Welcome to Ramallah- Day 10

Written March 13, 2017

Posted April 2, 2017

Today I went to a coffee shop with Muna and Maddie. We ordered hot chocolate and tea and talked about boys, school, and traveling abroad. If it weren’t for the guy with the Hookah sitting next to us, it felt a lot like a trip with my friends to the West Chester Starbucks. But it wasn’t, because Maddie and I are two Americans dropping in for a visit, and Muna lives in Palestine all the time. It’s confusing because we are so similar – just three high school girls hanging out. We focus on senior pranks, dances, and tests. The difference is that Maddie and I aren’t worrying about maintaining two residences just so we can keep the ID that lets us travel five minutes down the road. Maddie and I don’t need to worry about our classmates getting shot protesting. Maddie and I don’t need to worry about much at all.

The night before, while Muna did her homework, Maddie and I watched 27 Dresses with her parents. We found we shared a love for romantic comedies. We had popcorn and chatted about our families. We ate green almonds, which is the casing in which our almonds grow. We discussed politics and President Trump; it seems like everyone wants to talk about him. We played with their dog, who couldn’t stop jumping. We learned that both Muna’s parents work for a tech company. We talked about the languages we knew and wanted to learn.

These stories about my interaction with Muna’s family seem pretty random and everyday, but that’s the point. If you set aside politics, Muna’s family and my family have a lot in common. I don’t want to get so bogged down in complex and seemingly unsolvable issues of territory and identity that I forget to recognize commonality and similarity. Getting to glimpse the everyday lives of Palestinians helped me understand that while the politics are inscrutable, but the people aren’t.

-Jane Mentzinger


Build a Wall! Build a Wall! – Day 7

Written March 10, 2017

Posted March 29, 2017IMG_2065.JPG

Today we toured the Separation Wall, which separates Israel from the West Bank. It was supposedly built along the Green Line, which divided Israel and Palestine in 1949, but significant parts of the wall actually cut into the West Bank. According to Wikipedia, only 15% of the wall is in Israel or on the Green Line. Our guide said the wall was extended into Palestine to encompass Israeli settlements, but the configuration ends up isolating a lot of Palestinians, cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank. The Separation Wall was built during the second intifada, when there was a wave of violence. Israel calls the wall a security barrier against terrorism, and terrorism has dropped since it was constructed. Some people, however, believe the wall does more to promote racial segregation than it does to decrease violence. According the one of our guides, the wall doesn’t stop people from getting into Israel illegally to work. The determined wall-jumpers just wait for the guard to walk by, climb up a ladder, and use a rope to get down the other side. One of our other guides disagreed, saying the wall is very hard to get over. It’s difficult to figure out what’s really going on. Either way, at this point most of the barrier is actually a fence.

Graffiti and stories of Palestinian people cover the wall. I have included pictures below. The writing is hard to decipher, but it’s worth the effort to try to read the powerful and important stories. As we were walking back to the bus, I heard music blaring from the other side of the wall. Apparently Israeli soldiers play it to be passive aggressive. It seems so strange to me that a bunch of teenagers blaring their music suddenly becomes a political statement. It feels like here everything is political.

Talking about the wall while Trump is president is difficult. Everyone over here brings up his plan to build a wall along the U.S. – Mexico border. The comparison is clearly relevant and scary, but it’s important not to equate the issues that cause some to think a wall is necessary. The walls are being built for different reasons, under different circumstances, and in completely different places. I’m not totally sure that I can tackle both at once. One thing does seem to be true in both cases. As John Oliver said, “If you build a 30-foot wall, all it’s going to do is create a market for 31-foot ladders.”IMG_2046.JPGIMG_2033.JPGIMG_2063.JPGIMG_2077.JPGIMG_2038.JPGIMG_2035.JPG

Welcome to Jerusalem- Day 2

Written March 5, 2017
Posted March 27, 2017

After arriving yesterday evening at the Tel Aviv airport and having dinner with T. Melissa’s friends Orna and Rami, we checked into the Azzahra Hotel in East Jerusalem.
For some background, Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and now occupies it, although even using the word “occupies” would be controversial to some. Jerusalem has so much religious significance that its future is key for any peace plan. President Trump’s recent proposal to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was explosive, as this move would have signaled farther reaching U.S. intentions. Even after studying the Jerusalem situation in several different classes and in the pre-trip meetings, I still hardly understand it. Someone on the trip reminded the group of a saying that if you are here for a day, you can write a novel, if you are here for a week, you can write an article, if you are here any longer, you can write a sentence. The whole situation is too complicated for me to understand, let alone explain it to anyone else. The main problem in understanding it is that every word you use has some sort of political significance. Before this trip, I hadn’t realized that even calling the city East Jerusalem means something (many Palestinians call it Arab Jerusalem). In fact, it’s difficult to avoid making a political statement when talking about Israel and Palestine, which some would call the Palestinian Territories. The nuances in language can totally change the meaning.
Probably the only thing I can tell you for certain is that the Azzahra Hotel has really good hummus. Breakfast was at 7 a.m., earlier than I get up for school, but not a problem because most of us jet lagged travelers were up at 5 a.m. After a delicious breakfast, we headed off to the Old City.
It was only a short distance, and as we walked I saw more hijabs than I had ever seen in one place. I estimate about 75% of the women I saw wore them. I also saw more people smoking than I had ever seen in the United States. All along the streets, men would be leaning against shop doors smoking and chatting in Arabic.
Soon we reached the Old City. It’s hard to miss, given its high walls with crenellations on top and large towers. As soon as we walked in through one of its many gates, we immediately turned left. Our guide told us this turn was designed to make it more difficult for invading armies, a good counter measure considering that Old City has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.
The first thing I think of when I see Old City is those drawing paradoxes, where you try to trace some stairs going up but somehow end up at the beginning. The Old City is a maze, full of confusion and optical illusions. There are stairs down and then back up, arches at every corner so you can’t differentiate among streets, and a million different winding paths. Even with a map, I would have been hopelessly lost. Thank goodness for our guide, who easily navigated through the city.
Shops spill onto the streets. As we turn from one street to another, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if we are inside or outside. In between the places of enormous religious significance, which are everywhere in Jerusalem, there are tables piled high with fruit, little coffee carts, and shops filled with souvenir magnets and Jerusalem postcards. Dodging the shopkeepers, tourists, and residents, we manage to make our way to some of the Stations of the Cross, including where Jesus was condemned to death, flogged, crucified and anointed. After passing through security (metal detector and bag check), we reached the Western Wall. All along the wall, little prayer notes are stuffed into cracks and corners. I was moved by the obvious demonstration of faith and devotion. From the Western Wall, we can see the Dome of the Rock, but we won’t get to visit that until later in the week. It’s too crowded now.
Now onto lunch, which is very welcome. Information overload and culture shock have made us hungry.

-Jane Mentzinger



Before Israel/Palestine

I’ve wanted to go on this trip since 8th grade, when I took Middle Eastern History with T. John McKinstry. He had just gone on the trip and was telling us all about it. I remember sitting there and thinking how amazing this trip sounded. I was ready to stop sitting in a classroom and go visit these places. Unfortunately I would have to wait four more years.

The purpose of the trip is to learn about the religious significance of the region and the ongoing conflict. We will be visiting many religious sites along with sites of conflict, such as the Separation Wall and the Aida Refugee Camp. We will be talking with people from both sides of the conflict to hear their views and opinions.

Our many pre-trip meetings have provided excellent information. I feel so much more knowledgeable and prepared to delve into the region’s issues because of our research and discussion. I have been aware, however, that everyone in our group tends to see the issues similarly. That’s fine of course; it’s great to be traveling with people who share values and perspectives. But I do want to be careful that I never get stuck in group think or feel pressure to conform to a certain opinion. I won’t be a valuable contributor to the group if I fail to promote and respect independent thinking.

Something I’ve realized with the recent election is that some people fundamentally see the world differently than I do. It’s easy to become frustrated and angry and blast my political opponents with what I consider persuasive information. That doesn’t work. What I’ve tried to do recently is more fully understand what they think and why they think it. I’ve got to carry this new approach with me to Israel/Palestine. I can’t go in thinking I know how people should feel or act. People have lived different lives and have different perspectives. It would be incredibly arrogant to think I know how to solve the region’s centuries-old conflicts. I’m going there to listen to everyone with thoughtful respect. I will learn everything I can, and then come home and process the information. I will then be able to develop a much more enlightened and nuanced understanding of this globally important region with its rich culture and complicated, sometimes terrifying problems.

Jane Mentzinger