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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Dreaming of reality

I remember the first time I saw the wall in a dream. It was about five weeks after I had relocated for the summer through the Center for Social Concern’s International Summer Service Learning Program and I was finally feeling confident enough in my daily life that it was becoming my dreamscape. The adjustment had ups and downs and as anyone who’s been abroad knows, culture shock can be very real. But then there were other aspects of life in the Jerusalem sphere that made my adjustment difficult in a special way.  For example, my work commute wasn’t something I figured out by using Google Maps: Maps doesn’t acknowledge the wall and just advises me to walk right through it. This wall, the wall that formed one side of the playground of the summer camp I worked at, the wall that cut the street I lived on in half, that graffiti-covered wall that appeared one day in my dream, is the separation wall constructed by the Israeli military along most of the West Bank.

I should have been excited that I was so comfortable in my “new normal” that even my dreams were adjusting. But I woke up from that dream immediately startled that this looming structure was becoming familiar to me — I didn’t want to see the wall as normal. Because if the wall was normal to me, it felt like I was accepting the reality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as normal. And I didn’t want to accept the reality of a structure that separated my new friends and coworkers from their families, rights, economic opportunity and national identity. I didn’t want to accept the reality of a structure in violation of international law.

After that dream I began to ask different questions of the world around me. I wondered if the elementary-age kids I was working with were also dreaming about the wall. I thought of what caring lies, if any, the mothers guiding their children through the checkpoint must have told them to make the situation more comprehendible for toddlers. If taking the special settler bus to my work on a Palestinian farm made me angry, how did the man I worked for, who had seen five settlements built around his land during his lifetime, feel?

It is easy for me, currently typing away in a cushy, publicly-funded library, to vehemently deny that conflict and poverty should be seen as normal. But for people who are oppressed, politically or economically, it can feel like a privilege to give this denial of normalcy because the daily lives of the oppressed are inextricably interwoven to the systems that oppress them. My heart felt weighed down this summer when the brutal realities of the occupation were shoved in front of me and into my dreams. But I’m still burdened by the weight of the privilege of living where there aren’t watchtowers over playgrounds and home demolitions down the block.

Right now I am three weeks into my semester abroad in Germany, where separation walls were torn down before I was born. I might live in a postcard landscape, but my ISSLP experience has made me think much differently about my new home. Maybe I don’t live next to the wall anymore, but my bus to classes drops me off at a university square that has seen Nazi book burnings and nowadays, there’s a good chance I’ve ridden the bus next to someone who voted for the rising right-wing party. Even if I was back at Notre Dame this semester, how could I ignore the fact that our University is built on property that used to belong to a group of people forcibly expelled from their land after spending a summer interacting with people forcibly expelled from their land?

Whether in Bethlehem, Heidelberg or South Bend, we are all surrounded by the realities of oppression, and it is a privilege when we get to go through our daily lives without thinking about this. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Learn about the Nakba. Find out what events cultural student associations are holding and go. If your hometown is also resettling refugees, what can you do to support them? The world will only be a better place if we help educate each other and act on the weight of the privilege we wear.

Last week, my language professor told us that we should be excited for when we get so comfortable in our new home that we dream in German. How lucky I am that I have this to look forward to, and how hard does the privilege of that anticipation push me to keep learning how to better live in solidarity and give myself to others.

Katherine Fugate


Sept. 26

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.