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. Continue reading “Welcome to Ramallah- Day 10”

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. Continue reading “Build a Wall! Build a Wall! – Day 7”

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.

Continue reading “Welcome to Jerusalem- Day 2”

Israel/Palestine Preparations

28 February 2017 – Tara Kleponis

After planning for months of traveling to Israel and Palestine, the trip is finally days away, and I’m struggling to fathom just how soon I’ll be abroad. As soon as I learned about an opportunity to travel to an area with a culture so rich and a conflict so deep that the only way to understand is to go, I knew I had to be there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip where I will experience religion and disdain, homestays and hotels, bussing and hiking, new foods, new oceans, and so much more. I’d never imagined that my senior year would include a journey to a region brand new to me, yet here I am, packing my suitcase and gathering my passport.

In Israel and Palestine, I will be speaking to locals to hear their stories and learn about their cultures. As there is conflict ongoing in the area, I will be sure to hear stories that contrast with one another in belief and action, yet every single one will be true. Why is that? Each person has had their own experience, and some have dealt with situations which have caused them to look at the world and their neighbors in different ways. While abroad, it is not the job of us Westtown students to draw conclusions about what we encounter, but to listen respectfully and learn from those we meet.

I cannot wait to explore a place so different from the one I know, and hope to see the world in a new way, or a bigger way, upon my return. Here I will share my personal experiences from Israel and Palestine–talk to you soon!

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