This post was brought to you by Jocelyn G and Bruce M…

Today we left Tel Aviv and drove north along the coast to Atlit.  Atlit was a British detainee camp that was established in the late 1930’s to prevent Jewish refugees from entering British Palestine. Tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were interned at the camp during and after WWII.  Though little of the original camp remains, the museum had constructed a series of life sized dioramas (a processing shed, a barrack, a transport ship) to try to convey the experience of fleeing the Nazi camps and ending up detained on a similarly looking camp run by the British.

From Atlit we spent late morning touring the Jewish artists colony in Ein Hod and enjoying an overly abundant lunch in the  Arab Ein Hawd.  Between the two Ein’s we tried to tease out the story of how the Arabs had abandoned the village, the artists had started their colony, and the Arabs had established a new village higher up in the valley. Is it an “abandoned” village if the Israeli army attacked it three times?  Do you leave an Arab village alone during the civil war if there is shelling of the main coastal road from the hills?  What does it mean to be an unrecognized village?  Why does it take 40 years to get a road and 50 to get electricity?  And not to diminish the previous troubling questions, we left wondering how the HaBayit restaurant could release a cookbook so we could revisit their cooking.

Our last stop of the day before leaving the coast and heading inland to Nazareth was Juha’s Guesthouse and Tours in the Arab fishing village of Jisr az Zarqa. Juha’s Guest House is a social business begun by Ahamad Juha, a Palestinian living in Israel and Neta Hanien, an Israeli Jew. Upon our arrival,  we were introduced to two people: the student leader Mahmoud and Genevieve Begue, the Educational Manager of the “Youth Leaders”– the youth leadership program in Jisr az Zarqa.  Youth Leaders empowers local kids by teaching them English and training them to guide tours in English in the village.

Early in our discussion, Genevieve explained that Jisr az Zarqa has been a community isolated from other Arab communities that stigmatized the town due to its Bedouin origins and collaboration with the Zionists prior to the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. The years of isolation from other Arab communities and surrounding wealthy Jewish communities left residents despairing of the possibility of new economic opportunity.  Juha’s Guesthouse has become the center of a web of new community energy and new relationships and opportunities for the village – drawing in international hikers walking the Israel National Trail, Israelis wanting to enjoy the beautiful stretch of beach and groups like us interested in learning about models for Palestinian-Jewish relationship building.

During our discussion, Genevieve shared that her graduate studies in Peace and her experience over the last four years in Jisr has made her realize that the concept of coexistence was not working as a construct to resolve Jewish-Palestinian conflict. A better focus is relationship building– it is more important and effective to focus on getting to know one another by listening and building commonalities— and when disagreements arise, we agree to disagree”

After a walk from the guest house to Jizr’s beautiful stretch of beach, we watched the sunset and then boarded our bus to Nazareth.

For More info on Jisr az Zarqa, see Neta Hainen’s TEDx talk at:https://youtu.be/ZdNcOy_eAB0

Bruce and Jocelyn

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Today was a rich and full day.  We started the day with a tour of the Old City of Nazareth led by Ramzi.  Nazereth is primarily an Arab city, with Muslim and Christian inhabitants.  As it was the home of Jesus for much of his life, and is the site of the Basilica of the Annunciation, it is a very popular destination for Christian tourists.  Along the way Ramzi showed us powerful street graffiti, demonstrating Palestinians’ sorrow and anger over destruction of villages and loss of many Palestinian lives (termed martyrs) during the process of the creation of the state of Israel, as well as current mixed feelings of anger, loyalty to their people, and hope.

We toured the grand and striking Basilica, which, in the Catholic tradition, was the site of the annunciation of the birth of Christ and also housed the site of Mary’s home.  Although the exterior was completed in 1969, the interior contains stunning and and spiritual tributes to Mary from a wide range of time periods, including beautiful artistic tableaus contributed by countries across the globe.

We next met with Shireen, a self-possessed and very accomplished 23 year old Muslim student at the Technion who is instrumental in staffing the NGO Founders and Coders, which teaches coding and hi-tech skills to local and international students in an intensive four month program.  She answered our many tough questions with integrity, depth, and honesty–regarding her mission to promote accessible and pragmatic education and skills, and also her identity as a non-traditional Muslim woman making her mark on the world.  She impressed all of us with her maturity, inquisitiveness, warmth, and drive.

We explored the winding streets of Nazareth rich with scents of spices, kanafeh (extraordinary sweet cheese-filled pastry), and plentiful markets.  After lunch we headed to Haifa, where we met with representatives with Bet Hagefen, an established organization dedicated to multiculturalism and understanding among the city’s Arabs and Jews.  We learned that in Haifa there has been a pattern of Jews and Arabs working and living together with less tension than in other parts of the country–at least partially related to the fact that the city is more secular than cities such as Jerusalem–without the holy sites that have been a source of such struggle.  We learned about programs that Bet Hagefen is doing bringing Arab and Jewish children and teenagers together–although we learned that by and large they remain in separate public schools.  We were reminded  of how people can remain committed to their own narratives–our speaker mentioned that the socialist foundation of the country mitigated the impact of income inequality, when in fact extreme income inequality has become a major social problem in Israel in recent decades.  If someone is attached to a particular mission and belief structure, it may be challenging to broaden one’s perspective.

We toured upper Haifa and enjoyed an overlook featuring the city, the bay, and the spectacular Baha’i gardens, learning more about the history and geography of the city and the region, as well as a bit about the unique Baha’i faith.

We next traveled to Isfiya, a predominantly Druze village high in the Carmel mountains near Haifa.  We learned about the Druze faith and culture from our knowledgeable and spirited guide Ha-el.   The Druze have lived in the region which is now the Israeli Galilee, Lebanon, and Syria for hundreds of years.   Their language is Arabic and they share cultural similarities with Muslims of the region, but their faith is distinct from Islam–it combines elements of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and a spiritual essence similar to Buddhism.  Their faith and practice is in many ways secretive–one cannot convert to the Druze faith, and adolescents make a decision whether to practice a religiously observant or secular path.  They believe in reincarnation, and that one is obligated to lead an honorable life to pave the way for the next life.  They have a strong sense of family and community, and cluster in  mountaintop villages. Distinct from some Arabs we have met, who have identified themselves as Palestinians living in Israel, Ha-el described that the Druze hold loyalty to both their faith community and their nation–he clearly calls himself an Israeli.   Also, the Druze have made a commitment for their men to serve in the Israeli army, which can be particularly challenging if Israel is in a conflict with another nation which may have Druze serving in their army as well.

The village was stunningly beautiful atop the mountain, and we were treated to a delicious feast in a traditional Druze home–along with fabulous music provided by a local Oud player/singer and drummer.  We all relished the hospitality, and were sated with the flavorful food, music, and spirit.  Rumor has it that our rabbi did a bit of a dance routine which was captured on video and may be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

We had discussion and debriefing from Ramzi and Gal on our way home–a beautiful day of learning, relishing, and bonding among our group and very knowledgeable and generous guides.

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Tel Aviv 2018, the “White City”, a bustling, intense, work-hard, play-hard, modern city with high-minded parents. A liberal haven (in an increasingly politically and socially conservative Israel) A rash but stimulating environment for artists and entrepreneurs (but perhaps with diminishing opportunities and challenges for young Israelis?). Just what the Founders intended when establishing the first Jewish city in 1909?

The stage was set for this pondering by our visit to the Trumpeldor Cemetery (where many of Israel’s political and cultural leaders are buried) and to the Beit Hair museum, where on one floor the office of Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, is preserved, and on another floor, a massive, reverberating stretch of loud extravagant graffiti art by Portuguese street artists is displayed in an exhibit that focuses on urban art.

Our afternoon was spent absorbing the chaos and fun of the Carmel shuk and nahalit Binh Amin art market —- we are well stocked with new jewelry and dried fruits and nuts!

We welcomed shabbat with the reform congregation of Kehilat Halev. The Rabbi and community members shared with us the challenges of developing nOn-Orthodox egalitarian congregations in Israel that is dominated politically and socially by male orthodox rabbinate.

January 9th

 

One of the surprises in Jordan was that we had an extra person on our bus, a tourist service police officer. Mo said that they have been trying to do this but that the buses they are on are totally random. So some tourists get them and some don’t.

The entrance to Petra was right outside our hotel. Petra itself is truly breathtaking and amazing. Its history is incredible as well.

The Nabuteans who created this site were, according to Mo, truly ahead of their time in many areas. In their engineering they created from top to bottom.In other ways they appear to have been open to diversity of different faith traditions and religions. They also appear to have treated women as equals. Nobody really knows what happened to them.

The entrance into the section where the library is takes your breath away. There are barkers everywhere trying to get your attention to buy their stuff. Many of them are families who used to actually live in these caves. The government has provided homes for them but many come back every day to sell things, provide camel rides, donkey rides and even a chariot ride back to the main entrance for tired travelers.

Several of us managed to hike to the monastery-over 900 steps…on my fitbit it said that entire walk was 25,000 steps!

Along the way we got to see how they make sand art, pretty amazing. The one concerning piece for me and Mo warned us to not to buy from them, are the children who are here trying to sell things instead of being where they should be, in school. Also I am not sure how well they actually treat the animals that we saw.

The view from the monastery was truly amazing. I know I am saying that a lot in this missive but it was absolutely awe inspiring. If I remember correctly in the distance you can see where they believe Aaron’s tomb is.

 

January 10th

Our first stop was at Al Shakur built in the 1100’s-it was a crusaders castle. Next we headed to Madaba and saw St. George’s church which is known for its mosaics. We saw an old map that showed us the pilgrim’s path of travel. Then we traveled the Desert Highway to Mt. Nebo where it is believed that Moses traveled to and saw the Promised Land but was not allowed to enter it.

Unfortunately it was a bit misty the daywe were there and so we couldn’t see as far as you can when it is clear. Still a beautiful view-normally you see as far as Jericho or Jerusalem. We stopped at a place that made mosaic art. I love the tree of life design and find it fascinating how important it is in both Islamic and Christian art.

At the end of the day we came to Amman which is a very large city and very modern appearing, especially compared to the rest of the country. Most places you could truly feel what life had been like for those who lived here centuries ago.

 

 

 

January 11th

 

We had a lazy morning since we’ll be heading home tonight/tomorrow morning-flights in the 2AM range. Then we headed to Jerash where we saw more Roman ruins. There we saw Apollo’s temple and Aretemis’ temple. Hers was actually larger than Apollo’s. It was interesting to look up from the site and see the town built near the edges.

Mo took us to a really good restaurant that evening. The meal was truly one of the best we ate. Although other than the food we ate at the hotels, which are what you expect it to be, everywhere we ate was pretty good. As a vegetarian I never found myself to be hungry. Mo left us there and Akhmed took us to the airport. We picked up someone who was helped us through customs although that was a little awkward since he wasn’t where we expected him to be and our driver’s English wasn’t good enough to explain what was happening but in the end we all made it to the airport and through customs. Indeed I went through 6 different security checkpoints in all before arriving home.

 

Final Reflections

 

As I reflect on the journey that we took through Jerusalem especially, I am thankful. I am thankful for the members of our group-they are all amazing awesome people who I really enjoyed getting to know. I am thankful for Morgie and Yousef and Yahzen who were funny and inspiring and knowledgeable. I think that there is something important about traveling to places like Israel and seeing for yourself the “truth” of an area, or as much truth as you can find in the days we were there. Walking through the gate to Ramallah, being stopped by the IDF at a checkpoint, boarded, the tension on Yousef’s face and throughout his body, bring home like nothing else can what people are experiencing day in and day out. The rooftop containers for water stand checkered along the countryside point out in mute ways the Palestinian situation in ways that we often don’t realize or see. The hope that we saw in many, on both sides, of finding a way to not just co-exist but to make things better that often stands side by side with the despair of an unknown future. If I could say to anyone who was thinking about going and undecided, I’d tell you to go. There’s nothing like the actual experience to truly learn so much about people, a culture, and history that is not complete without each other’s stories: Christian, Jewish and Muslim, together make a mosaic that could speak to much of the divisiveness in our own nation today.

 

 

 

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Today we left Tel Aviv and arrived in Eilat where we crossed the border into Jordan. In Tel Aviv several of us had our suitcases searched. Poor Jean had hers totally apart, she had placed all her purchases on the bottom but we all made it through okay. The flight was fairly short and the crossing uneventful. Geography change though is huge. We saw the Red Sea from the sky but because of the timing had to hit the road to get to Wadi Rum. We sat under a Bedouin tent and ate and then jumped in the back of 4X4 keeps to explore the natural beauty of this area. It was breathtaking. One section had an echo chamber but the sand stone mountains and their formations are worth checking out. On the way we kept seeing camels and met a man who had several camels, four of who were about to give birth. Then we hit the road for the two-hour drive to Petra, checked in our hotel and had dinner.

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Today was bittersweet. It was a great day but also hard because we had to say goodbye to our guides and our driver here in Israel when we arrived in Tel Aviv. Tomorrow we head to Jordan. They were truly outstanding.

We began our day by checking out of the hotel in Tiberias and headed to Nazareth where we met with a local pastor, Yohama Katanacho from Nazareth Evangelical College. He told us a bit of his story. He grew up on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and from what he heard as a young child he believed that God was only the God of Israel. As a teenager he saw God as myth and became an atheist. He saw that religion was used to abuse Palestinians. But one night he had an experience that he can only attribute to God and began his journey into faith. He went to a Christian Church and heard for the first time that God loves the Palestinians. He told us that love is a decision and that we have to exercise it more in war but that love is not an excuse to abandon justice.

We next went to the Basilica of the Anunciation. Outside the church as well as inside are depictions of Mary and the baby Jesus which were sent from all over the world. Inside are two levels, a lower one and the upper level which is larger and appears to be more of a worship space. The doors have art work depicting lot’s of Biblical stories, both Hebrew scripture and the New Testament as well.

We wandered the streets of Nazareth which in Jesus day would have been a tiny little town. We went into what was once a synagogue and conjecture is that it might have been the Synagogue that Jesus knew and grew up in and preached in. We also entered a mosque there and saw the play where Muslims come five times a day to pray.

We stopped in Tzippori a site of particular importance to the Jewish people. Here is where the Talmud was codified. Also we could see ruins of an ancient synagogue and other buildings. It was fascinating. It was also the location of tile work. By what they found there they believe that it may have been a school and the tile work we saw was amazing.

On our way to Jaffa we passed by Kafur Qasem where in 1956 there was a massacre of Palestinian residents returning home from work. It seems that the Israeli’s had changed the curfew while they were at work and they were not aware of it when they came home-Morgie asked when will Israel be able to say that things like this, these bad things, happen and take responsibility. Indeed we saw the separation wall or the border wall again on our way on highway 6 into Jaffa and Tel Aviv. We saw St Peter’s church in Jaffa and the spires of 3 mosques, we heard the history of the city and finally made it to our hotel where we did say our final goodbye to Morgie, Yousef, and Yahzin.

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We woke up to rain this morning which meant that we unfortunately couldn’t hike the trail to the Banias waterfall but we did see the location and the openings there. Afterward we went to a winery and had a tour and tasting of their wines. Across the street we got to taste olive oil and look at the ways they use olive oil in women’s cosmetics. The place with the olive oil was a cooperative, similar to a kibbutz. We had a good lunch and then wandered down to Capernaum, the town that Jesus was believed to have lived and preached. We couldn’t sail across the Sea of Galilea but did see the sign to Ginosaur. Because of the changes we got done early and so we have a couple of hours before we gather to talk about Jordan and the trip there. Tomorrow we leave Tiberius and head to Nazareth and Tel Aviv.

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Today was kind of a sad day, we said good-bye to Jerusalem as we headed towards Jericho and the Sea of Galilea. We started the day by catching up on a site we had missed-the Mount of Olives. The view from there of Jerusalem is just breathtaking. You can see the Dome of the Rock and the Church of Holy Sepulchre and the wall around the Old City. Below us was an Israeli cemetery.

We then began to travel north towards Tel Jericho. The mountains are amazing and you can see the strata in the rocks. You see Bedouin communities who have been displaced from their original

homes and settlements as well as Palestinian communities and even a couple of refugee camps along the way. We stopped at the Mount of Temptation where we were welcomed with dates which were really tasty. They were medjool dates. I wish I could fit some into my suitcase but there’s limited space but they are indeed good. Today is Jean O’s 81st birthday and she celebrated by riding the camel Jacky. Back on the bus we started to descend until we were below sea level. The striations in the rock were even more noticeable. We went to Tel Jericho and looked at the various wall pieces and supports that they have unearthed there. We also saw the where the public baths would have been.

We also saw the ruins of Hisham’s Palace which was destroyed by an earthquake. It must have been amazing when it was whole. We saw the entrance way, and a floor that they unearthed that was tiled but it covered right now due to the need for money to restore and protect it.

We also went to Beit Sh’ean which was a Roman city-a pretty large city once filled with a thriving population.

We went to one possible location of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river. While we were there we got to watch as several pilgrims were immersed in the chilly waters.

We next traveled to the Sea of Galilee where were are spending tonight and tomorrow night.