Back from a life-changing journey to explore his heritage, Adrian Fadil ’14 came away from his months-long sojourn to Israel and the West Bank with more questions than answers.
Fadil grew up in Manhattan, N.Y., the son of an American-born Jewish mother and Arab American father, in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.
“When I came to Davidson, I was looking forward to studying further my Arab and Jewish identities—that was what my college essay was about,” says Fadil. “But for some reason, when I got here, suddenly I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”
The English major spent several years immersed in the liberal arts, studying Latin and Spanish; then, in 2012, he decided to take a leave of absence from Davidson.
An aspiring writer, Fadil initially intended to use the time away to work on his novel about a man who travels to Israel for the first time to uncover the story of his grandfather. But a confluence of factors—including his interest in the environment, reports from his step-mother, who had recently visited Israel with a Palestinian Christian church group, and Virgil’s Georgics—inspired Fadil to experience first-hand life in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as to delve into the questions of identity he had subverted during his early years as a student.
Roughly the size of New Jersey, Israel and the Palestinian territories are home to nearly six million Jews and more than five million Arabs. Though diminutive in size, Israel’s borders encompass three primary religions and three vastly different cultures.
Fadil spent nearly six months in the region, landing in Egypt during the period of intense political upheaval known as the Arab Spring.
“I had two very different experiences. The first time I was on my own. Israeli border control shortened my tourist visa because, although my mother is Jewish, I am a young Palestinian-American who was traveling alone. Two months into my stay I was forced to leave the country.”
Fadil admits to being “a little impulsive. I think things through and then don’t listen to what I think,” he laughs.
Tumultuous end aside, Fadil spent most of his first trip farming, both at a kibbutz (agricultural collective in Israel), and at a farm in the West Bank, an area between Israel and Jordan populated largely by Palestinians and a growing number of Israeli settlers.
The farm on the West Bank is known world-wide more for its philosophical grounding than for its crops.
“It’s an educational environmental farm run by Daoud Nassar,” Fadil says. “They advocate non-violent resistance by way of reconnecting to the land.”
Fadil explains that, like many farms in the West Bank, Nassar’s is not connected to a water source. To irrigate the land and meet basic needs, farmers dig cisterns, which are illegal under Israeli law because the farmers don’t have building permits.
“I showered once a week for one minute,” Fadil says.
Fadil returned to New York, but with a strong desire to go back to Israel. He applied for and was awarded one of two student grants offered through Davidson’s Dean Rusk International Studies Program in partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.
The Pulitzer Center funds projects that focus on topics and regions of global importance, with an emphasis on issues that have gone unreported or under-reported in the mainstream American media.
Fadil’s project took him back to the West Bank to research on-site and report on ways that farmers have tried to maintain the viability of their lands under the duress of occupation.
The Pulitzer Center requires awardees to write three articles and produce a multi-media project. Fadil has published one article about Palestine’s budding fair trade olive oil industry to the Pulitzer Center’s website and is working on two others—one that will focus on Daoud Nassar, and a comparative article about the highly contested area of Sousia.
“There’s Palestinian Sousia—their homes have been demolished 13 times and they’re really just living off of international aid,” Fadil says. “And the settlements of Hebrew Sousia, which is a reformation of the ancient, biblical Sousia, are right next to it.” Fadil notes that the contrasts—the green grass and infrastructure of the settlements, visible from the tent encampments on the Palestinian side—are striking. Settler violence, including deliberate destruction of the Palestinian’s trees, wells and livestock, often goes unreported, Fadil notes.
Fadil learned a lesson that only time in the West Bank could teach—that the psychological toll of occupation is as powerful as any weapon.
“The Palestinians have been living under occupation for 65 years now so, what can you do? You have to try to move on if you want to live your life,” Fadil says. “It creates this veil of normalcy.” Fadil cites as an example requiring Palestinians who work in Israel to be at checkpoints at 3 a.m. every day.
He admits that coming back to the United States, and to Davidson, after witnessing life in the West Bank and learning about the complexities inherent in the conflict, was jarring. And he hopes that through his writing he can help to dispel ignorance and shed light on a place in the world that is too often portrayed callously and without context.
“Before I went, I had more knowledge about the conflict than most people; but most people don’t have any knowledge at all.” Yet, Fadil says, “I didn’t really know anything.”