It is the last day of our Senior Project. After saying goodbye to our Friends in Ramallah, we drove down to the west, to Jericho. A sign at the entrance to the city announces that Jericho is the oldest city in the world, 10,000 years old. Overlooking it is the barren, steep mountain where the story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil occurred. There is a monastery perched on the mountainside. We hiked up as far as we could, to an ice cream shop (yes, this is a land of contradictions!) overlooking Jericho and the Jordan Valley down to the Red Sea. We visited the ruins of Hisham’s Palace, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD, and then drove south Continue reading “Heading Home”
Category: Israel/Palestine Trip 2014
Pro Peace – End of Israel and Palestine Trip
It’s been an amazing trip, and I’m so grateful that I was able to be a part of it. Before the trip I barely knew anything about the conflict, but I have come out with a plethora of knowledge. Meeting people face to face was the most important aspect of the trip. It allowed me to put faces to the conflict. It is much different to meet people rather than hearing their stories through the media that sometimes skews the facts because of bias viewpoints.
Us at Masada
Both Palestinian and Israeli families are just like us. They want the best for their families and are afraid of the unknown. I understand that Israeli families are afraid and think that the wall is keeping them safe, but the wall is creating resentment, especially among youth. It was hard to hear from my fifteen year old host sister that she had been interrogated with tedious and repetitive questions at the bridges coming from Jordan after a basketball game the night that I was waiting with her parents for her to come home. She is nice and really normal so I have no clue why the military would question her for hours. Even though I only got to see my host sister for a day, because she was away at a basketball game, I got really close to her. I wish I had gotten to spend more time with her. Continue reading “Pro Peace – End of Israel and Palestine Trip”
On Sunday we left Jerusalem and drove to Ramallah, in the West Bank. I was very excited to arrive at the school with which we have had a strong connection for decades. We arrived in time to attend Meeting for Worship, which gave us a rare opportunity for quiet reflection in the beautiful Meetinghouse in town with members of the meeting and several visiting Friends. We were greeted warmly there by Jean Zaru, Clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting and a longtime Palestinian peace activist. While the Meeting is small, its witness and outreach are very large. After meeting, Jean shared some inspiring reflections with us on the importance of recognizing the interrelatedness and interconnectedness of all people. She emphasized that the spiritual basis of peace work is the “indwelling divinity of all people,” or that of God in all persons. This inclusive spirituality is not only a gift for the individual – it gives each of us responsibility to recognize the face of God in every human we meet, and to ensure that their human rights and dignity not be trampled. She pointed out that compassion is found in all religions, and urged us to look for things that unite us and give us a way to act together. “If we know what we are standing on,” she said, it leads us to action. “I commit myself to the otherness of the other.” Continue reading “Ramallah Friends”
The Catch Up
I have no way of creating a content-specific title for this post because there is no one thing that I want to focus on after these past 10 days. First off, I apologize for dropping off the map. It has been for several reasons. We have been in host families, WordPress won’t work properly on my phone, and whenever I theoretically could have borrowed a laptop, I was busy doing once-in-a-lifetime things like enjoying the view of the Old City of Jerusalem from the roof of our hostel with our group.
I have done myself no favor in dropping the blogging ball until now. There has been an unbelievable amount of experiences packed in the last 10 days (Don’t worry though, I have 30 pages of notes and a lifetimes worth of memories). One of the reasons why I chose to go on this trip (even though people thought that because of my family’s connections I could do this type of thing later and may have a better use for my senior project): There’s no way you can duplicate this trip. To have 26 people bouncing from place to place, challenging speakers with tough questions, debating topics on the buses and over meals, all while having copious amounts of fun is an incredible feat that we have all agreed is something we are lucky to have been able to participate in. Continue reading “The Catch Up”
Refugee camp and Bedouin photos – Palestine
Yesterday we visited a refugee camp and a Bedouin community. Both were really good to see because they show how bad some conditions are for Palestinians. The woman who spoke to us at the refugee camp was for a one state solution. In her eyes she can’t see a coexistence, which we questioned her about. Talking to this woman was a good contrast between the settler we talked to. Both did not acknowledge the other’s right to the land. This was good for us to see because it gave us a sample of people on the Palestinian side whom are not ready to work together. The people in the Bedouin community have lost all but two structures to live in. These photos show what is actually going on.
Going to the house of a Bedouin.
Traffic created by a check point:
We left the Old City and are now with our host families in Ramallah! To get to our hotel in the Old City our large group of 26 people all rolled our bags up through steep inclines with cobblestone. Last night we found washing machines on the roof, but found at midnight that the dryers did not work so we all hung clothes outside in an attempt to dry them by morning. I’m pretty sure that the washers were only for the hotel towels but, hey, we tried.
Monica and I are staying with a really wealthy Palestinian family right now. It really surprised me how much they have. They have guards and like four houses in one, maids, and cooks. At first I was like, how are they oppressed? After talking to them, I understand that event though they have so much, unlike the majority of Palestineans, they still feel the racism every time they are rejected at checkpoints and run into other walls when trying to get basic things such as a permit so that they can get medical help.
We returned to Jerusalem this evening after two days in Beit Sahour and Bethlehem, in the southern part of the West Bank. We are inside the walls of the Old City, which is becoming famiIiar as I begin to get my bearings on our third time here. It was also nice to be able to take a hot shower here in the guest house after two long days on the road! I continue to be impressed with the cohesiveness, engagement, and positive spirit of our group and the visionary planning and organization that Jon and Melissa Graf Evans have done in organizing this Senior Project. Our days have been packed with meetings, conversations, lectures, tours, and visits to holy sites and museums. I have been wanting to see Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, for a long time. Seeing and hearing the portrayal of the persecution of the Jews and the personal stories from the ghettos and death camps, realizing that the accounts that we can hear are an unimaginably small fraction of the victims, was heartbreaking. I was thrilled to dip my toes in the Sea of Galilee; and standing in a circle outside the church on the Mount of the Beatitudes and reading from the Sermon on the Mount on a beautiful sunny afternoon was simply breathtaking. I have been excited to see the Dome of the Rock and the churches in Jerusalem, Galilee, and Bethlehem. I have been struck by the walls: the Western Wall, the walls of churches, temples, and mosques…I have seen pilgrims touch or kiss the thresholds of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Nativity, and the Wailing Wall, and a Druze Temple with great devotion…I have seen the “Security Wall” covered with graffiti as it cuts across Palestinian neighborhoods and refugees camps. There are walls that divide and walls that connect.
On our first night in Beit Sahour we met with a group of Palestinian students and shared a delicious dinner. Some beautiful traditional Debke dancing was followed by lively participation by the whole group and a birthday cake for Nate. Afterwards we split up for the first of our two homestays. We were welcomed with warmth and generosity by our host families, and had the opportunity to talk on a personal level about their lives and what we’ve been learning and experiencing. One of our hosts said to me, “Many people come to visit the holy sites, but they don’t take the time to meet and connect with people. Beyond the stones of the church itself – what about the people who worship there – the living stones?”
Our Senior Project is affording us amazing opportunities to see the sites and the rugged beauty of the land, and to get to know and hear the stories of people who live and work and struggle and celebrate life and seek peace and justice here. I believe that education like this, in which we connect with and learn from people who live halfway around the world and on both sides of this enormously complex conflict, who sometimes even can’t or won’t talk to each other, can make a difference. Tomorrow after breakfast we head to Ramallah to attend Meeting for Worship, visit Ramallah Friends School, and stay again with host families.
From a poem by Maya Angelou that was spray-painted on the Wall outside the Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem:
“Love recognizes no boundaries
It jumps hurdles, leaps fences. penetrates walls
To arrive at the destination of hope.”
Days 6-7 in Israel and Palestine
Yesterday we woke up before 6 AM so that we could get a photo of the sun rising above the Dome of the Rock. Unfortunately, it was too hazy to see the sun. After breakfast at 6:30 we all headed to the Dome of the Rock to get there before the line was too line.
Later that morning we went to the Holocaust Museum and then drove to Bethlehem in the West Bank for dinner and dancing with our host students! We also went shopping in the Old City where we had to bargain for a good price. Luckily I had Shirley and Qiu Yao who are really good at bargaining since they do it in China! They were awesome and got the price of my stuffed camel down by 20 sheckles. Our host students are really nice. Qiu Yao, Shirley, Monica, and I are staying in an apartment in the building with our host Rachel. It’s been fun to actually stay in a Palestinian home.
Qiu Yao and I eating a typical breakfast in the apartment this morning!
We visited another part of the separation wall this morning where we saw graffiti and messages put up by Palestinians from the area.
We then went to hear from a settler in Efrat, a settlement founded in the. 1970s that houses 10,000 modern Orthodox Jews. David, the member who spoke with us grew up in Chicago but moved to Israel to fulfill himself as a Jew. His statements contradict what we have heard from Palestinians. He doesn’t know of any water issue and said that his settlement is “a blessing on the Palestinian community”. He said that the wall was necessary because of how dangerous it was to even just walk around ten years ago. The two hour conversation was very substantive and I really appreciate that he took time to talk to our large group to give his point of view.
Contrastly, we then went to a nearby Palestinian farm called The Tent of Nations that is surrounded by five settlements. The Israeli government has been persistent in trying to take this land from them. This family, unlike many other Palestinians registered all of the land with the Ottoman Empire to pay taxes and therefore has papers to prove ownership. The government has shut off their water and electricity. There is also a gate and boulders that block the driveway. This government demolished their house and took away building permits so they live in a CAVE. They are self sufficient and have proven that they will do anything to keep this land, even after their trees for harvest have been repetitively cut down.
This conflict is so complicated and everyone whom we have spoken with feels passionately for their side. I feel for both sides, because they both feel that they are not being respected. The problem is that there is no trust between the sides and that the people living in both parts do not talk with each other so they just make assumptions about the other based off of the different things that the government is telling them through bias media.
Days 3-5 in Israel
The past three days have gone by really quickly. Everyday we have been walking a lot, eating great food, meeting great people, and seeing amazing places! Monday we went to Kibbutz Dalia.
We then went to meet Lydia Aisenberg at Kibbutz Givat Havia. Lydia describes herself as a Zionist with a conscious. She came to Israel seeking a community that would accept her after being rejected by communities in Whales and London.
That afternoon she took us to East Barta’a, a place between the Green Line and the Fence. We walked through the whole town that has been set up by Palestinians who are selling things cheaply. They do not have to pay taxes, so they can take advantage of benefits such as the Israeli education system. It was hard to walk through this community because of how poor they are, but I did not feel unsafe at all, because they, for the most part just seemed excited to see us.
On Tuesday we continued talking with Lydia about how her Kibbutz worked. I did not expect a Kibbutz to be so big. Hers was funded through a patent that had been sold a while ago and is continued to be funded through people who are willing to pay for tours. A socialist like community is taking advantage of capitalism. Members have to work until they are 70, cannot own their own car, and have to contribute their whole salary and split it evenly with everyone. Lydia gets about $10,000 a year.
Today (Wednesday) we went to Nazareth. We went to the Basilica of Annunciation, Nazareth Village museum, the Church of Multiplication (Jesus served bread and fish), Church of Primacy of St. Peter (Jesus sifted post resurrection), Capernum (located on Sea if Gaillee), and the Church of Beatitudes.
At Nazareth Village we saw what life was like when Jesus was alive. There were sheep, so of course most of us took selfies with sheep.
Tomorrow we are off to the Holocaust museum and to meet our first host family!
Day 2 in Israel
Location: Azzahra Hotel in Jerusalem
I can’t believe that this is only the end of our second day…we’ve done and learned so much already. Yesterday night after a long eleven hour flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv, we went to the Dar Ramot family in Neve Neeman for a delicious welcome dinner and discussion. The pita bread, hummus (pronounced hoomus), cheesy bread, chocolate, and cookies were all greatly appreciated after the meals provided by US Airways that most people slept through. After dinner and cookies, we got to hear the prospective of the conflict from an Israeli family with a son in the army. We learned about why they felt safer with the wall being built and their perspective on whether peace can be achieved. This conversation was a good lead into today’s events in touring Jerusalem.
At 7:00 AM we all went down to breakfast where we were met with more delicious pita bread with all kinds of spreads and pastries. Full, and ready for the day, we left at 8:00 for a walking tour of the Old City (in 70-80 degree weather). The narrow and labyrinth like streets in the Old City had merchants along the sides selling candy, fresh fruit, clothes, and jewelry. We were led by our tour guide to The Church of the Holy Seplechure and The Wailing Wall (The Western Wall). At The Wailing Wall, women and men are separated for prayer.
After lunch we all boarded the bus for a bus tour of East and West Jerusalem. I learned more about the conflict during this four hour bus ride than I had known two days ago. Our tour guide, Jeff Halper is an Israeli Jew who belongs to the Israeli Commission Against Housing Demolitions gave us his perspective about the conflict, some of which was completely opposite of the Dar Ramot family. Driving around East Jerusalem in the city of Silwan, which has been changed to The City of David, where the Palestinians live opened our eyes to the stark difference between the living conditions of the Palestinians and Israelis. Jeff said, “This is where the sidewalk ends.” At this point on the street Israelis will not continue to walk, and the infrastructure is completely different. There are no sidewalks and trash litters the streets and yards everywhere since there is no trash collection. There were also demolished homes and barren land that is zoned for future Israeli Urban development. The illegal Palestinian homes are easily recognizable because they have black barrels on the roof to collect water since their water has been shut off. We continued to E1, an Israeli settlement nearby is vastly different than the Palestinian city less than a mile away. It is a comfort zone where Israeli’s can have a higher standard of living for lower costs in a depoliticized area. The biggest, and most shocking difference is that they have three Olympic sized pools and a giant man made lake for aesthetics while the Palestinians down the street cannot depend on having water for a shower.
These two days have given us first hand interactions and experiences where we have heard truths from two sides of the complex conflict. While most of us are still jet-lagged we are ready for another early morning when we will be going to Zohar Badeshe Kibbutz Dalia.
We shall overcome…
Paris, March 28th, 2013,
Flight US 797 from Tel Aviv landed at Philadelphia at 5:00am on March 16th, 2013, bringing sixteen exhausted and homesick faces home after two weeks away. The flight lasted for twelve hours, eight of which I spent catching up on sleep, the rest spent convincing myself that the past two weeks had really happened. A few days later, on a red-eye from New York to Paris, I spent time on the plane doing the exact same things – sleeping and thinking about my past trip. It felt too strange for me that I can easily jump on a plane at any convenient airport, then fly to different places in the world without being held up because of my nationality – compared to the many stories I’ve heard about how Palestinians have to fly out of Amman, Jordan even though they live very close to Tel Aviv, my life seemed like a different world, and I couldn’t help but feel guilty about that.
The whole trip has felt like a whirlwind, with us waking up at an uninmaginable time even for boarding school students who are used to strict timetable, going out all day, then coming back exhausted and ready to crash to bed. We met with people from all walks of life – rabbis, doctors, professors, land-owners, farmers, housewives – to piece together our own understanding of the conflict. So bear with me while I try to piece together my picture in the next few thousands words, not because I’m trying to be wordy and bore you, but because I myself feel that my grasp on the conflict is not strong enough to describe it in fewer words.
We spent our first week listening to stories from people, and our second week experiencing those stories for ourselves as we lived with local host families in Beit Sahour and Ramallah. The 40-45% umemployment rate in the West Bank meant little until I heard my hostdad in Beit Sahour talked about how he struggled to find a job as an engineer. The refugees’ precarious future barely registered until I saw the children in Al Amari Refugee Camp and realized that they did not have a lot of options for their future. The concerns from Israelis about security also rang louder and clearer in my mind after listening to Lydia Aisenberg, an Israeli freelance journalist, explaining how she got on a bus every day to go to work, and contemplated what seat would be least affected if a suicide bomber was to explode that bus. History and religion also unfolded in front of our eyes as we visited the Old City, walked through the twelve stations that Jesus went to when he was crucified, lined up to see the Dome of the Rock (where an abrasive confrontation between Arab prayers and Jewish people happened the day after we visited, which reminded me that even though we were not in danger, the people here had to live with violence and threats as part of their everyday lives), and saw many churches in Nazareth, where Jesus spent the majority of his youth. Not religious myself, I found these sites fascinating because of their magnificent architecture, the thousands years of history they locked in every brick, and the meaning that they held to many people in the world. The language nerd in me was also awoken when I caught many Bible passages in Latin in different churches and tried to translate them into English, and when I pieced together my little knowledge of Arabic to figure out what a road sign said. Needless to say, the academic experiences I have had in the past two weeks have been comprehensive and unparalleled to any classes at Westtown.
Yet the stories of resistance I’ve heard and seen in the past two weeks also urged me to come back someday and make change. Whether it is to teach children at the Bedouin refugee camp twenty minutes out of Jerusalem, to take care of the kindergarten at Al Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, to work with the Tent of Nations in building a summer camp for local kids, to demonstrate with Rabbis for Human Right against house demolitions, my meager efforts could hopefully support the people’s resistance to injustice, and help solve the immediate problems that hindered the peace process. Many Israelis and Palestinians we talked to have said that they did not believe both governments could come up with a solution within the near future – five or ten years, and that my generation would be responsible for finding a way out. I had no idea how “a way out” would happen, for I left Israel/Palestine feeling more dejected and bewildered than when I first came, but if people who lived with violence and oppression every day could hope for a brighter future, then I can keep my finger crosses for them, too.
But to leave you (and I) on a bright note, let’s end my goodbye post with “We Shall Overcome,” a beautiful, hopeful tune widely known as the protest song in the 1960s Civil Right Movement in the US. In the documentary “Life on the other Side” shown to us in Aida Refugee Camp, a man was playing this song on his violin outside of the Separation Wall to serenade the long line of Palestinians waiting to get through a checkpoint to go to Jerusalem for work. The chorus goes,
We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome someday
Just like that violinist, I want to leave you with hope. The situation may not be easy, and solutions may not come tomorrow, but we know we can hang in there, and “overcome” together. If the incredible stories I have heard from Israelis and Palestinians from all walks of life about how they strived for peace are any indication, there is will and great anticipation that the days ahead can be brighter.
I hope to keep collecting stories from people around me, to follow closely the news from this region, to stay in touch with the friends I made during my time there, and to find a way to come back someday. There is so much about this land that I love and want to understand better. Still, what I have taken away from the past two weeks not only makes me feel closer to the place and sympathize with the people, but also ignites my wish to help solve the problems and change life for the better.
So thank you for having been here for me throughout this journey. I hope I have successfully delivered a tiny part of what I experienced, and urged you to go search for more stories and different truths. Someday, hopefully, we will be able to meet in a peaceful and just land – the land once torn apart by hatred and misunderstanding, but eventually unified with friendship and patience.