Mariah Proctor is currently studying at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies

I wish that I could tell you that in my time in the Middle East so far, I have taken advantage of every moment and become one of the most up-to-date people on everything that is going on in this conflict outside of my window. I wish I could say that I have ceased to find bliss in my ignorance and became anxiously engaged in the cause of becoming an informed citizen of the world, but let’s be honest—yesterday was the first time since I’ve been here that I cracked open any kind of current news source.

My finger-graying, deliciously crinkly, old-man-with-a-pipe worthy newspaper of choice was The Jerusalem Post. I flipped through it, casually pretending like I’m one of those oh-so-experienced newspaper readers who knows exactly what story they’re looking to read, when a large ad caught my eye.

Entitled We have nothing to be defensive about, but’ the ad was an attempt to “set the record straight” and was essentially a hate letter to all Arabs in Israel and anyone in the world that might support them. It said things like “the Arabs have no rights to our land and certainly not the fake Palestinians'” and “this masquerade, this hoax, must be exposed for the big lie that it is.”

I felt violated by the hostility and stupidity and intolerance of the ad, but found solace in the fact that it was just that; purchased space in a paper that didn’t necessarily represent the publication or any kind of significant portion of the population. My eyes scanned the articles just above the ad and I saw the headline; “Arabs shouldn’t live with Jews, Shas minister says.” The article talked at length about how Israel’s Construction and Housing minister Ariel Attias said that “we can all be bleeding hearts, but I think it is unsuitable [for Jews and Arabs] to live together.”

An ad from a tiny irritable group of Israeli settlements is one thing, but to hear an actual person in a place of authority say something so outrageous and bigoted was absolutely mind-boggling to me. I understand the tragedies and terrorism that have led to Israel’s security measures, but reading the paper felt like reading a Nazi newspaper in the Germany of the 30s.

I’m sure the above makes me sound nave, but learning the ins and outs of this conflict begs the question; “why can’t we be friends?” I heard an American boy in Amman say that any American who is pro-Israel has never been there.’

I can’t stomach investing myself in either side of this conflict because both peoples have known nothing but oppression and neither is willing to give a little for the other. There have been countless resolutions for peace (I have rhymes and pneumonic devices to remember all of them now). I think that’s what the vast majority of people here want; peace and to be treated fairly, but the extreme ends of both ends of the spectrum hold everyone back from a resolution. Hamas won’t even acknowledge the existence of Israel and some Zionists won’t allow Arabs to live in their precious homeland.

The more I know, the more I know that I don’t know. It’s hard to see the separation wall and know that Palestinians are dying because they’re denied quick access to hospitals. It’s hard to look at the Haram al-Sharif and know that the Jews’ dream of rebuilding their beloved temple is nigh unto impossible.

I’m starting to feel the weight of this opportunity very heavily on my shoulders. Having the knowledge of the gospel and being wealthy enough to travel to this land and become a part of everything here and being blessed with the freedoms that are guaranteed me by my homeland puts me in the top point zero zero two percent of the world and I’m starting to wonder what stewardship this knowledge and experience is going to come with.

I don’t have a solution or conclusion to all of this. I’m merely thinking out loud in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure in my skull before it explodes, but as this independence day is coming to an end I want to say how grateful I am to have been born into a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. We have no idea what we take for granted in America and I’m learning that more acutely every day, and there must be more that each of us can do. “As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free; his truth is marching on.”