Coming to a Close

I am slowly realizing that my time here is almost over. Monday night we will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean, and landing back home. I must admit that I am looking forward to being home. This trip has been beyond wonderful and I have learned so much about this place and about myself, but it is down right physically and emotionally exhausting.  Everyday we are constantly moving from one place to another, getting different perspectives, and trying to make some sense of what we are hearing and seeing. This is one of those trips that you don’t want to go on forever.  It is just too much.

Even though our days are jammed full, there is so much more that I wish I could do. I went into this trip thinking of it as an introduction, and I still feel the same way. I have no doubt in my mind that I will be back, whether on a vacation or for an extended amount of time, I know that I will see this place again.

We are spending our last night in an intentional community between Israeli Arabs and Jews called Neve Shalom/ Wahat al-Salam (Oasis of Peace).  We got in around six and don’t learn about this place until tomorrow so all I can say now is how beautiful it is. I spent sometime tonight outside of my room and taking in the view. There is a beautiful vista of different towns and cities twinkling in the darkness. As I was looking out I thought about everything that I have seen and done this trip. In my first post I said that I didn’t really understand how my life was going to be changed. Now, I think I am starting to understand. It is very hard to put into words, but I feel as if I see the world more fully. Everything I have ever seen is put into context, everything seems relative to everything else.

Today, we had meeting for worship at Ramallah Monthly Meeting, and someone stood up and said at the end of their message, “Don’t forget about here”. That is, of course, easier than it sounds. I know that I will forget exactly how I felt on this trip, but I hope beyond everything that some little feeling will always be there and remind me that the world is so much greater than me.

John

The Limitations of Perspectives – John

3/4/2011

I am sorry it has been so long since I updated last. Since I last posted we left Bethlehem and moved to Ramallah to stay with families from Ramallah Friends School. I was a little nervous about being immersed in a group of people my age from a completely different part of the world. Yet, I quickly found that there was nothing to be nervous about. As soon as we stepped off the bus we were greeted by some of the students and they all came up and introduced themselves. Since the initial meeting we have started to get to know them better by finding connections, talking about our different cultures, and giving ourselves over to the concept that we are not all that different from each other.

We still, of course, are constantly on the move. Some of the highlights from this week have been visiting different parts of the wall, meeting Jean Zaru (clerk of Ramallah Monthly Meeting), meeting Hanan Ashrawi (legislator), meeting a settler, and visiting Jericho, the Mountain of Temptation, and the Dead Sea. Of course we have done much more, but there is simply too to put in one post.

What I have realized in my time in Ramallah is that I have no answers to this conflict. I am thinking back to the conflict resolution paper for Palestine/Israel that I had to write for one of my classes last year. I realize that if I needed to revise it after going on this trip I would throw the whole thing out and start again. I was blinded to the emotional and practical levels that play apart in this conflict. Of course, after two weeks I cannot fully grasp it still, but I have started to see the picture a little more fully.

Whenever I talk with someone about their opinions on the conflict here I have to remember the perspective I am seeing. I was talking to someone in Ramallah and they said that they hate all Jews. I didn’t really know what to say to that. I believe that is a narrow-minded and harmful thing to say, but at the same time I cannot tell him he is wrong because I understand why he said that. One of the things that I have learned on this trip is that every perspective (and there are many in this region) is both insightful and limiting. This man in Ramallah can see and feel this conflict in away that I will never be able to understand because I have not lived it. Yet, it is keeping him from understanding that not all Jews are bad and further still, not all Israelis Jews are bad. I have, of course, not only seen this from a Palestinian. Perspectives have hurt and helped Israelis we have met, other members of our group, and me. I see now that one person cannot truly understand this conflict. It is too complex and the emotions are too strong. If there is ever going to be a solution, all perspectives must open up and show everyone how they see this conflict, and must also be willing to truly listen and understand what everyone else thinks. Unfortunately this is much, much, much easier said than done. We all have our biases and we will stand behind them as long as we possibly can.

I hope to post at least one more time before flying home, but it probably won’t be until Sunday night.

Until then,

John

Quick Update

Since I last wrote we have been doing a lot of traveling. Yesterday we went to Nazareth  and visited the Church of the Annunciation and the Church of Mary. Then we rode to the Sea of Galilee and visited Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, and one more small church right on the lake (I forget the name). We got a chance to take some touristy picture by the lake and we all touched the water and such. The restaurant we ate at served St. Peter’s fish, so a bunch of us, including me, ate it. If you don’t know what it is, it is simply a type of fish caught in the lake that they stick in the fryer and serve with the head and all. To be honest I didn’t realize that when I ordered it.

We spend the night back in Jerusalem and in the morning we went to a church service at the Church of the Redeemer. Afterwards we had some time to do some shopping. Before I left my dad taught me how to haggle so I was excited to put my skills to use. Unfortunately, I think I let my dad down. I was too eager to buy a Keffiyeh. The man asked for 150 shekels and I got it down to 90 (about $30). I was excited that I got it down that much so I took it. I didn’t realize until after that it was way too much for what I bought.

In the afternoon we visited the organization, Rabbis for Human Rights and had an interesting talk with the executive director of the organization, Arik Acherman. Now we are all in Beit Sahour, a town five minutes from Bethlehem. Each of us are in pairs and staying with different families from the town. The family I am staying with is very nice. They have three boys who are 4, 10, and 15, and a daughter who is 18. They served us a very nice meal and then two of the boys asked Tom (the other person from our group with me) and I to teach them how to play Monopoly. We spent the rest of the night playing. They taught (or at least tried) to teach us the Arabic numbers every time we rolled, but Tom and I took a while to get some of them down. By the end, the game turned into chaos. We were all stealing each others money and finally decided to call it quits and go to bed.

طبتم مساءا (good night),

John

A Transformation of my Ideals (in under 48 hours)

02/24/2011

Let me just start out by saying that the two days since I last blogged have been emotionally exhausting and it is past ten at night here, so my train of thought may be a little off. We have been staying a Ramat Hashofet Kibbutz in Israel, and talked to mostly Israelis about their perspective on this conflict. Yesterday we spent the day with a man named David. He was not born in Israel, but has spent a large portion of his life here. He works with an organization called Givat Haviva which is a learning center in Israel that works with both Israelis and Palestinian to break down cultural barriers. David is a brilliant man and I learned so much about cultural history of the Jews. He also took us into a town called Barta’a which is an Arab town that was split in half by the green line in the late 40’s, making half the town citizens of Israel and half citizens of Jordan. This, of course, creates an interesting dynamic within the town and taught us a lot about the tensions for Arabs with Israeli citizenship between both Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

Today we visited a Kibbutz about ten minutes away called Mishmar Ha’emek. We spent our time there with a woman named Lydia who has lived in Israel for 45 years and also works at Givat Haviva. We toured the Kibbutz and learned that a Kibbutz is basically an intentional socialist community. All members live on the Kibbutz, the work they do is to benefit the Kibbutz, and all the money they make must be given to the Kibbutz. In some ways, it is similar to communes that we hear about in the U.S., but a Kibbutz is much more accepted and part of the Israeli culture than communes are in the U.S.

Since I began learning about the conflict, I have also looked to Israel for blame. And here I am, in the middle of Israel proper, spending two days with Israelis who very much believe in the State of Israel. One of them served in the Israeli army and would willingly go back if called to protect Israel, and one is a self-identified Zionist. You can imagine my initial rejection of their ideas. But getting to know them and listening to their ideas showed me that it wasn’t so easy to paint them into this stereotypical “bad Israeli” corner. Both spend a large amount of time working with Arabs in both Israel and the West Bank. When we visited the town of Barta’a with David, we met someone who he considered his brother. They both clearly care about Palestinians, and are actively working towards peace and equality among Israelis and Palestinians.

You may be able to imagine my confusion. A whole new side of this conflict was opened to me in just two days time. I wrote the following paragraph a second ago to describe how I have been feeling. It came out as a blabbering mess, but I am going to leave it in that form to show you what has been going on in my head for the past two days:

Of course Israel should exist! The Jews need and deserve a homeland! But at the same time, I don’t think what Israel is doing is right. The Palestinians were already here. Someone can’t come and take someone else’s land. Israel has no right. But they do! They have been oppressed for thousands of years. Hell, six million of them were murder less than 100 years ago! They need a place where they can express their own culture in beliefs safely. This is where their origins are. Of course they would be called to move back to this land. But, it isn’t safe here. No wonder they have been the aggressor. But that doesn’t excuse their actions. They have still pushed thousands of people out of their homes.

And it goes on…

Hopefully now you can see how, after two days, I am thoroughly “pooped”. There was a point this afternoon where I wanted to go back to my room, watch a stupid movie, and not even think about the words “Palestine” and “Israel” ever again. It is just so overwhelming. I never thought that it would be like this. I knew I would be challenged, but I honestly couldn’t foresee just how pushed I would be. Just imagine taking something that you think you understand pretty well, and having it flipped completely upside down in the course of 48 hours is mind blowing. Before coming here I didn’t consider myself “anti-Israel”, but I did mostly side with Palestine. Now, I have been exposed to the richness of the Jewish culture. It is truly impossible to understand without experiencing it firsthand.

While I am totally confused and turned around by my revelations of the past 48 hours, I have nothing to say to David and Lydia but “thank you”. Without them I would still be blind to half of this conflict, and I am extremely grateful that they opened my eyes.

Now that I have rambled on for a really long time I am first going to apologize for doing so (sorry) and then I am going to sleep.

לילה טוב (good night),

John

Beginning of My Journey

02/23/11

Hello from Jerusalem!

 I have to say, the past two days have been extremely exhausting. First, my group and I got on a plane in Philadelphia at 9:15 Monday night, and ten hours later we landed at 3 pm in Tel Aviv. The first thing I notice was how nice the airport was. In some cases, it was even nicer than Philadelphia’s. As we got on the bus and began driving to the home of an Israeli couple that some of the teachers on our trip know, I noticed how Western everything looked. I came into the trip prepared to have a culture shock, yet I felt oddly comfortable. The couple’s house was very pretty, and they were very nice and welcoming. We sat down and listened to them talk about their experience in Israel (most of us were too tired to engage in conversation). One point that I found most interesting was that the women said that she would never enter East Jerusalem (the Palestinian side) because she was afraid of how they would react to her. Yet one of our trip leaders said that in her time in Jerusalem, she doesn’t even notice she is crossing from West to East Jerusalem.

We then drove to the Azzahra Hotel in East Jerusalem. We ate a very tasty dinner and promptly went to sleep.  As I was falling asleep, I thought about how strange everything felt. My experience at that point was completely different from my expectations going into the trip. Nothing seemed very different from what I was used to.

In the morning we were out the door by 8, and went on a walking tour of the Old City. It wasn’t until we were walking through the crowded streets of the Muslim quarter that I felt that culture shock. It was amazing to see all of the holy sites such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the al-Aqsa mosque. The one that struck me most, though, was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I was raised Christian, but a very secular one. Yet, something about seeing where Jesus was crucified and buried meant a lot to me. It hard is to put into words, but I could very clearly feel the passion that many have for Christianity.

 In the afternoon, we visited an organization called Israelis Against House Demolitions. We went on a bus tour of parts of East Jerusalem, and the woman giving the tour was very interesting and I learned so much about the complicated situations Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in. What I found most striking was what we saw. We stopped at a portion of the separation wall, and you could very clearly see how it literally split a town in half. What is heart breaking about that was how those who found themselves outside the wall are no longer allowed in Jerusalem unless they can get a permit which is extremely rare to get. We also stopped briefly in a settlement about ten minutes into the West Bank. I was shocked by how everything look. It felt like I could have been in any upper-middle class town in Southern California. It made it seemed like nothing was wrong. Our tour guide mentioned that she had a friend who didn’t even realize she that the town she lived in was a settlement until she was 19 years old. Going from this settlement into some of the towns in East Jerusalem was shocking. There was trash everywhere. The streets were narrow and dirty, and many of the houses were in terrible condition. I couldn’t believe the difference in the quality of living from places that were five minutes away from each other.

Tomorrow we are off to a Kibbutz in Israel. I wish we could spend more time here, but there is so much else to see. I am not sure what the internet will be like there, so I might not be able to get back on here until the weekend.

 John

Anticipation of a Surreal Journey

2/2/11

It is strange for me to realize that in only 19 days I will be sitting on a plane, flying to Tel Aviv. This is something that I have wanted to do for over a year. I gained interest in politics and international issues during a class I took last year called “From Hiroshima to 9/11”. As a whole, the class opened my eyes to how much is going on in the world and how those things effect me and everyone around me. The whole winter term was devoted to the history and current conflict in the region of Israel/Palestine. Going into the class, I knew that I would be most interest in that topic, but once we started to learn about it, I began to grasp how important this conflict is to the rest of the world, and in particular, the United States of America.

Of course, there is only so much one can learn from a textbook. With topics as complex as the one in Palestine/Israel, there is so much more to learn than names and dates. My goal while I am there is to learn more about the people. I want to know who is actually part of this conflict, and how they feel about what is happening. I want to walk down the streets of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Givat Havina, Bethlehem, and feel the passion and pain that live there. I want to understand how such a holy land can be encompassed by such a painful conflict.

I know a few people who have visited various places throughout the region, and one of the things that I keep being told is that it will change my life. Every time someone says this to me I reply by simply saying, “I know”. But, truthfully, I don’t think I do. I am unsure what my reaction will be to my journey. I am worried that I have sensationalized this trip, and will find myself disappointed by what I find.

Over the course of my two-week trip, I will be traveling all over Palestine and Israel with a small group of Westtown students. Throughout the trip I will be updating this blog with my thoughts, feelings, and my pictures. My hope is that everyone reading will be able to follow me through my journey in Israel and Palestine.