On March 6, we had the opportunity to enter the West Bank and see the Separation Barrier/Wall from within the Palestinian area. From the side facing Israel, it is just a huge cement wall with checkpoints and guard towers every so often, but from within the West Bank the wall transforms into a piece of non-violent art protesting against the occupation. Everywhere along the wall there is graffiti and art of people voicing their objections to the occupation. These groups include people from all over the world.

The white signs came from a European group expressing their dissent with personal stories of people in the West Bank tied to similar Bible stories.

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One of the most famous graffiti artists around the world and with art in the West Bank is an artist named Banksy. Banksy exact identity is unknown but he is reported to be an English graffiti artist and does political and social commentary work throughout the world. Banksy does not sell any of his artwork, but auctioneers have attempted to sell the walls on which he has placed his artwork as they have extreme value. Banksy has done several pieces of work on the Wall in the West Bank including the one below: The West Bank Guard. This art is of a girl frisking an Israeli solider. Daily life for people in the West Bank is one of being watched and monitored, constantly having their freedoms impinged on. When you live in the West Bank you are not free to move about or leave freely. You must have a permit to exit and even then are subject to thorough searches by Israeli police. This artwork by Banksy turns the tables and shows a little girl searching the soldier. Maybe he is the one bringing the danger and problems into the West Bank and not the other way around. Banksy in all of his work strives to create conversation and controversial work about different topics.

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Art is one of the few ways people living in the West Bank can physically voice their objection for all to see about the occupation. The art allows everyone, Israel and the surrounding international community, to see that they are unhappy with the conditions that the wall has forced them into. The wall for comparison is not small in size, but spans at least double or triples the normal height of fence.

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The Wall/Separation Barrier for each side has very different connotations, one of impinging freedom and justice and one of helping to maintain security and fight terrorism. Both have compelling arguments as to why this structure is or is not a suitable arrangement. I am grateful we saw and heard narratives on both sides to try and better grasp the issues that both sides are dealing with on a daily basis.

-Emily V.

My most memorable and favorite touring experience that the Valparaiso Law School group went on was when we met with a Holocaust survivor. After waking up early and spending the morning touring, on top of already being tired from traveling to a foreign country, I was about to fall asleep at the beginning of Ms. Weiss’s story. But once Ms. Weiss began telling her incredible story, I was wide-awake! Ms. Weiss told us about how her family was separated, and her father promised to protect her and her sister by buying a textile factory in their maid’s name, so she had money to take care of his daughters. Ms. Weiss then talked about her and her sister’s suspenseful journey living a double-life as “Christians” while still practicing Judaism regularly. Ms. Weiss’s story continued to get better when she shared her encounter with a family whose father was part of the S.S. Ms. Weiss faced the intense questioning from Nazi soldiers looking for any remaining Jews hiding amongst the non-Jewish population. Ms. Weiss eventually was caught, along with her sister and were sent to Auschwitz. The stories Ms. Weiss told us, and everything she had to endure was unbelievable. It is absolutely horrific that any human being had to experience and suffer such a hellish way of life, especially as a child. Listening to Ms. Weiss’s detailed recollection brought tears to my eyes, and a thought of disbelief that a human would treat another in such a degrading way. I was even more amazed that Ms. Weiss, a little girl was able to survive, reconnect with her family, and is still around to this day in great health sharing her very personal and emotional story with people from around the world. I am so glad that my class and myself was able to meet Ms. Weiss.

J.Eassa (Valparaiso)

-Jonathan E.

 

What became more and more apparent to me during my time in Israel is that there are many questions, but very few answers. In a place that has historic and cultural symbolism behind every stone and mural, there is very little certainty while looking to the future. They say the past is the future with the lights on, but the history of this region has multiple narratives and is complex to say the least. While the answers are lacking, the objective seems to be more uniform. The goal for the future is to focus on addressing the conflicts that resulted in new settlements and, ultimately, the displacement and occupation of people who are currently living in Palestine.

My trip began in Jerusalem—one of the oldest cities in the world and sacred grounds to people of Christian, Jewish, and Islam. The city is filled with monuments, artifacts, and spectacles that hold much more beauty than that which pleasures the eye. Jews can experience King David’s Tomb, The Western Wall, and remains of the Jewish Temple; Muslims can experience the site where the Prophet Mohammed amended to heaven at the Dome of the Rock; and Christians can walk along the very steps Jesus walked to his crucifixion. With so many spectacles scattered throughout the same city, it’s no wonder that this land is so desirable. It’s an unfortunate reality that religion, land, and war often times go hand-in-hand. Especially today, it is difficult to remove ourselves from the regimes and decision-makers who attempt to remain/gain control to these historical sites. So much of our decision making policies revolve around what precedent is set instead of taking a step back and witnessing these magnificent religious monuments and landscapes that should be shared and celebrated.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

Often times, practical policies are rejected because of a story that was written thousands of years ago or the violation of a doctrine that is no longer pragmatic. It is difficult for me to fathom the reasoning of how any person could suppress another’s basic human rights with concrete walls and partitions. Likewise, the concept of resorting to violence merely because you are backed up against the wall (no pun intended) is not a reasonable response to these violations. If there is one thing that is agreed upon in this conflict it is that both sides desire peace. If we desire a region of peace, we cannot achieve such a region through means of violence. People respond proportionately to how you treat them. If you approach them with guns and barriers, they will react with the same animosity. If you reach out to one another and stand up for peace, you can collectively make progress. Violence kills what it intends to create.

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Despite the lack of any answers being provided for the future, there is one luxury that I was able to continuously appreciate: the ability to ask questions. Both America and Israel are relatively new countries (established in 1776 and 1948 respectively). Recognizing this, it is remarkable that these countries are the progressive leaders in regard to issues of free speech in contrast to many countries that have existed since the inception of organized government. There are undoubtedly critics of Israel’s adoption of western culture and those who argue that it is this very component that makes it so difficult for Israel to integrate in the Middle East. What is indisputable, however, is the civil benefits that come along with Westernization; benefits such as freedom of speech, religion, women’s rights, voting rights, and other liberties of this nature. During my short two weeks in Israel I was able to see the tourist-popular locations but, more importantly, I was able to experience the people and the culture. An ongoing theme on our trip was the understanding that there are multiple narratives to the same story. The best way to understand someones perspective is to hear it from a first-person account. This was exactly what was done during our tour; because of this, we not only educated on the region through a personal perspective, but were able to connect personally to the people living in the region themselves.

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-Alex S.

Over in Israel, we got to see where Jesus Christ, The Prophet Muhammad, and King David once walked. But most importantly, we got to meet some nice and interesting people. The tour guides were great, the places we visited were great, and the food was great. Best time ever and friends forever. 20150308_035623 20150307_041302 20150301_072912 20150301_011611 20150307_041935 20150307_035506 20150307_005131

-Marc J.

This picture is from our last day we spent in the city of Sderot. On the bus, Alaa’ explained to us how the city has been plagued with constant rocket attacks from Gaza. It seemed to be a rather lighthearted discussion until we arrived in Sderot and noticed that all the bus stations and many other buildings were actually bomb shelters. We met with an IDF officer at the Sderot police station. He showed us the rockets launched from Gaza, explained the Iron Dome defense system to us, and elaborated on how the day in the life of your average Sderot citizen is. I believe the group not only learned the physical damage the rockets cause to the people and infrastructure but also the psychological effects to Sderot’s population as well, especially the children. The most sobering experience occurred where the picture was taken, at a children’s playground in the middle of the city. The Caterpillar behind us is made of reinforced concrete and is actually a bomb shelter/play tunnel for the children. I know the playground hit home to many in the group who have kids or young siblings but it was also inspiring to many to see the ingenuity and courage of the people who choose to live in Sderot.

Valparaiso University Law Students at Sderot

Valparaiso University Law Students at Sderot

-Scott J.

During our first week we visited a Holocaust museum, Yed Vashem, and heard from a Holocaust survivor. The most impressive and impactful exhibits in the museum for me were the many items and objects set up from the concentration camps and the pictures of captives hung near. One exhibit held hundreds of shoes worn by men, women, and children in the camps. The shoes were extremely tattered and literally brought the saying to my mind about walking in another person’s shoes. Thousands and thousands of Jews walked into the camps during World War II but never walked out. Towards the end of the exhibit the Nuremburg Trials were also explained. During our second week of class we discussed enforcement concerning International Criminal Law (ICL). I immediately thought of the Trials and the war crimes and grave breaches of WWII. Though the Trials happened during the late 1940s they would have been a prime example of how and why crimes against humanity are prosecuted under international law. Our time at the museum and our discussion during class reinforced for me the importance of holding individuals accountable for their actions—their atrocities in this instance—and why fighting for justice and peace, which should not be separated from each other, is one of the highest callings a person can have.

View of Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem

-Pauline W.

The first impression I had of Israel came from a bus-window-view on the drive from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. Along the way I was amazed by the vast stretches of agricultural landscapes blanketing every flat surface of the country that isn’t otherwise occupied by housing or industry. Yields from these regions bring artichokes, dates, olives, and countless other crops to Israeli’s booming urban centers. Tel-Aviv, for example, is as booming and urban as you can get. After walking around town for a few minutes I swore that someone had simply uprooted an American city and just dropped it in the Middle East. As such, I assumed that Tel-Aviv would have similar food system problems as many urban areas in the United States. I figured that large commercial shopping centers peddling frozen meats transported from thousands of miles away along-side crops that had been harvested on the other side of the planet would be the norm. I was pleasantly disappointed. In the heart of the city lies world-class Carmel Market that provides fruits, veggies, meat, and cheese directly from Israeli producers to Tel-Aviv’s growing population.

In fact, more than 50 individual producers are represented in the market. Between stalls selling mass-produced souvenirs you will find venders offering fresh seafood, fragrant spices, and delicious fresh and dried meat. Other outlets at the market offer wide selections of local Israeli wines and spirits. My particular favorite is a tiny booth tucked along side the Carmel Market thoroughfare that offers a wide selection of beer brewed by independent Israeli brewers. 90+ different craft-beer varieties and tapas!?! Yes, please, and thank you! Here at home in the USA, many urban areas are struggling to rebuild or create local food systems to offer fresh and sustainable food options for their citizens. If a booming modern world-class city like Tel-Aviv can support a vibrant market offering locally sourced food for its population, then perhaps there is a lesson our own urban planners and policy makers can take away from their success.

Sweets from carmel Market

Sweets from carmel Market

Carmel Market

Carmel Market

Carmel Market

Carmel Market

-Andy S.

Mural of Leila Khaled

Mural of Leila Khaled

First I want to say how hard it was to choose from the many photos I took. In the end I chose this mural of Leila Khaled holding a rifle. In this photo you can see the enormous size of the wall. Mr. Essa in the red shirt is walking with his buddy Jake, Essa is 6’4. The Berlin Wall was about 11-12 feet in height, this wall is said to be 25 feet high. I those numbers can also indicate the size of this mural. I did not know the wall was as big as it was, I did not imagine its enormity. This photo capture Leilas beauty and the harsh truth of the separation between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Graffiti on the Separation Wall

Graffiti in Aida Refugee Camp

In my trip I have learned so much about the conflict, learned to love the landscape of the country, and had the rare privilege to hear many sides/stories. We walked through Aida Refugee Camp shortly after our walk next to the wall. Our group heard the story behind the significance of the keys in the murals and above the entrance to the camp. The second photo is of a key and different names of Arab villages. Inside the key is Resolution 194, a soft law non-binding resolution, that acknowledges the right of return or compensation. The key and the number 194 is an important image of hope for the people in Aida Refugee Camp. Finally, I would like to conclude with the video or Professor Telman serenading us at the Kibbutz Inbar in Galilee. 

Professor Telman Serenading the class

-Natasha R.

Our first day in Jerusalem was very thought provoking. As a Palestinian American, I had the privilege to visit Jerusalem in my youth and to experience the power that was the city of Jerusalem in all its glory. The unique atmosphere is encompassed by the three Abrahamic faiths all converging onto the old city. A city that is close to the heart of every person there and afar. Our first day of touring the old city opened my eyes to a new found appreciation for Jerusalem. I was able to not just visit and see the Dome of the Rock, the Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I was able to learn about each one, see each from a whole new perspective, and to experience each one with a whole new respect.

View of Jerusalem

View of Jerusalem

-Aladin A.

The Israel/Palestine International Law Study Abroad program sponsored by Valparaiso University School of Law is a revolutionary model that forces students out of their own complacency, no matter your background, while maintaining an environment that is conducive for students to engage in respectful and effective communication. This dynamic model also affords its participants to be self-critical of their own personal and societal perceptions.

Part of the program incorporated a tour of the country so that we had context of the conflict. This tour was facilitated by the MEJDI Tours via their Dual Narrative tour. We had two guides: one Israeli, and one Palestinian. This element of the program added an undeniable value to understanding the conflict on the ground.
For me, I think the experiences that had the greatest impact on me throughout the entire tour was our visit to The Wall in Bethlehem within the West Bank. I’ve been to The Wall before, but every time I see it in person its like seeing it for the first time. I still have trouble finding words to describe this experience. Quite plainly, I am a privileged American and I see The Wall through that lens. Immediately, I ask myself: How is this ok? Then you realize, we’re not in America where we have guaranteed basic rights and civil liberties. Although America is far from perfect and we clearly have a long way to go in so many respects, but if you ever wanted to realize and appreciate how much we take our freedom for granted, visit The Wall.
If I could have, I would have spent an entire day just reading and analyzing the messages on The Wall. Some of the messages, although so simple, have such  powerful meanings. By the time we left, I felt as though I personally spoke with hundreds of Palestinians through their self-expression.
I am a Palestinian-American, and one thing that I find truly fascinating about the expressions on The Wall is they are mostly expressed in the English language. Now, you wouldn’t know this unless you were more familiar with the dichotomy between the West Bank and Israel, but English is not nearly as prevalent in the West Bank as it is in Israel. In the West Bank, you won’t find many people that speak English; it’s generally Arabic that is spoken. With that in mind, you realize the significance that is placed on expressing these messages in the English language. It forces one to wonder: Who is the intended audience?
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-Mohammad F.