My Political Reporting Experience in the Middle East

Story by Rashika Jaipuriar; photos by Lindsey Sabado

Sababa.

That’s one of the first words we learned when my international reporting class and I landed in Tel Aviv, Israel.  It means “great” or “cool”— the hip lingo to express satisfaction with something. I could sum up my trip to Israel with one thousand “sababas.”

From Jerusalem to the Negev, from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip border, I saw more on this ten-day spring break trip than I could have ever imagined. Every single place we visited, and every single person we met, helped me reach new heights professionally and personally.

Jerusalem Old CityEDITED

Tempe MountEDITED

Professionally, I was able to network with local journalists and work on my own broadcast journalism piece. I covered the American Embassy’s move to Jerusalem, which was a hot topic covered by journalists all around the world and even went to the Knesset and interviewed an Israeli parliament member. Personally, I was able to open my heart and mind to new people and new cultures, and also reaffirm my passion for traveling.

It helps that Israel is the size of New Jersey, so we were able to cover a lot of ground in the short amount of time we were there. Our trip organizers, the Jerusalem Press Club, packed our itinerary with as much as possible, as they truly wanted us to see and hear many different perspectives. We met Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, religious and secular individuals—and everyone in between. Hearing stories from so many different points of views was important to me not just as a journalist, but also as a person trying to understand the world better.

Coming from the West, my ideas about Israel and Palestine were primarily centered around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Physically traveling to Israel helped me get a much broader and multi-dimensional view of the region and the conflict. In Jerusalem, people pray. In Ramallah, street vendors sell fruit and falafel. In Tel Aviv, young people go out to party. In Nahal Oz, a kibbutz – a communal settlement –  bordering the Gaza Strip, children attend school.

Banksy Painting in BethlehemEDITED

Life is not so different from here.  

Even though a lot of Western media focuses on conflict in the Middle East, there are many people who are just trying to live their lives and care for their families. One woman who lived near the Gaza Strip says that it’s similar to many other places in the world. Some places are dangerous because of robberies and car accidents, she says, while some are dangerous because of missiles.

One man, a Syrian refugee who was being treated at a hospital in the Golan Heights, says he just wanted to go back home, despite the ongoing war. He says he misses his family.

These experiences were incredibly humbling. Talking to people about their deepest, most vulnerable thoughts reminded me why I want to go into journalism. I remembered that beneath all the politics and policies and wars that we cover, there are real people with real lives who have stories to tell.  

I feel much more confident and prepared to pursue journalism because of this trip. It felt incredibly validating to tackle hard news, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the American Embassy move, and come back with a news story that I shot, produced, and edited. My skills improved as a reporter because I really had to step out of my comfort zone and ask a lot of hard questions. I even had to manage a language barrier at times. In fact, one of my favorite moments on the trip was meeting an older Russian woman in Jerusalem. She did not speak English and I did not speak Russian, making it a challenging interview. Yet she invited me into her home for tea and snacks, and we ended up spending over an hour together. I was touched by her simple act of kindness.

Before this trip, I tried to learn everything I could about Israel, and more specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I kept my eye on the news like a hawk. I met up with people who had traveled to the region before. I also spent Tuesdays and Thursdays in a class called “Pop Culture in the Middle East.”

Despite all this preparation, I soon learned this trip wasn’t like an exam I could study for. So much of what I learned came from just being present in the moments—expected and unexpected: So much of how I grew on this trip came from being open-minded and just saying “yes.” Yes, to international travel; yes to early mornings and late nights; and yes to tea with a random Russian woman.

Rashika Overlooking Dead SeaEDITED