For the Migirditch family of Huntersville, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is personal.
The family recently learned that a foreign exchange student they hosted two years ago had to flee the West Bank territory with his family.
Husam Farraj, who came from a Palestinian Muslim family, spent a year with the Huntersville family. As tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians continues to escalate, the Migirditches are trying to spread awareness about the conflict.
Although the recent conflict has been centered in Gaza, the conflict has affected Husam’s family on the West Bank. Husam’s uncle, Abdul-Razeq Farraj, is the administrative director of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, a grassroots organization that helps Palestinian farmers survive under occupation. He has spent nearly 14 years in Israeli prisons and on Feb. 25, Israeli Occupation Forces raided his house and arrested him again.
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Husam’s host mother, Susan, said it was eye-opening to see a kid dealing with the incredible weight of living under oppression.
“And his reaction to experiencing life here free of water restrictions, abuse at checkpoints and knocks on the door that take a family member away,” said Susan. “Although we come from very different backgrounds, we learned so much about each other’s experiences and views. Husam … became very close to our Jewish neighbors, as well as many other friends and family in the U.S.”
Susan gets frustrated when she thinks about the United States’ role in supplying weapons that are used in the conflict.
“These are our tax dollars funding this insanity,” she said. “We … wish more people had a clearer understanding (of the people involved). (Husam’s family) is a peaceful, loving family that has harmed no one. There are so many more just like them, but they are being erased and too many of us here in the U.S. don’t know the realities of the situation, or care to.
Her son, Sam, now a mathematics and physics major at Appalachian State University, considers Farraj his brother. He started learning about the conflict while preparing for a high school debate.
“Personally, I’ve traditionally held a moderate view towards the conflict, believing that both sides had done horrible things to the other in an endless cycle of revenge,” said Sam. “Despite this, I still believed there were people on both sides who desired peace and saw through the generations of hate. For several years it has made a heartwarming story to describe how Husam, my neighbor and I were all sincere and close friends despite our differences.”
But, as fighting grows more severe, Sam finds it harder to remain neutral.
“What really disturbed me was a statistic from the U.N. saying that 80 percent of the people killed by Israel were civilians,” said Sam. “When I began to consider that my tax dollars are largely funding Israel’s military, I began to feel obligated to do something constructive: raise awareness, help refugees, anything.”
Sam is looking to organize a public forum debate on his campus to raise awareness of the issue, but he’s faced some hurdles in the process.
“Honestly, it’s been a bit of a harrowing experience,” said Sam. “I’ve faced a lot of opposition, I’ve been told that calling Israel’s actions into question makes me an anti-Semite and I’ve lost lifelong friends.
“But I don’t let that stop me because it’s nothing in comparison to the suffering this endless violence has caused.”