I’m back after a very adventure-filled spring break! It’s crazy to think that I’m in the final weeks of my year abroad- only two more weeks of school, and one week of finals until this semester is done. I’ll be busy working on papers and studying for exams this month, but will update as much as possible. I’m starting to think that I’ll just have to play catch-up with blog posts this summer- there’s still a ton of mini-excursions from this past semester that I haven’t written about, not to mention my trips to London and Morocco, and now Egypt and Ethiopia. Keeping this thing updated is like taking an extra class! I definitely have my work cut out for me.
Anyway, these few days back have been eventful already. Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day here in Israel, which was obviously a pretty big deal. I first noticed the impact when I returned from spring break a few days ago, only to find that there were Israeli flags everywhere– on dorm buildings, fences, poking out of cars, and all over campus. Yesterday, every one of my professors spoke about it. One made an interesting comment about the difference between the Remembrance day in Israel and in other parts of the world. In other countries, it’s more of a religious event, focusing mainly on Jewish people. In Israel, it’s much more nationalistic. The main ceremony at Yad Vachem (the Holocaust Museum) involves flag ceremonies, hundreds of soldiers, and heads of state. Every flag is raised at half mast.
I had also heard that there would be a moment of silence in the morning that day, but wasn’t exactly clear on the details. A friend that I met up with while walking to school filled me in on the process- a siren sounds throughout the country, and everybody stops to stand at attention. He described driving along a major highway on this day last year, where cars all came to a stop and passengers stepped out of their cars to stand for a minute or two together before resuming their daily lives. Sure enough, as I neared the campus, a tone began to blare from what seemed like every direction. It wasn’t the kind of siren that I had expected, like those that you hear during a fire drill or announcement. The sound was almost eerie, low and pulsating through the air. Every single person around me froze at attention, and cars stopped on the street before their drivers got out to stand alongside their vehicles. It was like being in a photograph. I did see one person continue walking in front of me, headed off-campus. This is one of the controversial aspects of the Remembrance Day- most of the Arabs, or Palestinians, don’t stand still during the siren. I normally try to empathize with both sides, but this is something that doesn’t sit right with me. While the Holocaust was a contributing factor which eventually led to the creation if the State of Israel (which many Arabs disagree with), this day marks the murder of millions of human beings, regardless of whether they’re Jewish or not. The fact that the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians prohibits some people from standing in remembrance of the victims is really unfortunate. This should be something that surpasses modern politics.
Remembrance Day was also notable because of the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I woke up that morning to my roommates excitedly discussing the news- “Did you hear that they got him?” I had my Radical Coexistence class that morning, in which my professor started off by discussing the implications of this recent news. Like many others, he questioned the American reaction of rowdy celebration. Coincidentally, we had just started talking about the role of justice and ethics in politics. He compared a tone of vengeance (which he described as ugly, but honest) to the tone of justice that was common when discussing bin Laden’s death. In his view, this type of language could be extremely problematic and confusing- could we speak of international justice or morality beyond state lines, as connected to some universal philosophy of justice? Is taking out bin Laden better described as an act of revenge than an act of justice? We spent a good part of the lecture just exploring the implications of the development.
The death has also had a noticeable impact on Americans in general. The day before the news broke, I got an email from the US Embassy in Cairo reporting that the travel warning had been relaxed for Egypt. It stated that things were calm enough for visitors to return to the country (except for the occasional large Friday protest in Tahrir), and assured tourists that things were back to normal. Only hours later, we received an email that stated the exact opposite. Because of “anti-terrorist actions” taken in Pakistan, it stated, Americans were to avoid places popular with tourists (and Americans specifically), and even went so far as to warn us to stay inside our homes and hotels until further notice. I thought that last piece of advice was a little bit of an overreaction, but it was strange to see how quickly a situation can change nonetheless.
Aside from that, there’s also the almost-daily updates on the Palestinian front regarding Fatah and Hamas, and Egypt’s growing involvement with the conflict. It’ll be interesting to see how all of this progresses- it’s been a crazy year already, and there’s no signs of things slowing down from here. As for me, I may not be staying in my “home or hotel until further notice,” but I will be working on papers (and updating the occasional blog post) for the next few weeks. Until then!