This is Part One of a 4-part series which documents the recent first-hand experiences of this author inhabiting the West Bank of Palestine, Jerusalem, Israel, and The Dead Sea area of the Middle East.

I entered the Middle East during the first week of December. I had heard about the tensions of this region only through limited sources, which proved to be ill-informing of Palestinian life.

In college I was a reverent student of politics. Dr. Stephen Roper was my professor for International Relations. He was a vivacious, down-to-earth character who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 90s, participated in the drafting of the Moldovan Constitution. Roper’s passionate instruction helped to deepen my infatuation with world affairs and law.

However, this infatuation would soon lead to disillusionment. During a Public Opinion course, my heart sank when I learned about the political tactics of using propaganda to manipulate public opinion. I learned that we, the ordinary citizens of this world, must dig deep to find truth and integrity.

I could not “un-know” what I now knew, especially as I went on to work as a congressional liaison for a national policy- influencing organization. In advertising and politics I watched propaganda at work. I witnessed fear and division being served to the public for breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the individuals and institutions we entrust to make the biggest decisions affecting our lives.

I vowed to no longer live in a blindly trusting, sheepish sort of way. I vowed to get more curious, and to uncover truth through first-hand experience.

There was one truth I felt sure about. It was a deep knowing that we, the people, have more in common that what we are taught to believe by propaganda. With this inner knowing as my compass, I recently crossed the border from Israel into the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank, a mostly Arabic community.

I rented a spacious apartment in Bethlehem, Palestine, which was just a short walk from the West Bank Barrier, a wall which has separated Israel and Palestine since 2000.

On the Israeli side, political commentary convinces the public that the Wall is for public safety and freedom to worship as they wish.

My friend of more than a decade lives in Jerusalem, Israel. She was born Jewish-American and is now considered an Israeli citizen. When I told her I would be staying in Palestine she said, “The Arabs (of Palestine) are “bred to hate and kill.”

I was not convinced. I know in my heart and soul that there is no truth in extremism. To make such a claim about any ethnicity is the same extreme mentality responsible for all genocide.

My friend is not an extremist at heart. None of us are. We do, however, live in a world in which our leaders feed extremist ideas to the public, manipulating public opinion towards an ignorant prejudice of our fellow humans (most of whom we have never even met).

The Israeli Military restricts Israeli citizens and Palestinians from crossing the border to mingle with one another. Some exceptions are made in special circumstances. Most of my friends on both sides of the wall explained, “I cannot go to the other side. The Government will not permit it. I wish I could.”

My pal in Jerusalem who told me how Arabs love to hate also told me that she had never actually spent any time in Palestine, during her entire eight years in the Middle East. She had no first-hand experience with what she was telling me. She only repeated the propaganda which had been fed to her by the leaders of her religion, government, and media.

I was not immune to this propaganda either. As I crossed the border into the West Bank, I felt fear deep within the cells of my body as I secretly prayed to be approached by no Arabic man. I was afraid – not because there was something to fear – but because I had been programmed to feel fear, division, and prejudice.

In the next installments of this story, I will introduce you to the many friends I made in the Middle East. Their identities vary from Arabic-Muslim, Arabic-Christian, Palestinian-Jewish, Israeli-Jewish, Israeli-Arabic-Muslim, Israeli-Christian, and on and on.

I will take you on this journey with me – a journey which elucidates how identity means nothing, heart means everything, and the world is not as it seems.