Today was a bittersweet day. It was the final day of touring and the last time we would get to be with any of our wonderful tour guides. While many of us by now were ready for this Dialogue of Civilizations to come to a conclusion—especially after five emotionally draining weeks—it is still never easy to say goodbye.
This morning we said goodbye to the Hermon Field School Guest House, and as a result said goodbye to a million ants that plagued our bathroom and bedrooms. That was perhaps the only happy goodbye of the whole trip! After leaving behind the ants, we boarded our bus and headed to the mystical city of Tzfat. This was my second time exploring this city and my second visit with a kabbalistic artist! The artist we met with gave us an interesting explanation of the connection between numbers and Hebrew letters and fascinated the students with his stories and artwork. At the conclusion of the artist’s presentation, many of my group stayed to purchase some artwork and chat with the artist.
Following the first visited we walked over to the Jewish quarter of Tzfat and took a quick look inside a very old synagogue. It was small, but very beautiful. It was interesting to see how it was constructed—you could see the areas way on the side where women were expected to sit. After the Synagogue visit we were given some free time for lunch. I joined a group and we found a little café to sit down at outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and breathtaking mountainous views. I ordered cheese blintzes, my favorite brunch food, and a lemonade. After lunch we reconvened at the bus and continued our travels to the Mr. Beatitudes for a look around. This place is a hill in northern Israel where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount. While religiously it was of no significance to me, it was really a beautiful place to see and important to many of the students in my group
For our final stop of the day, and our last touring point, we went to Capernaum to get a brief tour of the temple ruins and of the places that Jesus was said to have lived and walked. It was an interesting place, although I found it hard to put that into historical perspective in my mind. Sadly, however, that was our final stop for the day, and afterwards we were headed back to sunny TLV! Upon arrival and getting checked back in to our hostel for the final night, I joined Marie, Yani, Amelie, and Laura for dinner at HaKosem. I ordered Sabich, my favorite food in Israel, and a lemonade—probably my favorite beverage. After dinner it was time to return to the hostel and finish our final assignments of the program. We were all beginning to feel a little sad about the idea of saying goodbye to everyone the following evening. These four and a half weeks challenged all of us emotionally, academically, and mentally and forced us to be open to new ideas and for that I am grateful.
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June 2nd was a very interesting day because we were able to learn about the effects of the Green Line o a village and visit both the White Mosque and Church of the Annunciation. At 9 am we got on the bus from Tel Aviv to Givat Haviva, an educational foundation that focuses on equality and understanding between Jews and Arabs. When we arrived at Givat Haviva, we saw a beautiful campus. It was very Green and had beautiful monuments.
We walked through the campus until we reached a classroom, where Lydia Eisenberg, a very famous peace activist received us. She gave us a quick introduction to the conflict, and then she introduced us to a Professor who took over the rest of the trip. The professor gave us a quick history lesson on the creation of the state of Israel. I think its important to listen to how every speaker provides a narrative of the history and foundation of the state, because it provides us with a better understanding of his position towards the conflict. When the professor was done lecturing he took us back to the coach were we drove to a village that had been divided during the Oslo Peace process, with the creation of the Green Line.
When I heard this village had been divided I imagined it was physically divided. In reality it wasn’t houses on both sides of the line looked exactly the same, Israeli and Palestinian cars were parked next to each other. Everything seemed the same except it wasn’t. I couldn’t help but think what would happen to this people if a two state solution was developed. Currently half of the populations are considered Arab-Israeli, while the other half are Palestinians.
While we were standing at the top of a three-story building I could not see the difference between both sides of the village. Life seemed normal; it was a very commercial area, with several types of stores. On the roof top I saw a man driving a forklift in the middle of the street, from what I understood from observing him was that his job was to carry products from one side of the street to the other. I couldn’t help what would happen to his job if the green line was formally put in place, what job would he had, in which side of the street would he live on?
As the day went by, we went to Nazareth, were we visited a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This was an amazing experience because there was so much history within the church. The fact that in the present church was built on top of two old churches, is something I had hear of before, but I had never been able to see the past structures within the church. I also thought it was beautiful to see all the imageries of the Virgin Mary in several cultures and countries.
All packed and ready to go, we started our day bright and early with a single backpack on each of our backs and a lot of traveling on our horizon. We said a brief goodbye to the beach yesterday and parted with Tel Aviv today with plans of returning after a few adventurous and promising days in the Golan Heights. In honor of our little Hayarkon 48, I snapped a quick picture of our room before leaving:
Yuval (our tour guide) and Mustafa (our bus driver) awaited us in the bus as we stored our suitcases and unnecessary supplies in the hostel’s lockers. Once we were done, we all headed into the all-too familiar bus and got comfortable in our usual seats. Our travels began with an hour-long trip to Haifa. Most of us dozed off with our music playing through our headphones but some stayed up, grasped by the gorgeous sights of Tel Aviv, the green hills, the Mediterranean, and the yellow valleys passing us from our windows. Once we neared Haifa, those of us who had dozed off were awakened by Yuval. Although I managed to take a few pictures of the gorgeous sights passing us early on (see below!), I was one of the tired ones and I fell asleep during most of the ride.
But upon waking up, I immediately took out my phone to take pictures of the breathtaking sights that greeted me:
We were in Haifa – the legendary city where the Mountain meets the Sea!
Yuval introduced us to the city as we passed through it. Haifa, including its suburbs, is Israel’s third largest city. During the Late Bronze Age, the Ottomans had built a port in a city then called Tell Abu Hawam. The British had followed suit during the Mandate after the Ottomans lost the city in 1918 and made it so that Haifa became the industrial port city it is today.
Today, the city divided into three parts: the lowest part, the one directly by and around the port, is where the financially poorest of the city reside and work, the middle region of the city is the business center and residential hub of the city where those in the middle class live and those in the upper class often work, and the highest region of the city is appropriately the one where the most affluent join together at (in Yuval’s words) “the top of the cake”. An appropriate geographical representation of the city that I read about recently in the Jerusalem Post is one of a fair bride whose long dress flows into the ocean.
The “platter of the cake” or “the dress”, which is the lowest region by the port, currently suffers from the threat of urban decay and it’s an ongoing struggle the city has been fighting and trying to counter. Nonetheless, this city remains steadfast in its glory. Aside from the bustling tourism evidently prominent there, this city is also the only one in Israel with an underground subway system called Carmelit, which is quite similar to that of Boston. It’s so modern of a city that its McDonalds has a “Mac Walk” in place of a Mac Drive.
Most importantly and the main reason as to why we visited is the fact that, despite the “divide” of the city by class, Haifa is the city of the most coexistence between Palestinian Citizens of Israel and Jewish Citizens of Israel. For one, both Arabic and Hebrew are spoken equally within the city. This coexistence is often attributed to the large labor movement in which people in the city had adjoined to fight for issues that were more important to them than national issues. We were taken into the city’s Women’s Coalition Center to see the coexistence for ourselves. We were greeted by Hana and Shorsheh and were lead into a white room with beautiful art works done by a women whom had donated her collection to the center to showcase. After being invited to help ourselves with some coffee and tea by our lovely hosts, we sat in a circle in midst of the beautiful exhibition and bright windows facing the ocean.
Hana and Sorsheh are both volunteers in Isha I’lsha –one of the four organizations in the center which translates to “women to women”. The remaining three organizations are Aswat and Kaneyein (which are both largely Palestinian solely because they are Arabic-speaking) and “With You” (an organization mixed with both Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Israelis). Each of the five organizations is autonomous and independent but they are nonetheless shared within the center’s community. For instance, the organizations are often mobilized together in participating in demonstrations to causes the center advocates for or against. This model of a shared independence has allowed for the coexistence of the two identities and the five organizations and is deemed a “microcosm” to the solution of the conflict by those who work in the office.
The Women’s Coalition center started after Peace Now, a mainstream organization that supported Prime Minister Menachim Begin’s invitation to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, wouldn’t allow a female member of its organization sign the letter of agreement in fear that she, as a female, would discredit the letter in the eyes of governmental officials by signing it. She shortly left the organization after telling the story in an interview and went on to become the Educational Minister and the founder of the Women’s Coalition. The women of the new organization, not too long after it was founded, looked at the situation around them and said that if they wanted the society to be different to women, they couldn’t sit still when other groups are oppressed especially after recognizing the different layers of oppression on both sides; they realized that merely saying Palestinian was not enough, just as it was when it came to speaking about Lesbians. So, the women of the movement began taking part in the peace and resistance movement to end the occupation in 1998. Palestinian women became curious about the Jewish women joining them in their fight so they gradually approached them. History was made.
There’d become four main groups within the organization: Lesbians, Palestinians, Jews from Arab states, and Jews from Israel. Each group wanted to develop their own new organization but at the same time, they recognized that there were layers of oppression on both sides. So in 1999, they created a policy of equal representative that is currently operating today – one that understands that feminism comes in different forms and that coexistence can happen if they “live in four states, but have one homeland”. Although the center has no connections to Haifa’s orthodox Jew community, they do have relationships with religious Jews in the community. Hana explained to us that the structure of the Center was a feminist collective. On a monthly basis, they sit in a circle monthly to discuss a topic until they reached a concession. The center was nonhierarchical in a sense that it had no director. Instead, every employee has a veteran activist she can consult with on logistical issues and issues with staff members.
In current times, one of their latest struggles is about an Israeli Law that grants the women full custody of her child automatically in the case of a divorce during his or her early childhood until the age of 6. On the one hand, men don’t pay alimony if they gain equal rights and women need the alimony because, after birth and especially after divorce, they often loss status in society. But on the other hand, one can’t pick and choose – equality needs to be achieved for both sides and this isn’t fair to them.
Likewise, Isha I’lsha’s main project is one that’s fighting trafficking and prostitution. They started working against trafficking in the late 2000s. Women of trafficking have been sold by weight and smuggled through Egyptian borders to become slaves. Upon arriving, the women were treated as criminals mainly because they didn’t have their passports (which were stolen by traffickers). Police would often lock the women up and deport them to God knows where. The organization worked to raise awareness in Police officers so that they know how they treat the woman. The ladies we met told us that through their work and the changes they had managed to achieve in the legislation, trafficking has decreased. But as a repercussion, local prostitution has been increasing -as long as there is demand, there will be supply. The main goal of the organization now is to try and cut the factors that lead to prostitution from the roots.
We were introduced to Kholoud, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who has recently become responsible for the Coalition’s fundraising but has also worked with another Palestinian Israeli women in the coalition named Reem to help break the silence against sexual violence in Palestinian communities. Sexual violence is a very taboo topic and although there are multiple rape centers throughout the country, the space where the women could speak was missing. Palestinian women today are scared to go to these centers or the police because they’re still scared for their people and the repercussions of them trying to protect themselves would have on their families. So, they opened a Facebook page in Arabic through which they had currently received 34 stories that have been published anonymously. The page is solely in Arabic because they fear backlash that would criticize the “primitive” Arab society.
Kholoud, also an author of a book called Haifa Fragments, talked to us about her own political views as well stating that she doesn’t care what this land is called so long as the Palestinians have equal rights. Hana agreed, saying that she doesn’t need a Jewish state either. She said how angry she was that there is refusal to recognize the occupation of 1948 as the watershed between the conflicts of both sides because even the oppressor suffers, albeit in different ways. More so, she was angry about a law that prevents any talks about the Naqba, which in her words “legally goes against any grain of hope.” She said that there many inequalities in the society. For one, she spoke of how, regarding the hypocriticalness of the right of return, she had gone away in 1991 when the Israeli war broke out and a bomb hit Israel but she was allowed to come back. She spoke of how men on both sides need to stop trying to be “macho” to showcase their national identity. Peace could be achieved in other ways.
Likewise, in a response to a question Amelie had posed, Hana spoke about “pink washing the occupation”, a topic she wrote an article about called “No Pride in the Occupation”. She defined the term as the state taking the achievements of the gay community to portray liberalism in the state of Israel – a liberalism that is not available in the rest of the Middle East. But really, the state was never in support of the gay community. She was there as movements had to push the state to action. Even now, those in the gay community have no legal rights. Gays can’t move to Israel to live with their gay partners, for example. Even if they are allowed to move, more women are allowed in than men but nonetheless, the partners are not allowed to work and they don’t have social services or even driving rights. “It’s still an oppressive state,” Hana said. “It’s absurd to say how wonderful they are and to compare themselves to respective neighboring countries.” Sure, they were small victories but she said that the state had used these small victories to hide the fact that they are abusing the rights of the members of the community.
On our way out, we stopped by the Baha’i Garden in Haifa:
Once we left Haifa, we began a whole new learning experience – this time, regarding the Druze. Once again, Yuval gave us a lecture during the bus ride and told us how the Al-Mowahideen (the Druze’s original name which translates to the United in Arabic) is a group of outsiders whom are in fact insiders because they can connect with everyone on the inside whilst they reside on the outside. Originally, they had split off from Shia Islam in Egypt 1000 years ago. 500 years later, when the Khalifeh disappeared and came back as the Mutwahed (which is the Messiah of the community that translates to the Unifier in Arabic), the Druze created their own religion. They no longer prayed in mosques, went to hajj, or fasted. They started believing strongly in reincarnation within the community.
After the Al-Mowahideen were kicked out of Egypt, they moved to the borderlands of Syria and Lebanon, but due to the harassment they were facing, they moved to live on mountain-tops instead. The door to join the community opened then but has since sealed to converts. One can’t marry or convert into the community but must be born from the originals converts. So, the communities remain firm and are still there today. Five Druze communities remain in the Golan Heights. But some towns have both Druze and Muslims and one of the towns also has one Jewish family. They still practice the same practices as they had previously. Today, in everything but their faith, they are Palestinian yet they are the most patriarch Israelis and are in fact the minority that joins the army most. For that, they are condemned. But the community is commanded by their religion to be loyal to whatever regime is controlling them. More recently though, younger Druze have taken on a more Palestinian identity because of the present radicalism they have had to endure.
For lunch, we were taken to a 20% Muslim Druze community called the Sophia community and into a home of a member of the community. We were served a glorious feast of typical Mediterranean dishes and had a breathtaking view to accompany it.
After our lunch, our host sat us down and explained to us more about the community and the religion. He told us how Druze, whom also call themselves Bani Ma’roof, believe in one God, in a heaven and a hell, in Gender equality in all its essence, and, most prominently, in reincarnation. A mystical religion that can be traced as far back as the ancient Greek gods, they don’t believe that deeds of one life dictate the characteristics of the next life, and that you can be born rich and live kind in one life but still be born poor in the next. The only restrictions to reincarnation that they believe in is that it can only be done from human to human of the same gender and of the Druze community. The concept of constant rebirth stops them from mourning their lost loved ones; in fact, in the community, they often bury their dead under gravestones that don’t say a name or give the birth and death dates of the person beneath because there is no point in grief –their loved one will be reborn in a Druze village soon enough. He told us of a story of a boy who had died in a village near by Sophia in a tragic death but was reborn in Sophia. He spoke of how the boy, at the mere age of five, could speak the names of all the family members of his past life and, upon visiting his old home, was able to retrieve a toy he had hidden as the boy in his past life.
He told us that there were 22 Druze villages, with the majority of them in Upper and Lower Galilee and the Galon Heights. The Druze are very attached to the soil of their land and to their family homes. At home, they speak Arabic but they learn Arabic, English, and Hebrew. They started serving since 1929 and 1948 and it has become mandatory for them to serve since 1956 just as it for most other Israelis. Our host told us that he believes he is treated well in Israel –receiving 90% of his proper rights- and that if he wanted something, he’d only have to ask for it. As an example, he told us that the same educational ministry applies in the Sophia community as in the rest of Israel.
Elaborating further on the religion, he told us that the Druze are divided into two. The first group, the O’kal (which translates to Brains in Arabic), are the educated folk who practice their religion and make up 30% of the population today. The second group, the Johal (or Jaheleen, which translate to Ignorant), make up 70% and are generally defined as “non-religious” although some of them still are. The O’kal men shave their heads, grow a mustache, and wear baggy pants with a cap, and the O’kal women, and religious women in general, wear a white head scarf. Anyone in the community can become religious. At the age of 15, an individual chooses which path to undertake and if they choose the O’kal path, which less and less are doing in modern times since 1970s, they go through exams to prove their knowledge. Once they enter into the O’kal group, they are allowed to learn their true Religion, which only the principles of are told to those outside of the O’kal group, including those in the Druze community who are religious but had chosen the path of the Johal.
He ended the talk by explaining to us how each of the Druze’s five holy profits are represented by the five colors present in their flags and symbols.
After the talk, we celebrated Professor Waxman’s birthday by gifting him with two presents from the group – a Pistachio cake and a Poster of Tel Aviv which we all had signed on the back!
Afterwards, we were on our way to the Golan Heights and the view was as breathtaking as ever – a promising end to an enriching day!
I hope you enjoyed your birthday, Professor Waxman!
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Our first stop of the day was at the powerful Tel Hai memorial. This site is of vital importance to Zionists for multiple reasons. The story behind it is a tragedy defined by borders. In 1907 there was a small kibbutz in the area inhabited by Russian Jews, who shared in the idea of communal living, as well as multiple Bedouin tribes, Palestinian nomads. Originally this area was planned to be under British control but due to the lack of enforcement and strictness it ultimately fell under the control of the French. The Bedouins thought of both the French soldiers and Zionist settlers as enemies to be defeated. Years later in 1920 group of Bedouins entered the Kibbutz, deceiving the Jews by stating they were there to in search of French soldiers. Once the Bedouins had gotten far enough inside of the Kibbutz they began to open fire on the Jews. Even though the Jews fired back, eight members of the Kibbutz perished in the battle. Among them was Joseph Trumpeldor, a Zionist activist who assisted in bringing Jews into Palestine. Before he passed he stated, “It’s good to die for ones country”. This famous quote is written in Hebrew on the memorial statue. This statement still carries great meaning to the Jews and the Zionist cause. Although only a small number of people died, the impact of this battle started something monumental. It sparked a movement of heroic self-sacrifice for country, which is very much alive today. Reflecting upon what these heroic martyrs gave up for their country we all left the memorial pondering one question. What would we be willing to die for?
The next stop of the day was a quick look at the Lebanon border. Although today was a beautiful, sunny, and peaceful day at the border, our tour guide reminded us that not too long ago this area was war zone. Since the last war in 2006 ended without an official peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon, the residents of this area are always on alert during times of increased tension. Currently, both countries are in a state of peace for two main reasons. Firstly, Lebanon is an active protagonist in the Syrian crisis, which is keeping their forces rather occupied. Secondly, the last war resulted in immense damage on both sides and since then the capacity to inflict damage has only grown. Should they engage with each other, it’s clear the damage would be insurmountable, like two people holding loaded pistols to each other’s head. Neither side is willing to pull the trigger.
From there we drove up to Mount Bental, an old Israeli outpost now used by the United Nations to monitor Syria. Driving up we passed numerous livestock and flocks of birds. Upon arriving we walked up as far as we could to the lookout. Overlooking Israel, Lebanon, and Syria our tour guide discussed the meaningful history of behind this cite in the Yom Kippur War. After the Six Day War, in 1967, Israel seized this area, the Golan Heights, among other areas from Syria and Egypt. Before fighting broke out in 1973, King Hussein of Jordan secretly warned Prime Minister Golda Meir of the imminent attack. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister didn’t appropriately prepare the defense force. There are many reasons this failure can be explained. One of the most widely accepted is that after the destruction of the Arab States in the Six Day War it was hard to believe Syria and Egypt would be willing to risk beginning another one. Their strategy was to fight a limited war in which the goal was to reclaim their land that they previously lost. While Syria did ultimately fail to regain their land, the Yom Kippur war was the second bloodiest war in Israeli history. While at Mount Bental we walked through old underground bunkers, getting a small sense of how these soldiers lived during the war. On our way down the mountain we passed multiple active military bases. This powerful presence shows the state’s dedication to protecting the Golan Heights and ensuring that the Israeli flag will always fly high on Mount Bental.
We ended the day back at the Hermon Field School with dinner and a bonfire. Lucky for us we have a few students who are skilled guitar players. It was a treat to relax, gather around the fire pit, listen to some guitar, and laugh together.
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We started our day today with a talk from Lesley Sachs, the executive director of Women of the Wall. Women of the Wall is an organization which joins women’s’ rights and religious pluralism. The organization was started 27 years ago as a convention of Jewish women from North America and Israel. They convened and decided to go to the women’s section of the Western Wall to pray together. When they arrived, they were met with chairs flying at them from the men’s side into the women’s side, and unbelievable violence. It is customary for women to pray silently to themselves at the Western Wall, and these women were praying in a group and praying out loud, which brought on the violence from the Ultra Orthodox on the men’s side of the partition. After this event, it became these women’s missions to create a safe place for them to openly express their religion at the Western Wall. That attack 27 years ago was unacceptable, and they would not let women be put away from the Western Wall – women will have a right to pray out loud.
The Women of the Wall are comprised of orthodox, reform, constructionist, and many more different forms of Judaism. All these women are brought together and pray together at the wall. Lesley spent the time of her talk telling the stories of how she and many other women were arrested multiple times for trying to pray at the Wall, how their cases for getting women the right to pray out loud would be tied up in court for 11 years or more, and how American Jews are very supportive of their right to pray out loud at the wall. She also spoke of how negotiations for constricting a place for the Women of the Wall to pray took three years, discussing funding, who would be in charge of the area, and what it would look like. What it would look like was the most important issue for the Women of the Wall, because they wanted visibility – to be seen and not hidden away, and they wanted the gates moved or a new entrance to this new section, so people who come to pray at the Wall would be able to make a choice. They managed to come to an agreement on these issues – which the Ultra Orthodox immediately opposed, stating that the government gave away the Wall and that reform Judaism was taking over. In response to this, Netanyahu made a committee to find a compromise, to which the Women of the Wall were baffled – they had just made a compromise with the negotiations which everyone agreed to, why do they have to compromise even more? She said that the decision would come on the 30th of this month, and everyone is anxiously awaiting the committee’s statements.
It was very interesting to hear about the struggles between state and religion and the relationship between religion and democracy within this talk by Lesley Sachs. She was a riveting speaker, and even debated with our guide Nathan who represented the Ultra Orthodox view for a few minutes, which brought a lot of life and a reality into the situation.
Our second speakers of the day were two people from The Parent Circle, an organization comprised of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost a loved one in the conflict. The organization is comprised of 620 families, half Israeli and half Palestinian. One of our speakers, 20 years old who grew up with a normal Zionist, Ashkenazi Jewish childhood, lost his sister when he was five years old. He had not even thought about Palestinians once before the age of five, they were only the people serving coffee and pumping gas to him. This changed on September 4, 1997. Four girls left their high school in Jerusalem, and a group of Palestinians left a refugee camp at the same time. The two groups met on Ben Yehuda, and his sister, along with 4 other Israelis, and the two suicide bombers were killed. His sister died instantly from the bomb shrapnel. He stressed that there are two choices when dealing with losing a loved one like this. The easy choice would be revenge, to hurt a Palestinian to avenge the death of his sister. Or, he could try to figure out why is happened. Reality is complicated, and he joined the Parent Circle in 1999 to pursue the course of trying to understand. He never fully understood the point of sharing this experience, or how it was emotionally possible, until he reached the age of fourteen – the age his sister was killed at. He realized that he lived in a political world, and the choices of powerful people have strong effects on his life. When he was about to join the army, one of the people he grew very close to in the Parent Circle, a Palestinian man said to him, “I love you like a son, very much. But when you join the army and put on that uniform, I will stop talking to you.” He realized the meaning of this statement towards the end of his service. One day he got on a bus in uniform, followed by a seventeen-year-old Palestinian boy, whose eyes were filled with rage. He realized that he was a symbol for the occupation in that uniform, and he decided that he would never be a symbol again.
Our other speaker, a Palestinian man who lost his daughter, gave us some advice before sharing his story. He said that we are here studying the conflict for five weeks. He has lived here for 50 years and he is still learning about the conflict. While we will come away knowing a lot more than we did previously about the conflict, we are far from experts, and we need to remember that.
He started his story by prefacing how Palestinians grow up. They don’t understand Hebrew as young kids and don’t know why the soldiers come. All they know is that they need to fight. They don’t understand politics yet, and are not fighting for a state – they are fighting their lives. At the age of 17, they are no longer playing a game between the kids and soldiers. The situation becomes real. He knew that if you know your enemy, you can defeat your enemy. If you don’t know your enemy, you only hit, and hitting only hurts you. Because of this, he decided to learn about the Holocaust. He got his masters degree in Holocaust studies, and learned Hebrew. He spoke of how Palestinians are perceived as terrorists, and stressed how hard it is to switch from violence to peace. He spent seven years in jail for fighting against the Israelis, and spoke of how when you are in jail, you don’t talk. You hate. His story of his upbringing provided much insight into the Palestinian struggle.
He then spoke of how his 10 year old daughter was killed. A police officer shot her for no reason, and she died three days later in the hospital. At the hospital, Israeli doctors were caring for her as well as they could, and he stressed that this was no place to think of revenge. After his daughter died, he joined the Parent Circle two days later. He spoke of how both Israelis and Palestinians have no other place to go. He is not Jordanian or Lebanese, he is Palestinian. He believes that both peoples need to share the land, and if not, both peoples will share the land as a grave. He also stressed the problems of inequality and racism. In 2007, more than 971 Palestinians were killed, and no one was held accountable. He stressed that occupation naturally leads to violence, and in order to end the violence the occupation needs to stop. The majority of the people are not violent, and they need to face the situation together nonviolently, which is very powerful. Nonviolence is not for the weak. In order to make peace, you need to work with the enemy. To end his story, he told us that for him, forgiveness is revenge. If you make peace with yourself and give up being the victim, no one can occupy you.
To end our day, we visited the Israel Museum. It was very interesting to see the different exhibits and to get insight into the history and culture of Israel that we had not seen before. My personal favorites were the exhibits of different cultures within Israeli history, such as Egyptian culture, where we say many statues and jewelry and artwork that belonged to Egyptian society show up in Israeli history.
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Unfortunately, today was Nathan’s last day with us. And, let me say, it was most definitely an emotional one. We began the day bright and early. Today, we left Jerusalem and set out for Tel Aviv. Getting our bags packed and moving twenty-two students with at least one piece of luggage is not an easy task. After managing to make our way to the bus, we set out for our first stop – a tour of a Bedouin village with the Coexistence Forum in Negev.
We picked up our guide in Beersheba, and then drove further south to a lookout point. Here, we could see several Bedouin villages and Israeli towns. I for one learned more about the devastating Bedouin situation in Israel. Only 10% of the original Bedouins pre-1948 remained after the 1948 War. However, the numbers are growing immensely with forty-five villages. Unfortunately, only eleven of those villages are considered legal under Israeli law. Thus, the other villages have to fend for themselves and could be destroyed at any moment. In fact, one village has been destroyed and rebuilt 99 times in the last two years.
After having a discussion with our guide, who pointed out some villages in the distance, we drove to a nearby Bedouin village. There, a man from the village gave us a tour and talked to us about the living conditions. The primary school for this village was built in 2002. Their medical center is a house at the entrance to the village. Before, both children and the sick had to travel to a neighboring village for their education or medical attention. Most of the houses are constructed with metal sheeting for the walls and the roof. However, the families make the houses feel very homey by tiling the floors and hanging pictures on the walls. Despite the rough exterior, the community holds the village together. Our guide of the village told us about the political neglect that Bedouins face and the issues with land and population growth. Unfortunately, these villages don’t get the funding they need to make a living, as the majority of Bedouins are unemployed.
Next, we drove to Sderot where we picked up a quick lunch then went to the police station to hear about the current state of the city. The most devastating aspect of this visit in particular was our trip to a children’s park. Sderot has the only children’s bomb shelter in the world, disguised to look like a play tunnel. Living in constant fear of a missile, having to decide in the snap of a moment whether you can save all your children in time is horrifying. This was one of the most depressing places we’ve visited.
From there, our guide from Sderot took us to a lookout point nearby. Here, we overlooked the Gaza Strip. Our guide described the living conditions and life on the other side of the fence. He also talked about the military aspects behind the conflict and the different ways to get around the blockage. When one path gets blocked, like the tunnels, the organizations within the Gaza Strip find alternatives to express their message, such as pipe rockets. There are always ways around the defense mechanisms. Overall, the visit to Sderot was a challenge. On one hand, we have studied the reasons behind the extremists’ actions and we know the living conditions of the Gaza Strip, but at the same time we see bomb shelters on every block and hear that every child living in Sderot has PTSD from constant shock. This brings about incredibly conflicting emotions because I for one sympathize with both sides. In this conflict it’s hard to see in black and white because everything is gray.
At around 6:00pm, we started seeing the beach, sidling up to our new hostel, which is a block from the water. We said our goodbyes to Nathan at the new hostel, Hayarkon 48. After getting situated, we headed to the beach to explore our new terrain. Today was a very long, but an incredibly fulfilling, day. It was interesting to hear such contrasting perspectives and see first hand the impact of the conflict.
Thank you, Nathan! We’ll miss you dearly!
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It was a bittersweet feeling driving through Jerusalem one last time. After nearly three weeks of walking through the parks and neighborhoods of Jerusalem, celebrating a few holidays of what felt like every week, and becoming a regular at a shawarma place, I was ready to leave behind Jaffa Road and the Old City behind me for Tel Aviv …With a quick stop at the Negev and Sderot of course.
We started off the day on a hill in the Negev with a view of all the nearby unrecognized villages. In the backdrop, you see a city skyline, almost out of reach in a different world. It was symbolic in a way. There we were, a group of foreign students standing on a hill overlooking the clash of civilizations right below us; tall skyscrapers to my left, metal shacks to my right. Cars on the left, cattle on the right. And yet despite this division, we see some intersection of these two civilizations within the unrecognized village. Lines of cars paralleling lines of shacks, rows of solar panels above rows of homes. In fact, the speaker himself embodied this clash. To summarize his demography, he was a university-educated, English speaking Bedouin activist. How’s that for the unexpected.
After touring around his unrecognized village, he told he believes that “the real heroes of these villages are those who choose to stay behind.” And it could be seen as heroic with these families living under unacceptable Western living conditions. There was no infrastructure for running water, no electricity, no paved roads, and high rates of disease due to interfamilial marriages. With homes being demolished on a monthly basis, the perseverance and resilience of these people is unbelievable. To continuously rebuild your home, knowing that at any moment it could be demolished… That takes a certain kind of person.
I got a chance to speak a little more about the Bedouin situation with Professor Waxman and I came to realize how grey and complex the situation really is. (Just like EVERYTHING else we’ve learned about on this trip). On one hand, you have the Israeli government and countless humanitarian NGOs who want to intervene and promote development. Yet, who are we to tell them what development is? Who are we to tell them what their liberties and rights should be? But yet, how could we let the suppression of women, domestic violence, high crime rates, and preventable disease continue? Shouldn’t there be a set of universal rights that are “right” and “wrong”? Everyone is trying to be a humanist yet there needs to be a common ground on what it means to be a human first and what that entails.
Our next stop was the city of Sderot, a town of frequent missile attacks on the border of the Gaza Strip. Initially, our group was fascinated at the sight of all the missiles lined up along the shelves. It was a museum, except museums usually depict past events and this was the present. Before we began our talk, our tour guide warned us of sirens that could go off at any moment, signaling a missile coming our way from Gaza and warning us of our 15 seconds to run towards a bomb shelter. And of course, the fan outside the building started going off, startling us. We were like deer caught in headlights, frozen for a second not knowing what to do.
Although it wasn’t an actual siren, it was enough of a glimpse into the kind of suspense the citizens of Sderot constantly undergo. Out of the 22,000 rockets fired, 8,000 are fired into the town of Sderot. The rockets are fired at the city itself, most commonly at 8 AM when families separate from one another and depart for work and school. Since 2006, all buses kindergartens, and homes have bomb shelters built in. We got a chance to stop by a playground that also doubled as a bomb shelter and I have to say, I lost a little bit of faith in humanity. In 2001, a New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote that the post-9/11 world cannot be a world that has security checks at amusement parks, malls, and places of public gathering. And that if we reach that point as a society, we have failed. I’m struggling to comprehend the kind of world we live in, where bomb shelters are placed at children’s parks, painted as caterpillars, with children having the training to withstand a missile attack.
It’s said that the children of Sderot all suffer from PTSD. I mean, wow. How did we get here? And yet the citizens of Sderot are claimed to be the warmest, kindest people you’ll ever meet. With a strong bustling music scene and young adults constantly moving to Sderot for its affordability, you can feel a youthful vitality emanating through the streets. As our tour guide said, “The people of Sderot are waiting for people to come here and be with them.” Children are continuously taught peace here and houses continue to be built. Life in Sderot continues, refusing to let terror get the best of them.
Before we ended the day in the beautifully bustling Tel-Aviv, we looked into the Gaza Strip; almost a key-hole into a completely different world. After the Israeli government discovered one of the tunnels, they found anesthetics in addition to the food, weapons, and motorcycles stashed away. Anesthetics? Yup, Aesthetics. Anesthetics used to kidnap Israeli citizens and treat them as bargaining chips. However terrifying that is to you, we ended on a really insightful note. As all of us gazed into the Gaza Strip in wonder, our tour guide told us to look behind us. And what did we see? Homes. Rows and rows of houses the citizens of Sderot live in. “We must always keep in mind that something is behind you,” he said. Two narratives, two view points, two sides to everything.
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We started the day with a bus ride up to the Supreme Court. Walking in, the first thing you see is a long staircase and a large window. Not only was the building beautifully created, it is also filled with symbolism. The building incorporates the old and the new, representing the characteristics of the state. Furthermore, the wall on the right was constructed to look similar to the Western Wall which is meant to depict the relationship between state and religion. Also, on the floor next to the “Western Wall” was a mirror encompassing the Wall. This was meant to give the illusion that the wall continues endlessly to show that religion is part of the roots of Israeli identity. The other wall is made of smooth concrete made to represent the new Israel compared to the old Israel depicted by the Old City stone.
(Taken from http://vigilantcitizen.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/simta.jpg)
The staircase is also split into three sections, each containing ten steps. This is meant to represent the thirty first degrees of Freemasonry. From the bottom of the stairs all that can be seen is the bright blue sky which depicts the idea that justice comes from above. As you go up the stairs you leave the darkness and go into the light which symbolizes wisdom and illumination. Once up the stairs, the hallway narrows into a dome surrounded by law books from the Supreme Court library. But at a second look the dome is really a pyramid, which was inspired by the Tomb of Zechariah and Tomb of Absalom in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. This area serves at the “gate house” before entering the courtrooms. The library is divided into three levels, representing the last three degrees of Freemasonry. The first level is open to the public, the second level is reserved for judges, and third level can only be accessed by retired judges. Then we walked into one of the courtrooms. The entrance to the courtrooms resemble Jewish tombs and the holes above the doorways are meant to permit the soul to leave the room. In the courtrooms, the judges are illuminated by natural light. The natural light is meant to represent the divine light shining on the judges who are listening to the pleas of the masses.
(Ralfs Edgars posing with the Supreme Court sign. Photo taken by Marie S.)
(Left to Right: Liad M., Melissa S., Carolina K., Laura B., Stephanie B., Amelie R. Photo taken by Marie S.)
Once the lovely tour of the Supreme Court was over, we headed over to the German colony in West Jerusalem for lunch. The streets were shaded by the large trees which made it nice to walk around the area. I sat down at a quaint restaurant with a couple of friends. We decided to take a break from shawarma and hummus and went for a classic pizza.
(Left to Right: Amelie R., Stephanie B., and Harry Q. Photo taken by Marie S.)
(Melissa S. and Alec C. Photo taken by Marie S.)
After lunch we took the bus to Pardes Centre for Judaism and Conflict Resolution to speak with Rabbi Doctor Daniel Roth. Rabbi Roth teaches about religion and conflict resolution which he does by analysing literature. Rabbi Roth believes this is an essential component to understanding the ‘other’. He does so by teaching the ambiguity of religious literature to get people to see varying perspectives through an analytical lens. An example of this tactic can be seen below which looks at the ambiguity of the Golden Rule amongst religions.
The Love of Brother and/or Others: The Ambiguity of the Greatest Golden Rule in the Torah
Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth, Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution
Book of Leviticus 19:18
Love you neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.
Sifra, Kedoshim, 2:2 (89:b), 2nd Century CE
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19) –
Rabbi Akiva (second century CE) taught: “ This is the most important rule in the Torah.”
Rabbi Isaac Corbel (13th cen., France), Sefer Mitzvat Hakatan, 8
To love one’s fellow [person] as it is written, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). And included in this is bringing peace between a person and his fellow, and judging him favorably…And Kind David wrote in his book, “Seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:15).
Maimonides, (Spain, Egypt 12th century), Laws of Mourning, 14:1
It is a positive commandment of Rabbinic origin to visit the sick, comfort mourners…These are deeds of kindness that one carries out with his person that have no limit. Although all these mitzbot are of Rabbinic origin, they are included in the Scriptural commandment Leviticus 19:18: “Love you neighbor as yourself.” That charge implies that whatever you would like other people to do for you, you should do for you comrade in the Torah and mitzvoth (commandments).
Yisrael Ariel, “Lovers of Amonah are lovers of G-d”, 2006 (Jer. 1939-)
Question: Do the commandments “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “don’t hate your brother in your heart”, said also in regards to a soldier and to a policeman that comes to expel a person of Israel from his home? For there were rabbis who expressed the opinion in the past that there is an obligation to lobe and respect a soldier and policeman simply for who they are.
Response: These commandments are indeed “the greatest rule of the Torah”as the great scholars of Israel have expanded upon this, such as Hillel and after him Rabbi Akiva…However, this commandment only applies within certain conditions of Halachah (jewish law). It does not apply when a person of Israel raises a hand against the Torah of Moses and against a person keep the commandments. It is already written by the Safes, and brought in the words of the Rambam that this commandment was only said in regards to “your brother in Torah and commandments.” From here (we learn) that a soldier and policeman that comes to force a Jew to transgress a commandment and to rob and crush and destroy his home and to transfer the place to the hands of the enemy, he is a “wicked person”, and hated by G-d, and is no longer in the category of “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu ben Meir, (Vilna, 18th century)
Sefer HaBrit Hashalem 13:1
The essence of loving one’s neighbor is for a person to love all humanity regardless of what nation they are from, or language simply because they are a human being (created) in G-d’s image and likeness like you. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19), and the intention is not specifically a fellow Israelite, for if that was the case it should have been written “love your brother as yourself” … rather the intention of “neighbor” is to any human being like yourself who is engaged in matters of the world like you, meaning every nation.
Rabbi Menachem Froman (Takoa, d. 2031)
I don’t solve problems, but I try to improve the basis upon which issues may be settled. I’m not a political person nor am I a subcontractor of politicians. I have pure religious interests in learning together with Muslims. This is the whole secret of religion – to meet the other side. “love your neighbor” is the key to religion.
Sifra, Kedoshim, 2:2 (89:b), 2nd Centurary CE
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19) –
Rabbi Akiva (second century CE) taught: “This is the most important rule in the Torah.”
Ben Azzai says: “This is the book of chronologies of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him”, (Genesis, 5:1-2), and this rule is greater than that (of Rabbi Akiva’s).”
With this in mind, Rabbi Roth believes religion is not the problem but rather the way it is interpreted and acted upon constitutes the issue. I believe the work being done in the Pardes Center is important and an interesting approach to mending the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, especially the more religious of the communities.
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It is a sobering sight to see children playing amongst the ruins of buildings, throwing bottles against walls and into vacated buildings. They come close to us as we walk around the camp, greeting us with cries of “Allahu Akbar!” As we walk in-between crumbling buildings, we see throngs of children in school uniforms walking along, mouths agape when they meet our gaze. For every adult, there are easily 30 kids, whooping and hollering at us in Arabic, drawn primarily to Danya, one of the Arabic speakers on our trip. Our tour guide through the ruins brings us to a mural that I photographed and put below. It is of three martyrs who were born and raised in this very camp. Two were responsible for plane hijackings and the deaths of hundreds of innocents.
Here, they are heroes.
Here is the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, just south of Bethlehem. Many famous terrorists, or freedom fighters, grew up here, descendants of the original refugees who settled in this makeshift town for what they hoped would be a few short years. The name refugee camp is deceiving. The word camp implies a temporary installation, and the Dheisheh camp began as just that, with 800 people in a square kilometer of space. Today, more than 60 years later, there are 13,000 people living in the same area, passing on the story of displacement to future generations. There are no tents, no makeshift shacks, no central water wells or community showers. These are buildings made of concrete, with plumbing and electricity, community centers and schools, shops and restaurants. If it weren’t for the rubble, you would feel as if you in a particularly claustrophobic neighborhood in Bethlehem. If it weren’t for the portraits of martyrs, you would believe that this was just another town in the West Bank.
Our tour guide claimed, “We are not here for humanitarian reasons.” It seems that this town has become a political message to Israel and to Palestinians who are willing to compromise and negotiate: we will take nothing less than all of Palestine. This theme of anti-normalization, of absolute disdain for acquiescence, is one that was reinforced over and over today.
We then journeyed to the tomb of Rachel, an important site in the Old Testament and the supposed burial site of one of the Four Mothers. It was nestled in the separation wall, an assuming entrance into a gleaming cavern fitted with marble and Jerusalem Stone. It is rare that I find myself out of place in Jerusalem; even the sites specific to one particular religion draws people from all over the world, come to gawk at the historical significance of each holy area. However, Rachel’s Tomb was filled with the mutterings of Orthodox Jews bowing to the grave of Rachel, appraising us coolly with uncompromising stares. I often feel out of place in Israel, but here, I felt unwanted, as if I were encroaching.
A short dividing wall that borders the road leading to the Aida Refugee Camp is covered in murals memorializing the Palestinian villages lost in the Nakba. All the buildings in this area of the West Bank are covered in pro-Palestinian independence graffiti. The security fence, which is a proper wall that towers 20 feet into the air, has turned into a message board for dissent. Banksy has an installation there, and his work sits among similarly themed artworks that depict doves with bulletproof vests, mothers crying over dead children, and wreaths of olive branches jockeying for attention with the names of countless martyrs.
At the Aida Refugee Camp, there is a piece of plywood, 5 feet by 3 feet. It has been painted white, and it depicts the change in territorial control in Palestine/Israel from 1946-2000. What is striking is that Israeli territory and zones of control are not referred to as Israeli, or Jewish, but rather as occupied. Twice today we have been told, “We are not a humanitarian cause.” The word refugee is perhaps the most deceiving of all, for these people are not here with nowhere to go. They stay to make the ultimate political statement: we will not compromise. Generations are bred here with the mantra that Palestine must be, will be retaken, from Gaza to the Golan Heights. There is a general air of revolution, of dissatisfaction with authority. Israel and the IDF are spoken of in the same breath as the Palestinian Authority and the National Security Forces, as people in these “refugee camps” vocalize their doubts that either party is interested in the welfare of Palestinians.
Our final stop of the day was at the Tent of Nations, a Palestinian farm that has existed since the Ottoman Empire. The Tent of Nations has fought since 1967 to hold onto their territory in Zone C, as they are slowly surrounded by settlements and the IDF. Multiple times soldiers have one onto their land and uprooted trees, and they are constantly harassed by settlers. Today has been focused mostly on the Palestinian narrative, and it is hard not to feel biased when the tragedy of the occupation is thrown in your face, but at the Tent of Nations, I felt sick. The people living on this land had the deed to the property, complied as much as possible with the law, went out of their way to not interact with settlements. And yet they were still being persecuted for their mere presence, struggling to survive each year.
This tour has been amazing, giving us the full scope of the conflict, playing devil’s advocate when it is not popular, pressing us to ask our questions and search for solutions to this conflict. Today, I felt hopeless, identifying with the Palestinians in a way I never had before. This conflict is full of hope and horror, pain and beauty. It is human to sympathize with both sides, but today, if it weren’t for the strength of speakers and their causes, their indomitable will to survive and thrive, I would’ve felt useless. Supporting these people in their endeavors is the only way to move forward and end the fighting.
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Many of us had been awaiting today’s trip because we had the opportunity to go to the Dead Sea! However, before we had the pleasure of covering ourselves in mud, we had plenty of other activities ahead of us. The first thing that our Israeli tour guide, Nathan, said to us today was, “Today, I will not speak about politics or the conflict…” and before he could finish his sentence the tour bus was filled with applause. Don’t get me wrong, we all know that our trip encounters many political discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, it was nice to join the mainstream of tourists for the day.
We began the day by driving to Masada, the place where King Herod established palaces for himself and his people, which was later sieged by the Roman Empire who declared that all people from Masada would commit mass suicide rather than being killed by the Romans. The reason we know all this is not because I went back in time to witness it all, but because two people survived to tell the story. Seeing so many ruins still in place left me in awe. In one of the ruins we saw, there were mosaics still in place from the floor of a bath house, which incidentally was also the place well all the gossip was held.
After touring amongst the ruins, some us of made the bold (and maybe wrong) choice of hiking down Masada! I had previously thought that hiking down would not be hard at all, but I proved to be extremely wrong since I was the last one to make it back to the bottom. Even though it was a hard trek, we all survived and it was completely worth it because we got to see the whole view of the Dead Sea and the dessert.
After having a delicious lunch of Shawarma, we headed over to meet with one of the members from Eco Peace. Eco Peace involves three countries; Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. They have started an environmental initiative grounded on the belief that if we all share the land it doesn’t matter what boundaries exist, we are all responsible for the well being of our ecosystem. This was such a refreshing point of view to hear. One of the main points that she touched upon was the scarcity of water in Israel and how much it could be diminished by these countries coming together to put effort into water saving and sharing strategies. This talk was very inspiring as it highlighted that many times, we forget what is most essential to our existence. In this case, our environment.
While leaving the eco place I was so excited to head over to the Dead Sea. Once we got there I realized that there were so many tourists who had – voluntarily- covered themselves in mud. I was a bit apprehensive about going in at first, but I am so happy I made the decision to go in. I had never expected to be able to float so easily in the water and it was such a nice way to relax with everyone as we lay on our backs enjoying the afternoon. We could not believe how soft our skin was after just a few minutes of being in the sea. It was definitely the perfect way to end the day.
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