[Alumni Reflection] Clay Middleton: “Building tolerance and increasing understanding”
Being selected as a delegate to the West Bank and Israel in 2012 with the ACYPL provided me with great exposure to a culture and perspective that can best be appreciated in the flesh. The experience challenged my beliefs with respect to faith, philosophy, and politics– something we could all use once in awhile.
Spending quality time with intelligent, focused, and determined peers with different backgrounds challenged my thought process, made me a better communicator and listener and, frankly, allowed me to measure where I am personally and professionally. Engaging in open and, at times, heated dialogue; interacting with political, faith, business and civic leaders and community groups; and building relationships and friendships have enabled me to be better informed. Doing such in an international setting is a class of living history and thinking forward.
While with the Palestinians, I wanted to lock arms with them. They explained their suffering and provided examples of the progress they are making. The hundreds of checkpoints that exist on their side is like the US declaring martial law when no threat exists or like a governor having state troopers and the National Guard checking IDs at exits off the interstate. The growing number of Israeli settlements within the West Bank is an act of imminent domain. Israel can claim West Bank areas without due process in the name of their best interest. As a minority, I sympathized with the Palestinians.
While with the Israelis, I wanted to sign up fight for the Jewish State, move to Tel Aviv, and vacation at the Dead Sea. These people are bold, with a clear vision, and focused on protecting their land and the people within its borders and growing their economy. The Israeli people are not standing idle until a peace agreement is made with the Palestinians. For me, this was a sharp contrast between the two. The Palestinians seemed to be looking backwards and playing the victim rather than be progressive and creating a robust economy.
I find myself having more questions than answers as I reflect on this experience. How can a region of the world with such deeply rooted religious history be so torn? I thought the basic foundation of religion is supposed to bring people together. What possible good can come from this complex situation?
What I do know is that the future of any country lies in the development of their children and the investment made in exposing them to others. Building tolerance and increasing mutual understanding and respect in the middle of such a sensitive environment is a difficult but important task.
The Palestinian people captured my heart, the Israeli people captured my mind, and both raised my interest in seeking common ground for peace and laying a strong foundation future generations can build on.
Clay Middleton is the South Carolina State Director for Hillary for President.