 participant
Weeks before embarking on my first trip to Israel with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, family and friends came together to advise me of the perils I would encounter on my trip to the Middle East. I remember a family friend volunteering to cancel my trip to Israel herself. The general understanding that I had of Israel was solely based on the various misconceptions that many Americans held of the Middle East. In fact, I envisioned Israel as a war torn state with little to no internal security and weak infrastructure. I recall arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on one of the hottest days of the summer. The CAMERA fellows that flew into Israel with me were all full of joyous chatter and excitement; thus, I pretended to be just as excited and bottled away all of my fears.
The moment I walked out of the Ben Gurion Airport, I fell in love with Israel. Our tour guide and bus driver were one of the most friendliest individuals I had ever met in my life. I remember gazing out of the windows on the bus on our way to the King Solomon Hotel in Jerusalem. While the rest of the CAMERA fellows were in deep chatter with each other, I took this time to observe every person, street corner, and landscape that passed me by. The elaborate and lavish architecture throughout Tel Aviv and Jerusalem caught me by immense surprise. The beautiful beaches, tasteful cuisine, and nightlife in both of these cities quickly made me realize how naive I was for imagining an Israel with none of these things. My trip to Israel taught me the danger of a single story. The only story I had of Israel was a story saturated with stereotypes and hate. In simpler words, one can never be satisfied with listening to one story. My CAMERA trip to Israel gave me the opportunity to hear beyond the single story I grew up listening to.
Moreover, the moment I entered the Old City, I quickly understood how privileged I was for being able to visit one of the most sacred places in the world. But most importantly, I became completely thankful for CAMERA. Not only did they free us of financial matters the entire trip, but they also introduced us to individuals who all had valuable stories and knowledge to share with each and every one of us. We met reporters, fathers, and even soldiers who trained us on ways to stand for Israel on our college campuses. The knowledge I gained on this trip about the Arab-Israeli Conflict was one of a kind. Not only was I able to visit the Middle East free of charge, but I was also able to hear important stories first hand. It became much more personal when I heard the story of a Jewish Israeli father who lost his daughter to a suicide bomber during the Intifadas. To gain this knowledge, I did not have to read a lengthy book, but rather I was able to hear the storyteller share his experience firsthand. In other words, it becomes easier to fight for a cause when the reasons for the fight are indisputable.
Although I am not of Jewish descent or have a deep connection to the land of Israel, I was able to comprehend the struggle just as much as the fight for the land of Israel and the Jewish people through my CAMERA trip. When the political becomes of greater importance to humanity, we seem to forget that we are all human beings. Indifferent of what side of the conflict we stand on, no human being should have to live a life running to and from bomb shelters or live in fear of suicide bombers while riding on a public bus. The support and thus fight for the land of Israel will only get stronger as long as organizations like CAMERA continue to exist.