Jerusalem is undoubtedly among the most contended pieces of real estate in the world. In a constant tug-of-war between different religions and ethnic groups, the land is a volcano of tension- ready to erupt at any moment. As an outsider looking in, it can seem impossible to see a clear understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each and every one of us is encircled by an endless stream of biased media. However, MEJDI Tours offers a unique opportunity for those who want the full story: a dual narrative tour of the Old City of Jerusalem guided by both an Israeli and a Palestinian tour guide.
The Dual Narrative Tour of the Old City of Jerusalem was guided by Alex, an Israeli Jew from London, and Nabil a Palestinian Christian who grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem. Symbolically, the tour kicks off at Damascus Gate, which, Nabil asserts, is mostly used by Palestinians due to its accessibility to East Jerusalem: the Arab sector of Jerusalem. As such, Damascus gate has become a symbol of Palestinian national struggle and acts as a main “flash point” for Palestinian protest in times of tension.
Entering the Old City, Alex joked that he “teleported” us to Temple Mount, a holy site for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Alex and Nabil take turns highlighting the importance of Temple Mount to Judaism and Islamic faith. For Jews, it is believed to be the location of the first two Jewish Temples and where God is most present, making Temple Mount the holiest site in Judaism. For Muslims on the other hand, the Mount is considered the third holiest site to pray. Temple Mount is the site of one of the three Sacred Mosques of Islam, and where Prophet Muhammad ascended to the divine presence of God. While we were on the Temple Mount, Nabil introduced us to Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was a truly unique experience for me since the mosque can only be entered by Muslims. We also got an inside look at the beautiful gold-plated Dome of the Rock: the home of a piece of Mount Moriah. According to the Jews, Mount Moriah was the location of the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham’s only son. Muslims have a different belief about Mount Moriah, however. The Quran alleges that Mount Moriah was located close to Mecca, likely in Saudi Arabia, and was where Abraham sacrificed his son Ishmael. The Temple Mount as a whole is a major point of tension between the Islamic and Jewish religions, not just because of their conflicting beliefs but also because non-Muslims are prohibited from praying there.
Alex and Nabil next took us to the Western Wall, also known as the Kotel. While the Kotel isn’t technically the holiest site for the Jews, it is the closest place to the Temple Mount where they are allowed to pray, so over time it has become an important site in Judaism. To adapt to the times of Covid, there were many tents put up at the Wall to divide everyone. This is an unprecedented sight to see at the Kotel; normally Jews crowd at the front of the wall, everyone trying to get as close as possible. Alex highlighted multiple different Jewish customs that occur at the wall, such as traditional dress, the division of men and women, the kissing of the wall’s stone, and the tradition of sticking notes in the cracks of the wall.
Growing up Jewish, I’ve only been taught Jewish history and Jewish customs and traditions. My knowledge of the Islamic religion was extremely limited. I had only received a part of the story, and I know I am not alone in that sentiment. While some remain closed-minded to other religions, cultures, and groups of people, MEJDI’s tour accomplishes something so powerful and so rare: it unites opposing voices and creates a fuller narrative.
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This post was brought to you by Abbey V from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies/St. Norbert College trip to Israel and Palestine…
I landed in Tel Aviv surrounded by about 18 other graduate students, my human rights professor, and students/faculty from St. Norbert College. To prepare for the trip, I completed 3 relevant courses: Introduction to Human Rights, A Prospectus Israel/Palestine, and Workshop and Human Rights and the Middle East, to ready myself for a 15-day tour with a multi-narrative-focused company called Mejdi Tours. Despite all my preparation for the trip, I arrived with few expectations and many questions. After a meal of hummus and pickled vegetables, we settled in at our hotel in Jerusalem, where we would spend the next three days…
My time in Jerusalem was characterized by polarized viewpoints. On our first full day, we visited the holiest site in Judaism, and third holiest site in Islam: Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif. Sheik Yusef, an important Islamic leader, spoke to us and denied all Jewish history at Temple Mount, claiming that the site had always, and would always, belong only to Muslims. Later on in the trip, we also heard from a retired spokeswoman for the Israeli government, Miri Eisin, who claimed that “Zionism is not about the Palestinians” and theorized: “The more sovereign Palestine is, the less secure I am [as an Israeli Jew].”
Symbolic of the tension in the perspectives we were hearing, while at Shabaat dinner with a local Jewish family, there was a terrorist attack outside of Damascus Gate, where two Palestinians stabbed a 23-year-old member of the IDF. The apparent normality of sharing dinner with a small, picturesque Jewish family was re-contextualized within the broader struggles of the region, making our quiet evening seem like a kind-of charade. The State of Israel’s “annexation” of East Jerusalem after the War of 1967 has been declared illegal by the international community; yet, Israel remains determined to claim ownership of all of Jerusalem. This situation, along with myriad other factors, keeps the walled city on a precipice of violence. My experience with the speakers we heard in our first few days, along with the attack on the night of Shabbat, left me feeling like, just as justice is a prerequisite for peace, perhaps it, too, is a prerequisite for genuine holiness; if a space is marred by conflict and violence, perhaps basking too much in its holiness without first working for peace is a bit like worshipping a golden calf. Though we visited many holy sites for the world’s largest religious traditions, I found myself mourning our lack of community as a human species, rather than feeling like I was touching brick and mortar infused with divinity.
A hopeful perspective we heard in Jerusalem came from Dr. Daniel Roth, who seeks to teach conflict resolution through interpretation of sacred texts. He claims that these texts provide a “safe playground” for entrenched readers to stretch their narrative muscles, learning to accept that texts can be interpreted multiple, legitimate ways. These exercises help participants in his workshops extrapolate this concept, to understand that narrative, history, and culture can, therefore, also be interpreted in multiple, legitimate ways. We finished our time in Jerusalem by dancing, singing, and eating at a traditional Iftaar meal, to music played by an inter-cultural band.
As we passed through a checkpoint in the Separation Wall dividing Israel from The West Bank (WB) into Bethlehem, the realization that my ability to cross these borders more easily than indigenous people who had been living on these lands for centuries came washing over me. Entering in all my privilege, I took a moment to open my ears wider, sink into a posture of kinship, and prepare myself to humbly listen to the narratives around me. Then, I stepped off the bus and walked along the Wall. I took in images of resistance, heartache, solidarity, hatred — we read messages in Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, English, German, Farsi…some funny, some angry, some beautiful, some ugly- painted on the most divisive canvas I’ve ever seen.
After overcoming the shock of the Wall, our group soon made its way to Aida Refugee Camp, composed of Palestinian families forcibly removed from their homes during Al Nakba (The Catastrophe)/Israel’s War of Independence. Our Israeli guide argued that the camp occupants “weren’t really refugees,” because they had been living in the camp since 1948. He believed that an emphasis on “refugee status” kept exiled Palestinians from “moving on” past 1948. Just when my soul needed it, we had the privilege of speaking with the Director of Alrowwad Cultural Center, Fattah, who works with Palestinian youth to encourage “beautiful resistance,” rather than violent (especially suicidal) means of fighting the occupation. Fattah invests in, and encourages Palestinian youth to utilize, artistic expressions of resistance – poetry, community-building, theater, and the written word. The Alrowwad Center reminded me of Centro Arte para la Paz in El Salvador – focused on peace within, for peace without. Fattah’s vision moved and grounded me, and his success stories again provided evidence of the kinds of conflict resolution that can be genuinely impactful.
We don’t want to die for our country; we want to live for our country. Beautiful resistance concerns everybody.”
Abdelfattah Abusrour, PhD Director of Alrowwad Cultural and Theater Society
The Dead Sea/Nazareth/Tiberias/Golan Heights
The Salty waters of the Dead Sea, effortless floating, and beer at the lowest bar in the world…
rejuvenated our group nicely for our journey to Nazareth and Tiberias. This leg of the trip, we stayed at a lovely, condo-style homestead right beside the Sea of Galilee. For the two days we were there, we spent evenings watching the sun go down, journaling, and night swimming, enjoying views of rolling hills and the Jaffa skyline, visible above the waves. Of course, in the midst of R&R, we made time to meet with Palestine’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Europe, who discussed the difficulties of working for a struggling state, and sought to justify PA policies toward Palestinians in Gaza (i.e. cutting electricity).
Refreshed and motivated from all we had learned so far, we traveled to the Golan Heights to meet with the oft-overlooked Druze community there, who still consider themselves Syrian, though the hills are currently occupied by Israel. The Druze patriarch with whom we met, when asked about the conflict, said: “We don’t have the luxury of worrying about that;”currently, Israel takes excellent care of the Druze in Golan Heights, and to criticize the state could lead to them losing these benefits. I found this statement incredibly sharp. Though many in the community have family in Syria whom they cannot see, they do not resist Israel’s claim to the land. The Druze attitude again supports the idea that a little bit of economic development may be a more effective method of pacifying resistance to the state than any militarized response. The Golan Heights overlook Syria; during our visit we saw smoke rising from the Syrian Civil War, and heard mortar shells that sounded like thunder. Our guide shrugged his shoulders at our alarm, and explained that this was daily life, and that what we were hearing was mild compared to most days, bringing the conflict in Syria into a kind of relief that only becomes possible through encounter.
The last few days of our trip, I really noticed not having to wear long skirts and long-sleeved shirts, with our shift to more secular cities. The women in our group weren’t being told to cover-up as we visited different sites, and interactions became more relaxed. We also visited an entirely socialized, secular, old-fashioned kibbutz called Ramat Yohanan, and heard about the transition that most kibbutzim (the plural– who knew?!) have had to make to capitalist practices, because of their incompatibility with the capitalist economy of Israel and a globalized market.
The beautiful Baha’i (another religious minority in Israel) Gardens bid us “goodbye” as we left the stunning city of Haifa, and our final formalized delegation meeting happened at a bilingual school (Arabic and Hebrew/Jewish and Arab children taught together) called Orchard of Abraham’s Children in Jaffa, where we heard from a visionary teacher named Ihab. She explained the ways bilingual education builds bridges between Israeli and Arab families who are seeking to inspire the next generation to work for peace. She summarized the peacebuilding process beautifully by saying:
[With] this school, we have planted a seed in the middle of Jaffa…this measure is small; it’s not shouting. It’s calm. But, in our hearts, it’s big. It’s big. I’m sure.”
With that, we enjoyed one more sunset in Tel Aviv – dancing the night away, getting stung by some jellyfish in the Mediterranean, and meeting local Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis, before hopping on a plane back to Denver.
So, Now What?
Concretely, I’ll be doing one-on-one Arabic tutoring next quarter, and I will carry on studying the history of Israel-Palestine. I hope to continue exploring the possibilities for small-scale peacebuilding processes based on environmental sustainability and gender equality to build networks of resistance, healing, and policymaking. I’ll also be eating more hummus, and now have some friends and a host family in the Mid East to chat with via Skype and WhatsApp! Additionally, I’ve connected with some of the organizations I liked most, to see how I can help remotely.
More abstractly, I sincerely believe that the walls that stand to divide Palestine from Israel mirror the walls that have been built to blind us from our common ancestries and the beauty of sharing sacred spaces. The further we get from one another psychologically and emotionally, the more difficult it is going to be to get rid of these barriers. The Israel-Palestine conflict is not centuries-old; this historical misrepresentation distracts us from recognizing the geopolitical and economic interests that are served by walls and conflicts and a divided citizenry. Despite these painful realities, Jerusalem, especially, stands as a reminder: unity and disunity are on the same block; they live a breath, and a choice, away. This conflict provides a concentrated example of the world that is inevitably created by systems that prioritize homogeneity, zero-sum games, isolation, peace treaties over a strong civil society, and mutually exclusive narratives. However, so, too, does Jerusalem provide a concentrated example of our common roots; it is a tangible reminder of how much myth and history we share. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip, and to get to know some of the projects that are working to foster peace.
Thank you all for the financial and emotional support, and for educating and inspiring me as mentors and peacemakers in your own communities. Shalom/Salaam/Peace
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I participated from May 17-31 in an Israel/Palestine trip organized by Bob Pyne of St Norbert’s Peace & Justice Center in co-sponsorship with Mejdi Tours, which specializes in what they call “cultural immersion” tours. It was extremely well done, with guides who are committed to bi-partisan discussions between Israeli and Palestinian citizens and exposing their guests to differing perspectives/narratives of the many stakeholders.
My initial interest was in seeing firsthand how Israel has created such a dynamic economy and civilization, and I was somewhat able to see that. That is one incredible story. The other is the disaster that is being created from by the national government relative to human rights treatment of the Palestinian people it oversees.
We heard very partisan narratives of their views from an Israeli government foreign affairs specialist, an Imam overseeing the Temple on the Mount Muslim responsibility, a Rabbi within an Israeli settlement, a Franciscan priest on the purpose of the Catholic/Christian presence, a Druze on the fact that the Golan Heights are “occupied Syria,” and a Palestinian Liberation Organization spokesperson. We participated in Jewish/Muslim discussions at a Sulha Peace Project evening arranged by our guide, Elad, and heard testimony about the Family Circles movement, an effort to create joint Jewish/Muslim discussions, from two men who had suffered from partisan religious terrorism … and joined international peace advocate David Kretschmer in his home to hear about his version of where the two-state solution is heading and the human rights problem. We were hosted at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv for substantive insights.
And we spent two nights as guests of families in Palestinian Bethlehem, two Christian families and one that is Muslim, joined an evening with a Muslim family related to the Mejdi cofounder that included a four-piece band and dancing (and definitely no alcohol!), were hosted by a Druze family that lived high on a hill near Haifa (with “date juice”), and enjoyed a Shabbat meal on Friday evening at the apartment of a young man and his girl friend. In all cases, the food was plentiful and excellent, served by very welcoming people.
And as we toured “The Jesus Trail” throughout Israel and the West Bank, we encountered the actual daily living conditions that face both Israelis and Palestinians … and the difference is disturbing.
more excerpts from Phil’s trip journal coming soon… Thanks Phil!
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Here are some destinations where we can build custom experiential learning programs for you!
Travel to Ireland for a Dual Narrative tour of Northern Ireland and learn about The Troubles from two perspectives; explore the history and language or take in Ireland with a focus on its literary past,perhaps you will uncover the secrets behind its myths, legends and folklore.
Bring your class to Cuba to see the sites, meet the people and appreciate the complexity of this unique society. Take spanish language classes, visit the University of Havana, study the architecture…the history, learn to Salsa, see a baseball game.
Take a trip to Berlin and Poland to gain a greater understanding of the Holocaust and meet with local community members to learn about how they survived and thrived after WWII; meet with the Jewish community who survived and stayed in Poland and meet with non-Jewish members of the Polish Resistance, learn about their impact on the war, and its impact on them.
Travel to Jerusalem and learn about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from the people living it, take part in an archaeological dig, spend a few days in Jordan to explore the ancient city of Petra.
Come with us to Hungary to learn about the rise and fall of Communism and while you’re there see the spectacular Haiduk cowboys at the Hortobágyi National Park, explore the history of Buda and Pest, take a ride on the Danube to discover the museums, galleries and artists in the quaint village of Szentendre.
Visit Albania and Bosnia and discover how the intersection of ethnicity, religion, and nationalism has shaped the history of the region, and meet with local religious leaders, community organizations, and peace activists who are pioneering projects in coexistence.
On all of our trips there are opportunities to volunteer, take language classes, meet with local students and teachers, enjoy home cooked meals and truly experience your destination in an authentic way.
Ready to plan your trip? Contact Kelly Vest at [email protected] or (703) 349-1554 ext. 202
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Masada (Hebrew for fortress) is a place of grim and majestic beauty that has become one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols as the place where the last Jewish stronghold against Roman invasion stood. Next to Jerusalem, it is the most popular destination of tourists visiting Israel.
We were excited to see that Masada was on our National Geographic Expedition tour. Masada is an ancient fortress that sits on top of a rock plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. The plateau of Masada is located on the eastern fringe of the Judean Desert near the shore of the Dead Sea, between En Gedi and Sodom. It is a mountain bloc that rose and was detached from the fault escarpment, surrounded at it base by Wadi Ben Yair on the west and Wadi Masada on the south and east. The plateau, 450 meters above the level of the Dead Sea, is approximately 650 meters long and 300 meters wide. East of the mountain is sediment left by the ancient Dead Sea, scored by numerous cracks.
Visitors enter at the base and have the option to hike to the top on snake path (about an hour) or opt for the quicker, far easier route: the cable car. We were limited on time and some of our group members had mobility issues so we took the cable car up.
Snake Path – Masada National Park
Snake Path – Masada National Park
Heading up on the cable car to Masada
Cable Car Base on top of Masada, Israel
Going up on the cable car really made us realize how big the fortress really is. It made us wonder how material was carried up. We went up with our guide fromMEJDI Tours. You cannot get a guide at Masada, you have to arrange for one beforehand. Some people like the ‘short tour’ which would include the Western Palace, synagogue, breach in the wall, the bath house, store houses and to overlook the Northern Palace. This would take about an hour to an hour and a half at least. If you do your research before hand and are more adventurous, then you may also want to walk the whole way around the top, go down into the water cistern at the southern end, explore the ruins in the casement walls, and go down the two levels (if you don’t have vertigo) into the Northern Palace. The longer visit could take 2-3 hours if you want to see all the sites, photograph the desert which is spectacular, and not rush.
Masada Fortress with the Dead Sea in the background.
Masada Ruins, Israel
Masada Ruins, Israel
Judean Desert from Masada
Masada’s remote location and its national defenses were the advantages that transformed it into a fortress during the Second Temple period.
Part Of The Northern Palace of Masada, Israel
Herod, who ruled from 37 BCE to 4 BCE chose the site as a refuge against his enemies, and as a winter palace. During his reign, luxurious palaces were build here in addition to well-stocked storerooms, cisterns, and a casemate wall. After the death of Herod in 4 BCE and the annexation of Judea to the Roman Empire in 6 CE, the Romans stationed a garrison at Masada.
Model of Masada Fortress
Romans garrison at Masada
Storerooms at Masada
Storerooms in the Northern Palace at Masada
A Columbarium (housing structure for doves and pigeons) is seen on a tower on the west casemate wall. It was used for multiple purposes – as an observation tower, raising pigeons for their meat, and bird droppings which were used as a fertilizer for growing food.
The synagogue on Masada is one of the oldest in Israel, and was probably used for worship by Herod’s family. During the Great Revolt, Masada’s defenders made a number of structural changes: using stones taken from the palaces, they added several columns, combined the entrance with the prayer hall, and added stone benches. Fortunately, for these extremely observant Jews, the house of worship already faced Jerusalem.
Synagogue on Masada, Israel
The Large Bathhouse served the guests and senior officials of Masada. It consisted of a large courtyard surrounded by porticos and several rooms, all with mosaic or tiled floors and some with frescoed walls. The largest of the rooms was the hot room (caldarium). Its suspended floor was supported by rows of low pillars, making it possible to blow hot air from the furnace outside, under the floor and through clay pipes along the walls, to heat the room to the desired temperature.
Masada North Bathhouse
Mosaic tile on the walls of Masada, Israel
Masada Large Bathhouse Remains
Mesada Large Bathhouse Remains
More than two thousand years have passed since the fall of the Masada fortress yet the dry climate and its remoteness have helped to preserve the remains of its extraordinary story.
Exploring the ruins at Masada
Declared a United Nations World Heritage Site in 2001, Masada National Park features a sand-colored Visitors’ Center which hugs the slopes, a fascinating, interactive museum, and a thrilling audio-visual production. But the most exciting portion of a visit to Masada is a tour of the mountaintop — which is accessible by foot by the winding “snake path” or by a wheelchair-accessible cable car that runs from the tourist center at the feet of Masada to the top.
Make sure to bring water, a hat and good walking shoes.
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Our next blog post comes from traveler Louise T., who traveled with us in December 2014…
I floated through the Holy Land on a river of coffee. It was coffee I’d never had before, and it was different each time. Or perhaps each cup just tasted different because of where I was drinking it and who was serving it.
I was on a 10-day group tour of Israel and Jordan, and the pace was brisk. Our days were crammed with sacred sites, museums, ruins, lectures, steps — and more steps. Clearly, there was only one thing that would keep me going and that thing was coffee. But a cup of coffee here isn’t just a caffeine jolt. It is the signature gesture of hospitality and offered me, intentionally or not, a window onto people and places I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
During a hike up to the Banias waterfall in Israel’s Golan Heights, for instance, our group came upon a Druze shopkeeper dispensing coffee and snacks from a cabin along the trail. He was dressed in traditional baggy white shirwal pants and headscarf, sporting the bushy moustache favored by older Druze men. I sipped the brew he prepared for me and waited out a chilly downpour, watching him stretch sticky bread dough over a hot metal dome and cook it for less than a minute. He smeared local honey and melted chocolate on the plate-sized paper-thin pita and rolled it up, the warm mixture oozing out the top. It was an unforgettable treat, offered to me with grace and pride.
My most unexpected cup came during an unplanned side-trip to Tel Aviv Medical Center. I’d stupidly sprained an ankle and was both in pain and furious with myself. Was I going to miss some of the trip? Were there some strong non-FDA approved narcotics I could take? Well, no, but there was a pharmacy where I could be fitted for a walking boot. I hobbled in and plopped into a chair, fuming. The cheerful pharmacist gently hoisted my ankle onto a bench. “Coffee?” he asked? “Excuse me?” I replied dumbly. “Would you like a coffee?” he repeated. “Now?” I said, still not getting it. He gave up on me and took the matter into his own hands. “With sugar?” he called to me from behind a counter. “Yes,” I nodded vigorously. So as he fitted the boot, I sat back and sipped, wondering what Walgreen’s would think about this.
By the time I got to Jordan, seven days into the trip, I was thoroughly addicted to both the coffee and the role it plays in daily life here. We found out from the Bedouins during a visit to a restaurant camp in Wadi Rum in southern Jordan. Bedouins still make coffee with a mihjab, a wooden base with a foot-long pestle that serves as both a coffee grinder and a percussion instrument as it knocks against the base. Once the coffee was prepared, one of our Bedouin hosts passed it around our group. I couldn’t help noticing that, while he wore a blanket-like robe and a dark kohl around his eyes, he also used a cellphone. There are modern ways here, for sure, but the way coffee is prepared is as old as the sandstone mountains above us.
Too soon, it was Day 10 of the trip, and my river of coffee and the experiences it sparked would be ending. I could find Arabic coffee at home in Los Angeles of course, but it wouldn’t be the same, and the chances of being served a cup in a pharmacy were slim. I boarded the jet reluctantly in Amman. I dozed off as we climbed, waking to find a Royal Jordanian flight attendant standing next to me. She held a tray of the small cups I had come to know and love, their contents a deep, chocolaty brown. “Would you care for a coffee?” she asked. This was the real thing and we were still technically in Jordan so it would be my last cup of authentic Middle Eastern coffee. “Yes,” I said, inhaling the intense aroma. “Absolutely.”
Want to make your own Arabic Coffee? Here’s how:
Add water to a pot, and bring water almost to a boil.
Add sugar (depending on preference, about 1 spoonful), and let it dissolve in the water.
While the water is still hot (not boiling!), add two spoonfuls of ground coffee and stir.
Let the coffee come to a boil. As soon as foam starts to rise, take it off the heat and let it settle.
Put it back on the heat, let it foam, and remove from heat.
Let the coffee sit for a few minutes, then serve.
If at any point the foam vanishes, you’ve burnt the coffee. Never let the coffee boil for more than a second – this will also burn the coffee!
If you choose to have your coffee without sugar, let the coffee bubble up, take it off the heat to settle, and repeat the process 4-5 times (there will be no foam left at the end)
To enhance the flavor, add a few cardamon pods and cloves in the water.
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Kevin Conlon and Anthony Shaker, two teachers from Chicago, traveled with MEJDI Tours this summer. Their experiences, including photos and recorded interviews, are shared on their blog. The following is an excerpt from their first day in the region:
As we were driven by taxi into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport it was hilly and the highway was winding. There were many clusters of new apartment buildings of white stone, set on rugged hills. When we saw a sign for Ramallah (in the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank) on the outskirts of Jerusalem, all of a sudden walls were visible everywhere, including a view of the Security Wall that is meant to separate the West Bank Palestinian population from Israel. The other walls were mainly barriers between traffic and residential areas, but walls, nonetheless, seemed to be a theme. There were also many security towers visible from the road. We drove through what looked like a toll booth, but there were young Israeli soldiers standing around the booths as the cars drove by, barely slowing down. We were warmly greeted at the National Hotel in East Jerusalem a few blocks from the Old City, where we would stay for our first four nights, and our final night.
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