The first few days (or weeks/months) I am in a new place, especially a new place that is totally different from anywhere else I have been, I go through a whole series of 'duh' moments when I realize something that is probably totally obvious to the rest of the world, but that I had no clue about.
One of the biggest 'duh' moments I have had since arriving here:
There are lots of Jews in Jerusalem.
I can not understate how surprised I am by this. Now, I am sure to the rest of you really smart people, this is super obvious, but to me - I am still a bit confused. Here is logic - there was a negligible Jew population in Israel/Palestine until the beginning of the 1900s, and it took until after WWII, when Israel was recognized as an official state by the UN, that large populations of Jews were able to settle in the area. Before then, the area was populated almost entirely by Arabs. Soooooo.. I just figured that there would still be super large Arab populations around. Not so much. I mean, don't get me wrong - there are many Arab neighborhoods and such in Jerusalem, it is just surprising to me how few. For example, Hebrew University, one of the largest and most well known of the Israeli public universities, only has 4,000 Arab students out of 24,000 students. This wouldn't be AS surprising, but I have been told several times that this is actually one of the HIGHEST percentages of Arab students in ANY university in Israel!
Additionally, according to Wikipedia, Jerusalem has a population of about 750,000 (its the largest city in Israel, and the poorest, too), of which 64% are Jewish and only 32% are Muslim, and a mere 2% are Christian.. so there are over twice as many Jews as there are Arabs in the city. This is also interesting considering that the Arab population has a MUCH higher birth rate than the Jews. So where did the Arabs (aka Palestinians) go? According to the directer of my program, they are mainly in refugee camps - they have been forced out of the area by wars that range back to 1948. Since land seized by Israel in the 1948 war has never been returned to the Palestinian population, and many Palestinians refuse to give up their claim on the land, most Palestinians have stayed in these refugee camps over several generations, and are the only population on earth where children born to the refugees are able to politically maintain their refugee status, and thus their claim on land that is still occupied by Israel.
Complicated stuff. And the more I understand, the more complicated it gets.
* I am totally stealing the 'captain obvious' from my friends Jeannie and Alex. ;)