International dialogue or international change?

On Friday, we met with two Palestinians who work with the Food Resource Bank, specifically addressing food access in Gaza. The details that they shared about both Gaza’s past and present–from the 51-day war in the summer of 2014 to the strife that comes as a result of severe border control–offers an entirely different situation from the one we see in Gettysburg. In Gaza, the stakes for survival are much higher, and their access to certain human rights is scarcer. I was surprised that coming to Gettysburg would even be of interest to people working toward better food access in a highly compartmentalized and war torn part of the world.

Yet Rafat and Rifka saw the connection between what they are trying to do with the people of Gaza and what the Painted Turtle Farm does with the migrant community in Gettysburg. If our practices were not necessarily transferable–I offered them the wonder that is hugelkultur when trees are extremely scarce in Gaza–our initiatives are certainly guided by the same principles and ideas. And it was also interesting to see where our communities did overlap. One of the main goals of Rafat and Rifka’s work is to get women in Gaza to start small, personal agriculture businesses in order to support themselves and their children. While this was of course due to the need for single mothers to make some sort of income, it was also interesting to hear the way Rafat talked about the work ethic of women in Gaza when it came to agriculture. It reminded me of the way that I tend to see more women rather than men tending to their plots on the Painted Turtle Farm, or even that women always outnumber men at ESL.

I feel that these similarities were definitely ones that the American liaison from the Food Resource Bank wanted me to find during our discussion. And all he really wanted to get out of the visit was a proper dialogue between us, Rafat and Rifka. In a way, I agree that discussions like the one we had are important in finding similarities in unexpected places and sharing our practices with one another, but I still couldn’t help but feel slightly useless. I could talk to these two highly educated, well-experienced people about their feelings regarding one-state or two-state solutions to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and I could share commonalities with our community in Gettysburg, but at the end of the day I’m not sure if they left with anything to really take home with them for practical use.

I understand that I can’t expect to offer the solution to food access in Gaza in one afternoon, but the conversation was striking for me personally because of how much work my brain was doing but how little impact it made. I was bridging ideas from the classroom–my time spent learning about the potential for Israel and Palestine to combine into one bi-national state–with issues of food access I had not considered before this internship–how the segregation between the states decreases food and water access for small Palestinian territories. But I couldn’t offer anything other than a more nuanced understanding of the original problem. While it has me excited about the international exchange of ideas in the non-profit world, and while I see what the Food Resource Bank liaison was saying about dialogue being the main goal, I still think dialogue can only get you so far–or rather, that this dialogue should be adjusted and pinpointed towards concrete action and change. I appreciated the cross-cultural exchange, but in the end I just really wanted to give them help even if it meant I took less away from the conversation.

Darren Spirk ’16