When I was eighteen, I was fortunate enough to visit the holy land of Israel and stay in the heart of the bible, Jerusalem. I went in with wide eyes and a naïve and fearful mind and came out with a greater understanding of Israel and what it stood for. Within the first few days I started realizing a certain routine among all the religions that live together. Muslims were filtered in and out of Old Jerusalem during the days of Ramadan. There were walls separating the Palestine neighborhoods from the rest of Israel. Jewish twenty-year olds were already married and had children. Overall there was a clear separation from all the religions. Old Jerusalem was separated into three main religions: Christianity, Judaism and Muslim.
The first night my mom and I landed in Israel, my aunt stopped at a market on the street. Waiting in the car I noticed a man around my age dressed in an olive green jumpsuit carrying an IWI Tavor assault rifle while casually walking down the street. From inside the car, I locked my door and backed away from the window. I point the man out to my mom fearing and questioning her reasons for taking me to a dangerous place. She explained to me that in Israel citizens have a mandatory military service to abide to (no matter the religion) and it is normal for them to carry rifles with them. The explanation helped to understand the country but not to minimize my growing fears.
Israel had become a land of war for me. It had become a land where teenagers were rushed to create a family by their religion. It became a land where warfare was more important rather than the historic ruins surrounding them. It had become a land with such strong conflicting religious beliefs but couldn’t even put there differences aside to “love thy neighbor”. These perceptions were shattered for me, a foreigner exploring the holy land, with a single image.
While visiting Old Jerusalem, we entered a shopping center nearby. I sat in the mall waiting for my aunt just watching people going up and down the stairs of the second floor. There were columns surrounding the staircase in the center of the floorplan. I saw a young man, probably in his early 20s, standing next to a column. He was rocking his body up and down in a military stance. He wore an olive green jumpsuit with matching tie up boots and a yarmulke. He held an IWI Tavor in his hands and in between him and the rifle was a newborn baby strapped to his chest.
My preconceived notions by the media were clouding my perception of Israel. I was eager to fear rather than understand. The sight of a Jewish father protecting his country while caring for his family made me realize Israel isn’t about war, it’s about the importance of pride for family, country and religion.