Voices from abroad; views from campus
It’s a 12-hour flight from the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv to New York City, and from there, it’s at least a seven-hour car ride until you see the sun rise over the three rivers and 90 neighborhoods that make up the city of Pittsburgh. Nearly 6,000 miles away from the lands of their parents and grandparents, it is here that Chay Machluf and Hadeel Salameh are students on the campuses of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, respectively.
They go about their days just as you do: studying, sitting through hours of class, relaxing with their friends, and participating in campus culture. Nothing sets them apart from anyone else — nothing, that is, except for their unique perspectives that make the news that we read every morning much more real.
I wanted to seek out voices that know firsthand what this polarizing Palestinian-Israeli conflict looks like, especially given that it has received so much attention in Pittsburgh after Conflict Kitchen sparked controversy with its Palestinian menu. I wanted to seek out student voices to describe the view from the ground. Israeli and Palestinian respectively, Machluf and Salameh sat down with The Tartan to give us a glimpse into their worlds and how their experiences can inform a campus.
Machluf is a junior exchange student from Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, studying electrical engineering and physics at Carnegie Mellon University for a semester. He’s tall, with thick dark hair, glasses, and a sense of intense intelligence.
At age 25, he’s older than most juniors, whether they’re from India, Japan, or the United States.
He’s not 20 going on 21 like the rest of us because when he graduated from high school, he spent the next three years in the Israeli Defense Force, like every other man over the age of 18 living in Israel. He worked with engineers during his term, and through that experience, was exposed to what would become his passion: electrical engineering.
“I love the concept of engineering as an idea: to acknowledge a product and turn it into something useful,” Machluf said. “I didn’t want to do mechanical engineering because it’s literally just the reinvention of the wheel. I want to be in unexplored territory.”
Machluf was drawn to Carnegie Mellon from Jerusalem, his hometown, which he calls “a very diverse place with lots of people from all over the world.” It’s hard for him to live in the present moment here in Pittsburgh, though, knowing that back in Jerusalem, his family remains in the midst of the conflict. “I know that the situation back home, in Jerusalem, isn’t the best. It makes me sad to know that my little sister is hesitant to use public transportation because of the fact that rocks are being thrown at it. It’s difficult not to be there for my family, to be unsure as to whether or not everyone is safe and out of harm’s way,” Machluf said.
Though he was initially worried about the culture shock that he would experience as an Israeli living in the United States for an extended period of time, Machluf has found that life isn’t that different at an American university compared to an Israeli one, despite what consumers of the sensationalized media coverage of his home country might think.
“I have a similar mindset to many of the people here. I’ve been able to connect with people who are as passionate as I am. The professors speak the same language as me: science.”
Part of what’s made the transition easy for him, he says, is the incredible Jewish community in Pittsburgh. “It’s been refreshing to be away from the tension and stress. It’s one of those things you don’t realize you deal with every day until you’re removed from them. I miss home, but Pittsburgh has been wonderful to me — I really feel like I’ve been welcomed by the community and the people,” he said.
But, all the same, there are still stark, noticeable differences.
“The media here is very different from in Israel, which is understandable. Sometimes, I feel like information about foreign events is shut out and all the information isn’t given, and everyone just reacts in the way that they do based on what they believe and their opinions,” Machluf said.
He stressed that despite the heresy, he “doesn’t necessarily agree with the actions of my government.
“No one agrees with them all the time regardless of where in the world, but the one thing I do know is that violence only leads to more violence — it hardly ever gets you the result you want. Just last week, a man was killed and several others were hurt when a terrorist ran them over with his car. Some of the papers only reported that the police shot and killed an Arab man, disregarding the reason for the action — neutralizing a terrorist.... There are so many versions of what’s going on. I don’t really think these [Americanized media versions] can be accurate, really. You can’t, really. It’s always more complicated than it seems.”
There is a small but flourishing town in Palestine, near the Jordanian border called Bidya. It’s more of a village than a town, with a population of about 8,000 people.
But among those people are the grandparents and countless cousins of University of Pittsburgh senior creative writing major Hadeel Salameh. Salameh travels to Palestine every summer to visit her family, but returns to Somerset, Pa. where she and her family make their home.
“For me, Palestine is the definition of beauty,” she said. “It’s so beautiful because although the people there are so economically poor and living such challenging lives, they’re always so happy, always smiling. The attitude of the people is so upbeat, so resilient all the time.”
Salameh says that when she returns from her trips to Palestine, she takes advantage of her privilege to make a difference. “I always come back, and I’m inspired to make a difference here. There are a lot of people, adults and young adults, there trying to do something about their conditions, but they can’t. They’re too restricted, she said.”
Her eyes light up and her hands gesture swiftly as she describes the plight of her family and friends in Palestine: fighting unreasonable laws that allow a two-year-old to be jailed for 20 years for throwing a rock, protecting a historic and religious landmark, and figuring out how to go to school on a campus that is riddled with rubber bullet attacks and tear gas canisters.
She stresses, however, that this conflict is just a small part of her identity as a Palestinian-American. “For years, I’ve struggled with my identity and my culture, what it means for me to be a Palestinian-American one generation removed. But it gives me a nice perspective,” Salameh said.
On campus, she serves as the president of Pitt Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization that promotes awareness of the disparity of justice in that area of the world. They work to hold events on campus that focus not on from where someone comes, but rather how people of different backgrounds can work together to achieve peace.
“People are always asking me what I think of Israelis. And I tell them that what I think of them is what I think of Americans, of Palestinians. They’re all people,” Salameh said. “It has nothing to do with people.... Palestinians and Israelis, for the most part, do not hate each other. It’s a political fight about land and expansion.”
Salameh is working on a novel about Palestine, and says that she wants to stress to the world that Palestinians are just people who want what everyone wants: security, happiness, and opportunity. “Sometimes, politics get in the way of us realizing that.”