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  • Writer's pictureVinny Viaje

Acknowledging My Ignorance

Ask me why I think people should travel more and the only answer is to live a different perspective. One of the more memorable moments in my travel life was when I realized how sheltered I was to different realities, and how ignorant I became because of it.


I consider myself well educated. In high school, out of a class of 410 students, I was in the top 5% bracket. In University, I graduated a few tenths of a point shy of cum laude while at a top 50 university. Educated as I was, it was a punch to the gut when I was speechless in an argument, not because of my lack of knowledge, but my lack of empathy in understanding.


A few years back I was at a hostel in the capital city Bucharest of Romania. I was taking a break from the road for a few days to unwind on my own by binge watching Netflix in the enclosure of my curtained-off bottom bunk. Two days deep, I decided I needed to mingle and get my mind working again. I dive off the bunk and into the common space where there are a sea of unfamiliar faces from through out the world: two girls travelling from Germany, a guy from Israel, a girl from Yemen, a Romanian who was currently the host at the hostel, and a few other internationals. We were all casually pouring a few back, moving through music, and talking about whatever swam through our minds. Then it happened.


The Israeli approached the pretty girl from Yemen and introduced himself. As typical conversations go, I’d say this was as typical as they get with introductions of name and birthplace. However, something interesting happened. The girl from Yemen had no idea where Israel was. And after some clarification from his side, she concluded that what he actually meant was that he was from Palestine.


Being ignorant to her point of view, I thought that she was wrong, and just as confused geographically as I was in regards to the boundaries. But she wasn’t wrong, or confused on the matter. Right and wrong is taught to us at an early age based on what our society deems it to be. As a girl she was brought up in an Islamic society who has supported the rights of Palestine since day one, and perceives the Israelites to be a terrorist organization currently occupying rightful Palestinian territory.


This struck me. I was taught since an early age in history class that Israel is one of the greatest allies of the United States. How can one of the greatest US allies be a terrorist organization? How can SHE be so ignorant to the fact that what she was fed her entire life, as fact, can be so far fiction?


Of course, the Israeli guy did not take this well. As a youth, he has been on the side of Israel. Since childhood, he has known that at age 18 he would enter the military, not to fight, but to defend the rights of his home, country, and countrymen. To DEFEND his freedom, and his people’s freedom.


My ignorance kept me from listening to her argument, and only made my side with the Israeli. How can I go against what I’ve known to be truth? How can facts be false? How can Israel not be a country, let alone be a terrorist organization?


It took me quite some time to gather my thoughts on all of this, and to be honest; I am still not sure what I think. How much arrogance do I need to have to decide who is right or wrong in something so distant from me? What I do know is that both sides are suffering losses. People are dying on both sides over territory, which, at face value, seems barbaric. What I also know is I am still ignorant; maybe we all are to some certain extent. But how can one lose their pride or give up their home, to stop the loss of life from people who are considered an enemy?


Sometime after this hostel debacle I had the privilege of visiting that region of the world, spending a night in the city of Tel Aviv, and another night in the city of Jerusalem, where I had yet another moment of clarity. I was couch surfing in Jerusalem with a man who was 1 of 28 families that traces their roots thousands of years to that very city. His mother greeted me in the Arabic tongue, so my first presumption was that he was of Palestinian decent.


I asked him of course if he was Palestinian, and what his take was on this situation. He told me that his entire life he has been an outsider. His passport marks him as an Arab living in Israel, but he considers himself neither Israeli nor Palestinian. He is a Jerusalemite. His life he has seen the Israeli occupation of his home, the generation before the Jordanians, before that the British, the Turks, and so on and so forth. He is living in his home while being occupied by the Israelis. He takes no sides but when people try to take his home, his properties that have been in his family for hundreds of generations, that’s when he sees things to be wrong.


People have offered him tens of millions of Euros for his family’s apartment in Old town Jerusalem, but they have denied the countless offers because for them, a home is all they have left. A home is worth fighting for, but when two sides fight for the same home, who is right and who is wrong?


So I ask you, when will our own ignorance be deemed wrong? How can a just world justify the taking of one’s home over another? When will fact be the truth, and love trump pride?


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