Alumni embarks to Middle East despite risks

“A once friendly city turned angry and scared, shocking me to my core.”

Instead of spending a semester in a country in more popular countries like Germany, Ireland, Norway or Japan, Hope Grigsby, once a bustling student at Concordia, immersed herself into one of the most controversial places for an American to travel in this current day: Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Traveling solo as a 20-year-old college student, Grigsby took the risk of immersing herself as an American student into a foreign community in an effort to better understand the daily challenges and nuances of life behind an Israeli and Palestinian conflict. She became one of the few non-Jewish students to study at the University of Tel Aviv.

“During the early months of my arrival, the conversation regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict or land disputes was not only shut down, it was studiously avoided,” Grigsby said. “Neither Arabs nor Israelis had any serious interest in discussing these conflicts as most were simply trying to get on with their lives with as little hate and bloodshed as physically possible.”

Yet for Grigsby, it was only a matter of time before she would realize that this side of people was merely a mask. Her whole world was about to change.

Grigsby arrived in the beginning of October in 2013, and the last of her studies concluded the following August. Upon her arrival, she went there hoping that she would experience what it was like to live in another world culture, yet throughout her stay in Tel Aviv, tension between Gaza and Israel gradually began to increase. It was during these moments that the notion of a peaceful and thriving green oasis in the middle of the desert were challenged as the reality of the situation, often leaving her concerned for her own safety.

“While temperaments were polite even friendly and inviting the first nine or so months I lived in Tel Aviv, the rise of Hamas shattered this world,” Grigsby said. “What once had been friendships now turned into a segregated cafeteria, fear around the corner, arguments in the middle of campus, protests, vandalism and rock throwing.”

With tensions rising between Israel and Palestine in the fight to win over Gaza, Grigsby often faced confrontation by some of those that she met in school with many pushing for her to take sides, even though she attempted to avoid getting in the middle of the situation.

“It wasn’t my battle and I didn’t want to take sides,” Grigsby said. “But at the same time I found myself conflicted with my Arab friends who were watching their world fall apart. Suddenly the conflict became very real as some of my Arab friends lost friends, family, homes and their livelihoods.”

It was in these moments where her friendships were the bind to cope through the chaos in hopes for survival, not only for Grigsby, but those around her as well.

“The hardest part was pretending to play it cool for my friends and be the comfort they needed all the while freaking out on the inside,” Grigsby said.

In an environment where you are in constant fear for your life and those around you, the will to have bravery, courage and the willingness to fight is top priority.

“I remember coming home one day from school in the middle of the conflict. When we opened the door someone had written, “‘Go back to your own lands you terrorists,'” Grigsby said. “I remember how angry this made me.”

Without protection from the American embassy, Grigsby was left vulnerable to overcome any challenge she may encounter. Despite this fact, Grigsby took a stance to protect herself and those she cared about around her.

“Less than three days later, my Arab and Muslim friends were rejected from entering the bomb shelter. They told them at the door that no Arabs were allowed in,” she said. “That they would just kill everyone eventually because they were all evil land thieves who only wanted blood. And I raised hell. I refused to tolerate discrimination especially when it put their lives in direct danger.”

To this day, Grigsby’s journey to Tel-Aviv has transformed her aspirations to be a voice for those without a voice. Now a college Alumni, Grigsby’s visions to be an advocate for change has brought her to living in Jordan, where she is currently studying for her doctorate degree and becoming involved in peace organizations.

“I always dreamed of making a difference in the lives of people living in harsh conditions, specifically the Middle East,” she said. “That is why I am here. I want to get to know the culture, the way of life and understand it so that one day I might be able to give a voice to those who have been silenced for so long.”

This article was submitted by Sarah Lundquist, contributing writer.

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