Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Patrick W…

Traveling to Israel has been a life changing experience. Living in America, I am constantly swept into the easy goings of life. Forgetting that places around the world see forms of terror on a daily basis.

Over the years, my subconscious heard bits and pieces of the conflict between the Israeli’s and Palestinians, however I never took a serious interest into news updates. MEJDI tours facilitated the means for my classmates and me to roam the streets of the Dheisheh Refugee camp in Bethlehem, Palestine. For an hour or two I was living within the occupied territory. For each minute in Dheishe I considered myself a refugee. I heard stories from persons behind “the wall”, we heard about their hardships, and their side of the story…

IMG_9508A week later, while eating dinner on Bograshov St. with some friends, I received word of a terrorist attack on Jaffa Street in Tel Aviv. Again swept into the easy goings of (city) life, it wasn’t until that moment that it truly hit me how constant terror attacks like this was a norm for the people in Israel. Life continued, it seemed as if only my group and I was concerned about the unfortunate events that had just occurred. I had to remind myself this state has been and still is at war.

Both sides have had losses and hardships. Like the rest of the world, I am uncertain what the outcome for Palestine and Israel will be.

Just know I am looking forward to better days.

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Crystal W…

We had a guest lecture from the IDF spokesperson on the history of the separation barrier and how it came to be. The separation barrier was a direct result of multiple terrorist attacks and the Israeli government felt compelled to protect its citizens. The barrier was initially intended to be along the green line but as the speaker was on the land physically seeing the terrain, it was unable to be exact. They attempted to follow the green line but in fact at some points, the fence is far beyond the green line and takes up much more land. In April 2002 after 128 people died, Israel had enough and citizens demanded security and thus, the security fence was born. The fence is 451 miles long and 27 feet high. The fence is equipped with cameras and sensors to tell if someone is trying to cross. The fence has 28 main checkpoints. The speaker advised that each week, 20-30 times a week, someone attempts to cross the fence. The fence cost 11 Billion Shekels to build and 7% maintenance each year. The speaker felt the fence was a success as he can say from 2000 – 2006, 1,162 people died because of terrorist attacks and since 2007, there have only been 35 attacks with only 18 people lost.

20160304_083320After hearing the IDF spokesperson’s view, we visited Bethlehem, we visited the security wall and we were able to see the fence in person. The wall has impacted so many lives. The people who live near the wall have gone out of business, they are unable to see their family on the other side, even their husbands or wives, they have land on the other side they cannot get to or utilize. The pictures / “Graffiti” on the wall only tell part of the story. Here you can see how the two sides are not equal, how you have armed soldiers with women in the middle and the other side has stones. This is how they feel, how they see themselves.

20160304_083200It is hard to imagine being separated from your family, unable to see them. Here, in Israel, families are divided, displaced and move around beyond their control. They blame the security wall. They feel the government could have chosen a better way to protect its citizens. A better way than building a 451 mile long wall that is 27 feet high.

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student James H…

The Dead Sea is a large body of water bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Its surface and shores are 1,407 ft. below sea level, Earth’s lowest elevation on land. The Dead Sea is 995 ft. deep, the deepest hyper saline lake in the world. With 34.2% salinity (in 2011), it is also the world’s saltiest bodies of water. It is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. This salinity makes for a harsh environment in which animals cannot flourish, hence its name. The Dead Sea is 31 mi long and 9 mi wide at its widest point. It lies in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the Jordan River. The Dead Sea water has a density of 1.24 kg/litre, which makes swimming similar to floating.

 

 

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This means that there is no other place on earth like it. Although the Dead Sea is still rather large, it is currently evaporating at an alarming rate. It is projected that in approximately 25-35 years, at the current rate, the Dead Sea will no longer exist.

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Since the Dead Sea is the lowest land elevation and the saltiest place on Earth (besides inside Professor Telman’s brain when we voted on going), this makes it a very unique place.

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Cassandra N…

When people ask me about my time in Israel, I have trouble figuring out how to respond. Part of the problem is in the way that they ask. It’s like they want me to tell them about my little vacation. That I just laid around and tanned at the beach, drank by the water, relaxed, chilled.

But that’s not the truth.

The truth is I can’t neatly pack away my experience in a few sentences. I can’t tell them a little blurb about my trip and show them a picture of a sunset and be done with it. I’d have to really sit down with them and really tell them. There would need to be a dialogue. I’d have to get them to turn off the tv; miraculously, somehow get them to put down their phone. And even then, they wouldn’t want to hear me.

Conflict is a foreign concept to us. It is something that we tend to hide from. Even fellow law students I know will literally go to great lengths to sometimes avoid an argument if it involves looking the truth of the situation dead in the eyes. If it means the chance that they are wrong. That they are vulnerable. I’d like to believe I’m better than everyone somehow, but the truth is I’m not. In fact, I might even be more stubborn than most and don’t you dare tell me I’m wrong.

So what do I do? Do I tell the story through all its moments of uncomfortable experiences, of second guessing, of changing my mind? Because if I do, then they have a real story about growth and learning. But in order to really tell that story I have to capture what it felt like to hear and see other people tell me about their painful experiences. I’d have to do it in a way that allowed the other person to somehow artificially feel like they heard that person too. But even this is impossible because you can’t channel someone you don’t understand. And as hard as I listened, as much as I felt, I simply will never understand what it’s like to violently lose someone you love.

What I’m left with is fragments of the truth, pieces of an experience. Pieces so small that I can’t even pass them on to others. I say things like it was “life-changing” or “I meet so many people that were just awe-inspiring people.” Even this runs the risk of warranting an eye roll, of making people disinterested. I caught myself saying the other day, “it was cool.” I don’t know how, someone can experience something so colorful and meaningful for two whole weeks and turn around a few days later and reflect upon it in three simple words like that, but I found a way.

I don’t think I’m the only person who does this. I think that people do this all the time. We abbreviate. We simplify. It’s human nature. It’s universal. It’s one thing I can say I saw there and here. On both sides of the wall. And let me just say, for the record, I’ve been on both sides of the wall and the houses are the same and for some reason I thought with all this conflict there would be a bigger difference, but there really isn’t.

Universal simplicity. So much is lost by not taking a closer look, by not really listening. Part of my experience is seeing this in others and their frustrations in being able to both adequately express themselves and their experiences and beliefs on one end, sometimes causing them much pain, and on the other in being able to take a closer look at something that can simply be classified as evil.

It is truly commendable that anyone was able to break through those barriers and pass things onto me. It is a remarkable thing. I only hope to remember enough of their stories to pass them onto others, when the time comes that someone who asks me is truly interested in understanding the complexity of this part of the world.

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Joseph B…

Traveling into the West Bank is unlike anything you’ve seen from a television broadcast. You quickly go through Israeli security and a new culture welcomes you. Start by visiting security wall where graffiti spans as far as the eye can see. Some images may startle the eye; but look at them as proof of the populations desire to peacefully persevere. The most powerful graffiti are of women and children holding olive branches and other peaceful gestures. You must remember there is a strong anti-Israeli Defense Forces bias, but the will of the Palestinians to live in peace is clearly evident with each shade of color.

Children suffer in every conflict but don’t understand why. Just within the West Bank, there are children’s and refugee centers providing safe areas to play and learn. Talking with some of the administrators, these centers were developed to establish a sense of community and chance to grow out of the situation life dealt them. As you hear their stories, the love they carry in their hearts is evident and you can’t help but feel connected on a humanitarian level. Every lens of political strife and discord is whisked away. While my group visited two locations operated by different organizations, I challenge visitors to see others. This is an experience will open your eyes to a whole new world. Don’t miss it.

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Christina K…

The concept of home seems so silly and almost innate that most people in America don’t pay too much attention to it. Home is a place where someone lives, where family gathers, or a safe place where one can express their opinions without fear of judgment or ridicule. However, over in the Middle East, it takes on a more intense meaning. Karl Marx has this idea about human alienation. I’ve read Marx before, but somehow this idea eluded me. Maybe I wasn’t ready to hear it or maybe there were other things on my mind. But sitting in one of the first classes back in Valparaiso for International Humanitarian Law, the idea was presented to me again and I was able to empathize. The idea goes that a person feels alienated from the world when they are separated from it, and the way to end the separation is to work with, or on, the land. This struck me very deeply because I often feel alienated from people. The human species is quite strange to me, but I get by with interaction pretty easily. I’ve learn many successful tools. But the questions still lingers, is the connection with the world, and with people, an alienation that can be remedied by working with the land and people?

In this course, there are many different narratives and they all seem to have the same theme. People want to return home. People are separated from their home, their worlds, and therefore alienated from the world. The problem arises when two different groups of people believe they have the same home, and that their home is not open to other groups. The problem gets exacerbated when entitlement is mixed in and people get backed into a corner from which they feel there is no exit. That is when people turn to violence, that violence further separates people from people, families from families, and extends the alienation.

IHL pic 3The Jewish people believe that Israel is Zion, the promised land. The Arabs believe that the area known as Israel, (and other surrounding areas) are part of Palestine and home to the Arabs. These ideas were not created overnight. The area in question was owned by the Ottoman Empire, and home to Jews and Arabs alike. The Jewish people bought their land through various organizations while some of the Arabs owned their land, but most rented from absentee landlords. The Arabs did this in order to avoid paying taxes to the Ottoman government, an error which would be detrimental when the world begins to modernize.

But problems were created when the Ottoman Empire fell, the British came in, the Jordanians didn’t keep their promises, and the Jews were forced to leave their residences during the holocaust. Of course, there were many other facts that led to this problem, but these are the main ones I see that are relevant to this blog. Prior to WWII, there was a mandate placed by the British which allowed for Jewish immigration from their various countries to the land in question. During WWII, the Jewish people already deeply believed that the area in question was Zion. It was only natural when Hitler was trying to create a superior race that the Jews should go to Zion. So there were two main huge migrations of Jewish people into the land in question. But in-between the two incidents, the Jewish people not only continued to purchase land from the absentee landlords, but also kicked the tenants off. So where did the Arabs go?

IHL pics 2The Arabs didn’t really have a place to go, this was their home. They weren’t looking for home because they had found it. They had built houses, communities, schools, farms, families. Yes there were other Arab counties they could have gone to, but like the Jewish people, the Arabs were unwelcome for one reason or another. By the second huge immigration of Jews, the Arabs began to fight back. Now, this fighting continues and there is not an easy solution. The question remains, where, or what, is home? Both parties see the area of Israel as belonging to them, and do not want to share. “I do not believe in peace. I believe in justice.” I heard one person say. But how does one define justice? If either party becomes more displaced, the conflict will just continue. My colleague tells me justice is fairness, equity. But there really is no fair solution for the Jewish or Arabic people. There is no way to put the parties in as good of a position as they would have been if the migrations never occurred.

So what is the solution? If one were to follow Marx, the solution would be to work the areas of separation. Through working, one can better understand what is around him/her and with understanding comes compassion. The Mejdi Tours we experienced during our stay are a good start. We learned on these tours that listening is the hardest thing to do because in order to listen you must open yourself to change. From my life I learned that there are three characteristics of change: honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. These things can be hard to achieve when a person has heard one story their entire life. However, after meeting some of the people I have hope that these characteristics are possible. The students are given both perspectives, though one side more than both, but still exposure. The problem no longer requires an external solution but an internal one. A mental change of how one sees the world, how one interacts with the world. While it is hard to swallow ones pride and admit they were wrong, or maybe their idea is not the only correct one, it is necessary if there is to be any hope of resolution. This then presents the gauntlet to us. To the stories my classmates and I bring back. What stereotypes we choose to entertain and how we use the information presented to us. I may be optimistic, but I do believe that with understanding comes compassion. The more various people understand their neighbors, the more compassion we can have. Over time, this understanding and compassion will bring about tolerance which will bring the peace that is so desperately needed over in the Middle East.

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Leah G…

 

Coming to Israel for spring break 2016 was something that I was looking forward to. My parents and family were very nervous for me due to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. I took the class, as an experience to learn. I have learned so much about the Israeli perspective and the Palestenian perspective. I am now able to form my own views after hearing each side of the conflict, which we are each entitled to. During my time here there have been attacks on civilians, Israeli military and even some tourists. In such a Holy Place it’s ironic that so much turmoil is going on!

 

IMG_0864On the very first day after arriving, we had a very early day. Maybe not early to some but after the long flight and ride to our hotel and the time change, being ready at 6am was early for me. Despite it being early, I was looking forward to this tour day because we were going to Temple Mount, a holy place for not only Jews but also Christians and Muslims. At Temple Mount lies Al-Aqsa Mosque. To be able to go in and pray at the third holiest site in Islam meant a lot to me. But going to pray was no easy task. Because I am Muslim, I had to enter Temple Mount at a different entrance than my non-Muslim classmates. Going through this entrance I was asked to recite Al-Faatiha which is the first surah in the Quran. I was asked this by Arab guards. This seemed strange to me because I have never experienced issues when going to pray in the mosque.

 

IMG_0859Once inside Temple Mount I was the only student in our group that was allowed to enter the mosque. And once again before entering the mosque I was also asked by a Muslim guy who was guarding the door to recite Al-Faatiha, asked where I was from and to see my passport. But once I was in the mosque it was amazing! The fact that there is so much security to enter Temple Mount has nothing to do with religious reasons, it’s more about political reasons. In 1969 an Australian tourist came into the mosque and burned it causing the wooden pulpit to be destroyed. After learning the history behind such strict security I then understood a little more about the security issues. Though it still saddens me that such security issues have to be in place.

 

IMG_0850I am grateful that I got to experience Temple Mount of the very first full day in Israel. It made me see that there is a beauty to Israel besides the conflicts and all the negative media

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Breanna H…

On Saturday March 5th, we started out our day leaving Jerusalem. I was pretty sad to leave Jerusalem as it is one of my favorite cities in Israel. I love the mixture of history, culture, and modernity. However, as we left Jerusalem we were heading first towards the Jordan River. A good deal of my colleagues on this trip seemed to really enjoy this stop because it was the place where Jesus was baptized. For me, I appreciated this site because it gave a sort of reality to the conflict that Israel constantly faces. Literally a foreign country that had previously been, and could at any moment be, a enemy and was just only a sort of a “hop, skip, and a jump” away. While I have been to plenty of borders like this in other countries, these were all countries who weren’t in a state of constant fear of being invaded. Their borders were internationally recognized. Israel does not have that luxury. It was interesting to just see the soldiers, both Israeli and Jordanian, sitting on their respective sides, relaxed but with an ever watchful eye for what was happening just right across the river.

IMG_7535We left the river and made our way to the ever famous Dead Sea where it felt like we could float the world’s problems away, or at least just our own. I have floated in the Dead Sea before but this time it was just so much more relaxing. I just floated there, literally, in the water and just let the sun shine down on me. The peace of feeling just completely weightless and being able to table ones thoughts for even just a small moment was so rewarding when we’ve been constantly on the move and learning a very touchy subject. Its very rare when I can find myself at such peace and its difficult to want or need to process that such a peaceful place is 1) not only drying up every year, but 2) is in a region that is constantly plagued by discord. Being that I don’t know when I will be able to return to such a place, I made sure to fully enjoy its beauty.

IMG_7544After our playtime of floating away in the Dead Sea we were making our way North to our Kibbutz in the Golan Heights, with, of course, a few pit stops along the way. However, one pit stop was one I could never imagine. The Dead Sea is located in the West Bank, which is one of the occupied territories. So while we were driving back North, we had to cross back into Israel proper at one of its checkpoints. When we’ve had to cross in and out of occupied territories, we’ve had a pretty simple checkpoint process. This checkpoint we crossed was not like any other. We apparently approached a checkpoint that was not controlled by the Israeli border police but rather was operated by a private subcontractor. These guards were apparently not content with our explanation that we were 20+ Americans exploring Israel on an educational trip. Some of these guards, two in particular, took it upon themselves to board our bus and proceed to ask some of us questions and request to see our passports. They did not ask all of us, like what would (and did) happen when we go through Customs and Border Control at the airport, these questions and to see our passports. They were sporadic in their choices of persons, which made it highly uncomfortable for me. I was trying to reason and rationalize why they asked the persons they did, but could not come up with any logical answer. It was an experience I had never had in all my years and tours abroad.

IMG_7559The day continued on with no further excitements (minus a wonderful dinner at the Kibbutz). We visited the gorgeous Sea of Galilee, a church, and saw some other historic sites along our way to the Kibbutz. The Kibbutz was unlike the Kibbutz I had stayed in before; it was very modern and gorgeous. The dinner was this luxurious Middle Eastern buffet and I could not be more honest when I said I ate my fill. The Kibbutz was also amazing just because of its location – being right on the border of Lebanon and a short ride away from Syria and even Jordan. Some people would say this isn’t so exciting, especially when you think of Europe when it is so easy to bounce from country to country because they are all in close quarters. The difference really is made when you think that countries don’t really appreciate Israel’s existence and that its borders aren’t technically set or internationally accepted.

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Kirk B…

In my private practice as a social worker there were particular statements we were trained as a therapist never to say to clients. For example, “I understand how you feel, or I understand what you were going through.” That was a sure way to lose a client. If you wanted to ruin the client-therapist relationship in its initial stages, presuming to know the answer before asking the question is a bad idea. As lawyers we are taught never to ask a question we don’t know the answer to, but that doesn’t always work when dealing with human behavior. When getting to know your client the most important thing in the initial stages is building a relationship by simply listening.

Getting to the point where you can actually tell the client your assessment of the problem and how they may need to change takes time and a relationship. No one wants to hear that they are wrong. But they are more willing to listen if they can trust that the assessment comes from a genuine place of concern. Two weeks is not enough time to change a person’s mind. It’s not enough time to fully comprehend another’s story. To explain away the complexity that comes, for example, with the PTSD experience in a few sessions is condescending. It strips the victim of his chance to tell his story. Westerners feel the need to find perfect solutions, because we don’t like “dead space.” However, it is not always important to find a solution to every problem. An unsolicited attempt to solve a person’s problem presupposes that you always have the answer. That may be true, but it is not always our job to have a solution to every problem. It is certainly not our job to sum-up the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Our job was not to solve anyone’s conflict, it was to listen to the Israeli students and build relationships with them. Instead we argued with them and drove them away. Sometimes it’s not about being right, it is about simply becoming a person’s friend. Change can come through breaking of bread and sharing one another’s experiences. In some respects we lost that opportunity to break bread with the Israeli students because they felt misunderstood.

The closest thing Americans have to compare to this present conflict is the Twin Towers Attacks. However, the truth is that we have no idea what it feels like to have the enemy drop a bomb in our backyards. Unless we’ve served in the military we have no idea what it feels like to be bombed. I suspect the effects are still present. The most recent spate of attacks was in 2014. Death, loss, and fear continue to live in the hearts and minds of both Israelis and Palestinians. Since the Twin Towers attack in 2001 Americans have had time to heal. America mourned its tragic losses, punished the wrongdoers, and moved on from the tragedy. We still struggle with the blanket discrimination of Muslims but no one is worried about having their neighborhoods bombed or being displaced. It has only been two years since the last bombing of Israeli Territory. The trauma of the experience is fresh. Asking the Israeli students to be objective is insensitive. It’s like asking the families of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina to think objectively after recently losing love ones to a terror attack. Imagine asking Americans to forgive Al Qaeda?

Two people can experience the same trauma and have completely different visceral responses of the same incident. Different people experience trauma differently. Some find it difficult to relive the experiences. Talking about the situation brings up anger, resentment, and anxiety, especially for those who have served or been victims. Others may be hurting, but are able to endure talking about it. There are those who can endure even frank discussions and are able to separate their personal feelings. However, it’s important to remember that each person has a different threshold. I watched some students in LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict) affected by trauma find it difficult to even sit still in class. Each time the terror narratives were retold it made them so uncomfortable they could not sit still. The anxiety level in the room was so high it was difficult for them to remain objective. Many found it hard to accept what they perceived to be a skewed version of the truth. I imagine it must be like standing at the precipice and being pushed in against your will.

An American frame of reference to the Israel/Palestine experience is limited because, unless we’ve served in the military, we have no reference to the conflict. We cannot mirror what the Israeli students are experiencing. We have no way of fully grasping what the Palestinians experience daily. We have no way of “walking in the other persons shoes.” The most powerful thing we can do is build relationships with them.

I believe we attempted to show empathy and open-mindedness, but actually because of our lack of understanding we isolated the Israeli students. Taking unto ourselves the struggle that has been going on since 1947 and that will remain even after we leave limits our understanding of our reasons for being here.

This trip is about awareness, support, appreciation and understanding of the conflicts. It is not about giving smart solutions. The reality is, when we leave the Israeli students they will remain here in fear. When we leave the conflict it will not end just because we came to Israel. When we leave Palestinians they will continue to experience injustice. It is not our job to change the minds of the people. Greater minds have tried and failed. It is not our job to victimize people who are traumatized from watching their loves die. It’s our job to bridge gaps. Attempts to provide solutions from an American perspective, or arguing one’s side because we believe the other side is wrong is futile. What are we trying to prove? Who are we trying to convince? The American empathy is different because we are taught to find a solution behind every problem, but two weeks is not enough time to solve the problem.

Today’s blog post comes from Valparaiso University Law Student Alicia M…

Today we visited Bethlehem!
We began the journey traveling through the checkpoint. While it was easy for a bus full of Americans to get through, the line behind us and the line on the other side were quite lengthy. We began the tour at the wall and saw the drawings and writings calling for a free Palestine.

We then went to Wi’am which is a Palestinian Conflict Resolution  & Transformation Center. While we were there, we learned about the Palestinian experience before and after the wall.

We also stopped at the Ibdaa Culture Center which is the largest refugee center inside of Bethlehem. We were guided by Hamsa who was born and raised in the refugee center. He spoke about his experiences here and his families experiences as they were systematically removed from their lands. While this was a heartbreaking story, it’s is worth hearing because to hear the story is one thing but to then see the camps and see the small areas where the children have to play adds an additional dimension and adds to the human element of the story which is important.

From there we went to the Church of the Nativity, Milk Grotto, and had lunch in the market. The shop owners in the market were some of the nicest people that I’ve met. Shop owners came out and assisted the restaurant where we at lunch and we went in and viewed wares that were so beautiful!

Seeing the difference between the Old City market in Jerusalem and the market in Bethlehem was an eye opening experience. I enjoyed the Bethlehem experience far more than Old City and would love to return to volunteer in the refugee camp.

Video of the wall from inside Bethlehem

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Entrance to the refugee camp

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Refugee camp

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Sample of UN refugee card

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Inside the church of the nativity

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Spot where Jesus was born

Just before mass.

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On top of the Olive Wood Factory

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Chapel in the Milk Grotto