When I was at school, we had one lesson about the Israel-Palestine conflict but as it was just one of the conflicts we learnt about no one really thought much about it. We certainly didn't consider it a conflict that was relevant and still ongoing.
Apart from that one lesson, I didn't hear much about Israel and Palestine until I joined the SOAS football team in my second year at university. I went from not hearing about it at all to hearing about it all the time. However I continued to ignore their persistent and somewhat irritating insights and opinions on the conflict as I reasoned that as there are so many problems in the world, it hardly seems justified to harp on about just one of them.
Indeed I suppose I deliberately decided not to learn anything about Israel and Palestine, as it seemed such a 'commercial' mainstream conflict to follow. This continued up until I heard that we were going to actually go and visit both of the countries last September. Even then though, I still decided not to learn or read about the history and reasons for the ongoing problems. This was in large part because I felt that the image that I was presented was more often than not that the Palestinians were a marginalised and abused people, facing incredible oppression. Hence I decided that rather than rely on the media for supposedly 'trusted' information and an unbiased account, that the best option would be to see things through my own eyes and form my own opinion.
Before we had even entered Israel, the dogmatic questioning faced by Omar and Jo (the Lebos on the team) had not entirely endeared me to the border guards. However, in reality the border guards were just doing their jobs and due to the tensions, they were justified in doing their job dutifully albeit to the extreme. When we arrived at the bus stop from where we would get a bus to Tel Aviv, the refusal of the locals to talk to Jo and Omar when they asked them questions disgusted me and unfortunately only hinted of things to come. Throughout our brief time in Israel, I felt uncomfortable and uneasy as Israeli Defence Force soldiers were everywhere. The interviews that Jasper and Matt captured with Israelis in Jerusalem demonstrated some despicable viewpoints, which disgusted me. Presumably however, some similar views must also be held by Palestinians. Indeed since returning from the football tour, I have joined up to some Palestinian groups on the internet and at times their vehemance for the Israelis and opinions also shock me.
It is only through these online groups that I have experienced outright hatred for the Israelis. Indeed when we were in Palestine I was amazed at the fact that everyone we met preached peace, a desire for an end to the conflict and oppression and accepted an Israeli state. It was in Palestine that I realised the daily oppression they must face whether it be from the numerous check points, the threat of settlers coming to town centres and the visible settlements at strategic points built on Palestinian land. The wall also seems a bit oppressive.
The Palestinian people really impressed me with their outlook on life and their desire to control their own destiny without Israel controlling them and their movements. Since the tour, I have tried to spread the portrayal of the Palestinian people that I experienced that comes from first-hand experience and not from possibly biased media outlets. This has been somewhat hard though as I have been living in Zanzibar where only a very small minority of the people I have met have even heard of Palestine.
My greatest success so far has been whilst I was in Zanzibar studying Swahili. I had training every day with a team in the Premier League, and before every match we would go and have lunch together. All of the players always ordered Coke, and would offer me a Coke as well. When I refused, they were surprised and asked me why I didn't want one. I proceeded to tell them that by buying Coca-Cola products they support the Israeli state. Unfortunately, however, they had never heard of Israel and Palestine. I therefore embarked on a long explanation about apartheid South Africa and the politics of racism. After an epic 15-minute monologue in Swahili, I concluded '...and that’s why I don't drink Coca-Cola products.' After an unimpressed short silence, I added 'Also - its bad for you before playing football'. Although people kept on drinking their Cokes, this apparently had the desired effect, as the next week the players were only allowed water and juice before the match due to a mysterious 'doctor' concluding that Coke is bad for you before playing football!
While I was originally skeptical about the Palestinian movement, the only conclusion I could reach from what we experienced is that the peaceful movement should be supported to try and bring an end to the Israeli oppression.