A Rough Landing

There was a big thud of the airplane’s wheels meeting Cincinnati’s runway. With that thud I awoke to my new reality. I had already said goodbye to my fellow travelers in the Philadelphia airport and I was alone. What am I supposed to say now? When people ask me how was my trip, they just want a soundbite. Unfortunate for them my trip dosn’t come in a soundbite, and unfortunate for me I wouldn’t even know where to begin in a conversation. So here I am, my new challenge in America is to figure out how to stay in touch with the information I discovered and what to make of it. 

I apologize that this blog entry has been jumpy, but with the initial emotions of being back jumpy is what you’re going to get.

Re-entering America was the real culture shock I got out of the trip. Walking down the long terminal I passed faces who for the first time in two weeks, weren’t a statement on American politics or the conflict, and they didn’t see me as someone who was making a statement either. But the minute I open my mouth to say where I was coming from– it happens. 

I spent the last week in Rammallah falling into a deep love with Palestine. The culture, the people, the colors, and even the roaring blur of Arabic harmonies that woke me up routinely at 4 in the morning and repeated throughout the day. Basically the only thing I did not enjoy during my stay was the cold rain that seemed to pour from the minute we arrived until the minute we left. 

I have never felt more connected with any culture then the culture I found around every corner in Rammallah. I was at a friend’s house Saturday night and they put on Arabic music and started to do traditional Arab dancing– debkah. It was incredible. It was culture. On the drive home, my friend told me that there is never a moment when he doesn’t feel Palestinian. Going through a check point or even just down the street to the super market, he is surrounded by people who are struggling with the oppression that he is struggling with. We drove down the empty street and looked over the hill to a settlement. “So when you’re older, you want to live in Palestine?” I asked. He turned the corner and the settlement disappeared. “Absolutely. I’m going to do whatever I can to free my country.” I’ve never felt that way about my country. Despite their hardships, I am jealous of the kids at Rammallah Friends School. They have culture and they have pride and connection with the place they live in. After learning about America’s involvement in the conflict and even prior to this trip, I don’t think I would say the same.  

So already I have felt emotion and struggle with Palestine that I haven’t even felt for my own country, and I refuse to let that die. Looking back to the first blog entry I wrote, I asked if Palestinians could ignore the conflict. Unfortunately, the conflict isn’t just present in their lives it is banging on the doors of their houses, it is uprooting their olive trees, it is locking them in to a place where they can feel nothing but hate from the power that is oppressing them. When I went to an Israeli’s house for dinner before my flight, they said that Israel isn’t even focussed on Palestine right now; it is concerned with Iran. That brought tears to my eyes. 

Sitting in a classroom for my final months of senior year is not going to be ideal after the trip I’ve had. I feel like sitting down in the White House and having a conversation with Barack Obama instead. Someone needs to explain to me the benefits our country has in financially supporting a military occupation that is far from just. 

Westtown describes Senior Projects as a “transformative experience” and I sort of smirk at that. Transformative to me describes a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, and with the two weeks I’ve had I feel like I’ve witnessed a mountain growing from just one stone. I look forward to the day when I can return to Israel and Palestine. I dream of a day without Israeli occupation there. I see peace as a goal not as something unreachable. This was truly an incredible experience and it will never be over for me. Right now I have hope pumping through my veins and I’m trying to figure out how to put it in use.


PS- students interested in having this experience as your senior project? DO IT. And ask me any questions about it too.

There Are People Here

Since I’ve written, my days have been packed tightly with religious sites, museums, debkah dancers, falafel, shwarma, lectures, refugee camps and that just skims the surface. Most all of these places and moments were moving, including and especially my first drink of Arab tea. 
All of these incredible experiences, however, did not give me the same connection with the conflict or the land as the people here who I ate olives with– not heard lectures from or toured with, but the people who leaned in to kiss me on both cheeks and sat down with me and told me about their lives.

Abi means father in Arabic. This is what I called my host-dad from Beit Sahour. After our dinner together in a fancy restaurant, Abi strutted right in, draped in old flannel pajamas and cozy slippers. In the house, he insisted we saw it as our own; he force fed us meals, called us his children, taught us silly games, and most importantly introduced us to WWE. He watched it every night for hours, our whole family did. He’d shout at the screen endearingly, “Habibi! Habibi!” or “My love! My love!” whenever a wrestler did something extraordinary. Abi’s quirky but entirely hospitable personality made him all the more adorable, when he sat legs crossed in the corner of the couch cheering at the screen. Every so often Abi would take out rolling papers and fancy tobacco and roll his own cigarettes, then go out to smoke one. In the middle of this action, he asked us to join him on his back porch; he needed to show us something. The four Westtown students and his children followed him out back, where he pointed to Jerusalem. “We have a lovely view of Jerusalem.” He said with a heavy accent. “We used to I mean, before the settlement.” He then directed our attention to the hills in between his home and the home of Jerusalemites. The hills were covered in a major settlement, one that did not keep good relations with the neighboring villages. He stuck his chest out in effort to adjust his pride. “How am I supposed to see this as my land when Israeli’s are growing increasingly near? This is an illegal settlement. You see that wall?” He took in a loaded deep breath. “That wall marks where our land starts. And they don’t even care.” He brought us back inside because of the cold night’s air. “I love the Jews. Jesus teaches us to love all people. And the Israeli’s are people who I love, when I work out there, I spend the night in my Jewish friend’s house. No problem. The problem is in the politics.” He went on to speak more about this, the politics of the situation. Just as I began to think I was figuring this whole thing out… I hade hope, but seeing Abi swell with sorrow made me lose it a little. His whole self got bigger with sadness and deflated with hopelessness. He was the first person who really touched me.

The second person that really touched me was a liberal hands-in-their-pockets type-of-guy named Joe. Joe is twenty-one years old, and a German/Swiss man who comes to Palestine frequently because he feels a connection with the people. Joe is crazy. He was the first person we have really gotten to hang out with. Truth be told, this gave him an advantage in becoming our friend. He had a great sense of humor and had all the girls laughing. But he also told us the truth about the little things we couldn’t get in lectures: what exactly we dipped our pita in, what the colors stand for in the flag and he told us his own stories about the brothers he has gained here. Whenever he spoke, every girl at the table leaned in with complete interest in catching every word. Our Westtown boys thought we were smitten with him, when truthfully we just felt more real and connected to his perspectives then to the usual lectures (which, don’t get me wrong, are completely fascinating.) What Joe told us didn’t shock us like a tidal wave, it slowly lured us in to this way of life and he gave us time to process it. Being able to relate to a “local” woke us up from the rhythm we had become used to.

Now, I’m in bustling Ramallah with my habibti, Dalia. I’ve met people my age and had really genuine conversations about their place in the conflict and my place too. It feels powerful to not know everyone’s names but know their stories from the second Intifada. The fact that we are all so willing to jump right into that conversation makes me feel the strength behind the hope. There is a purpose to why we are becoming friends. I have come to realize now more than ever, how I will not be able to un-live these experiences. They have begun to affect how I view my future, the media, my place in the conflict, my government’s responsibility in the conflict…. It’s heavy stuff. But what I’m getting at is that I’m carrying these two weeks and these people with me forever.


It is so incredibly disturbing to me that this kind of oppression is present in the world and is dictating so much of US Foreign Policy—why is the U.S. letting this happen? Check out the BDS movement and consider participating. Also, watch Occupation 101. So much more to say, so little words to say it in, so many languages to translate this message to…

A Clash

Yesterday morning we recieved news that a Palestinian man had been shot and killed at the Temple Mount and that there were other clashes at a check point not far away. The first thing we did on our first full day in Jerusalem was visit the Dome of the Rock, located in the center of Temple Mount. Religion meets religion on either side of a massive old stone wall, the Western Wall. On one side is the hub of Islam and on one side of the wall itself is a sacred prayer space for Jews. We have been fortunate to visit both despite the recent clash of cultures. It was interesting to visit the Western Wall after the shooting, having visited the Dome about four days prior to the shooting.

The image of this place is still so clear. The sky that day was so blue, just like the intircate mosaic tiling that enveloped the walls of the temple and the golden dome obsorbed the sun and warmed the sand-colored terrace surrounding it; this was a holiness I haven’t felt before in the simplicity of a meeting house. I remember seeing Israeli soldiers for the first time in this space–  a pack of green jackets and big guns. It seemed weird that they would occupy a place of prayer, but there are a lot of unsual things about this city. There guns, surprisingly didn’t trigger fear; perhaps, this is because we were walking past quickly or perhaps it was because, these soldiers are my age and their activity seemed more like hanging out with friends, playing their Ipod and people watching.

Hearing the news of the clash, I pictured the hundreds of Muslims leaving Mosque friday afternoon and the Jewish extremists who had come to take over Temple Mount. I pictured the stone throwing and rioting that took place in response to their actions and the tear gas and rubber bullets used to prevent further rioting. The violence seemed to contrast so deeply with the purpose and teachings of both religious spaces.

Five or six days now, since we visited Temple Mount and two days since the shooting, we visited the Western Wall. There were more than three times as many soldiers present as there were last time, and all looking more serious. Women and men are seperated for prayer. My girls and I covered are hair in scarfs and entered this sad and hopeful space. From a distance it looks like a wall people are merely touching or kissing and praying in front of. Coming closer, you see  there are hundreds of little rolled up prayers wedged in the crevices. After the recent clashes in the area, I wrote in hope that one day the people in this historical courtyard would not need their prayer to be accompanied by guns and soldiers. One day, the two people could pray together.

After the Western Wall, we went to an orginazation called Rabbis for Human Rights. Since I have allready gone into such details about other events I will keep this breif. Basically, I came out of this meeting and discussion very inspired and hopeful. They were against human rights violations not just against Palestinians but other areas in Israels flawed democracy. Key word: democracy. Arik emphasized this point, that he was lucky to be living in a democracy, there are many places in the world where we could have been arrested just for having the conversation we had. (on the other hand my host family argues Israel is not a democracy… but thats another story.) Arik said many things that stuck with me and here are the highlights:

-If schools on both sides continue to teach hate, there is no chance for a peace treaty
-Either the two countries will live here together or die here together
-Very basic Jewish teaching: people can change. Never discount the power of truth that is in our hearts.
-In a democracy, some are guilty, but ALL are responsible

I will share stories of my first host family tommorow.


Israel vs. The World

Through what I have listened to and seen, I am increasingly aware that Israel, politically, architecturally, and emotionally, is a country of walls. 

Today, I saw a check point for the first time. Most of the wall is not a cement structure; it is a set of three fences separated by obstacles. First, a fence topped with barbed wire, followed by a sand path, a road that is exclusively for security vehicles, more sand, then another two barbed-wire fences. The sand is meant to catch foot prints. They are monitored by video tapes and are mostly flawless. This seems like a high case of paranoia. 

But this paranoia is understandable. In a post-Holocaust society to a population most oppressed by the Holocaust, you would expect a sense of isolation. Isolated doesn’t begin to describe the feelings experienced. I’ve heard horrendous stories of racial oppression towards these people. An Israeli professor expressed to us that he desires a world where a Jewish state is not necessary. But, in his opinion, right now, the Jewish people need a safe place to live. Does that need to be exclusive? I don’t think so, and it doesn’t seem like most of our professors feel that way. He also spoke of his peaceful mother-in-law, a women who hates to see war, but is happiest when Israel is in one. It brings the country together as Jews. So often in Israel, they loose the sense of Jewish unity because of where you come from. 

We’ve been told that Israel considers itself the 51st state of America by some. That deeply disturbs me. Possibly because of the truth, in that so much of our policies are shaped by Israel, but also shape their state of life. 

The Israeli professor was confident in saying that the political mindset was Israel vs. the World. I feel sorry that they feel that way, but sort of understand it. This puts me in yet another conflicting position, what do these walls provide Israel? I certainly don’t support  home demolitions or settlements, and I don’t support a lot of Israel politically. But I support their concerns and desire for a safe land. 

So confused.


The Wall Speaks

A soundbite of some of the graffiti on the Separation Wall:

“When ignorance reigns, Lives are lost.”

“Free Palestine”

“Welcome to Apartheid”

“Welcome to Ghetto Abu Dis”

“We are Humans”

“Wall = Landgrab”

“The hands that build can also tear down.”

“The dirt whispered, ‘I’m coming home.'”


These were found on a bit of the wall in a very impoverished Palestinian neighborhood being overlooked by a very wealthy Israeli settlement. The town was called Abu Dis. In this town, no-one comes to collect their trash for fear it is too dangerous or too hard to reach. It smelled like burnt garbage; truthfully, that is how they dispose of it, by burning. The extreme poverty here was something I wasn’t expecting, but it is visible, especially in contrast to the settlement just at the top of the hill. “Welcome to Ghetto Abu Dis”



First, I would like to say I haven’t blogged in a day because I was starting to feel very vulnerable about the process I am going through. I am in a very controversial part of the world, studying coexistence in a place where it may seem impossible, and I’m looking at it from angles that many people don’t get to see. The media is in control of how we at home perceive the information, and here, your location and language controls yours (mostly). I realize when talking about this I should choose my words carefully, which is very hard for me to do because I don’t even know what words I want to say, all of my own perceptions are being challenged. The more people I meet the heavier this conflict becomes to me, and that weight is hard for me to hold. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m holding. 


Looking at Equality (or Lack Thereof)

The emotional gravity of the topics we are dealing with is more heavy than I anticipated. The areas of tension can be sparked by something as seemingly small as raising a flag in Jerusalem or in the ancient olive trees. I noticed the extreme contrast in quality of life today, I also noticed the subtle mockeries that can come out. For the first time on the trip, I saw the two different peoples and the inequality that they live in.

For example, we visited a beautiful settlement on the top of a hill in East Jerusalem. It was fenced in with high walls and barbed wire and military means of security. They had many pools, a man-made lake and ancient olive trees at every round-about. This settlement hung their flag high. Points of tension that an outsider might not realize: The pools and lake are a luxury that the Palestinians who lived in a slum bellow couldn’t comprehend. Even the wealthy Palestinians only have access to water a few times a week, and those times when they do, they have to pump a lot to storage to get them through the rest of the week. The olive trees that the Israeli settlers use as decoration, were dug up from Palestinian olive groves. They were their mothers’ trees, and their mothers’ mothers trees, a means by which Palestinian families made their livelihood, now in a round-about as a decorative accent. Finally, the raising of a flag, despite the fact that they are in Palestinian land, is illegal for Palestinians while  Israeli settlers boast their flags high. In a way, not recognizing Palestine at all, claiming that land as their own.

Point of clarity: The building of settlements is ILLEGAL according to international law, and they will continue building regardless of this fact.

Who does the Wall Separate:
-Palestinian students from their university
-Muslims from their mosques
-Palestinians from their career
-Palestinians from their relatives
-Palestinians from their history
-Palestinians from their LIVES

This may seem radical, but the wall is not separating Palestine from Israel. It is separating Palestine from their history.


Who is Missing?

The eleven hour plane ride passed quickly. Ben and I sat together in the second to last row of a very long plane. His bubbling excitement was contagious. The standard safety protocol demonstration began, and Ben felt moved to applaud the flight attendants jokingly. Movies, sleep, meals and conversation got our 20 person group through the flight. Once we arrived Melissa flocked us through immigration like a mother goose to her 18 little goslings. 

We had gotten our things and gathered in the lobby waiting to hop on the bus that would take us to Orna and Romi’s house. I said hi to Teacher Susan for the first time on the trip. “Have you noticed who is missing?” She asked me.

“Jax and Rosie just left for the bathroom but I think we’re all together.”

“But look around Meg, on a larger scale.”

I looked around the beautiful, modern airport. I saw yarmulkes, I saw Hebrew signs. I felt more than just an absence of the Palestinian population, I felt an active  un-acknowledgment of it. Who is Missing?

At Orna and Romi’s home the conversation was fascinating about the conflict. (Orna and Romi are Israeli friends of John and Melissa’s with a lot of fascinating and powerful stories to tell about the start of Israel and about their desire for peace). I asked their family how present the conflict was in the average Israeli’s life. They said for two years, when serving in the military, as everyone has to do, the conflict is very present. But other than that, now that the terrorism has stopped mostly, the conflict is as visible as each individual desires. You can choose to pay attention. A question that I choose to keep to myself in that moment, was: do Palestinian’s have that privilege too? To ignore the conflict? How present is it to them?

Who is missing?