Day 1: We went through a complete second security check at the gate in the Philadelphia airport to get on the plane. In Tel Aviv, some of us were held up for a bit at customs and asked questions about our group, which has 18 students and 4 teachers. They asked me my father’s and grandfather’s names. From the airport we went to the home of T. Melissa & T. Jon’s friends. At one point they mentioned that there was a huge market for American clothes in Israel. Not surprising, as Israeli consumers are eager just like Israeli business people to emulate their counterparts in America. The father of the household mentioned that with this transfer of industries also came the same negative effects, especially the increase of the divide between socioeconomic classes. Israel is such a young country that for the most part they are experiencing growth in their business sector, but if they continue to follow the model that we know to be unsustainable, then they are blindly following the same exact path on which some say we are too far down. We took the bus to Jerusalem and crashed at the hotel afterwards.
Day 2: Today was the first full day in the country. We toured Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount. We walked around Old City a lot, seeing most of the Via Dolorosa – the way of the cross – and went to the church built on the spot where Jesus was believed to be crucified (though there are several spots that are believed to be that). This was one of the most intricate and dark churches I’ve ever seen. It made me realize just how much religion can weird me out. We ate a lunch of shwarma or falafel in a small café. We then listened to a presentation on settlements and house demolition and went out on a bus tour to see with our own eyes these realities. It has been well established by all countries except Israel that the settlements are against international law, yet no one does anything about it. Those who have the power of these laws are the only ones who would ever dare go against them, though even America has looked down upon these practices on paper. In reality, America is not doing anything regarding limiting Israel’s actions in the West Bank. We were talking amongst ourselves on the bus about how a one-state solution is the best way to go for everyone’s benefit, but at this point, there is such a feeling among many Palestinians that they have been wronged to such a level that there is no way for them to assimilate into Israeli culture. On the other side of that, the Israelis would feel that that solution would contaminate their Jewish state. On top of that, there would still be a clear race division that would play a role. Speaking of a Jewish state, that is such a strange concept. I can appreciate a place that is intentionally meant for a specific group, but when it gets to a point where it is hostile to any other group, especially a group that is native to the land, then it gets out of hand. Many believe that Obama is waiting for a second term to more forcefully push any communication between the two parties, so that if and when he hits a nerve in the process, there’s not much anyone can do, since he’ll be out soon anyway.