< Report One:  Our Paths To, and Through, Palestine/israel >

Today's Realities, Tomorrow's Leaders
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
July 18, 2012

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports

Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.  As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Submitted reports may be edited for clarity or brevity. Trip reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.



No Neutrality
By Manal F.

On the issue of Palestine - one would only be kidding themselves to say they're neutral. Being here again and hearing Ruth today from Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions(ICAHD), and with an eye witness view of the grave injustice Palestinians are living with, one has to realize that not enough is being done by the international community. 

Racial profiling is alive and well in Israel. Nothing is done by accident. The demolition of homes is about the destruction of a family. In Palestinian society, as in many other societies, the home is a nucleus. Most women are homemakers and as their homes are destroyed they become disoriented. The children are traumatized and the emotional effects are devastating. 

Studies have shown the long term adverse effect of home demolitions on the family unit. Palestinians, like other human beings, should have the basic human right to have a home. On the issue of Palestine, one cannot be neutral. It is time for change. It is time for justice. 


Paths: Sacred, Profane, and Profound
By Robbie W.

Today was our first full day in Jerusalem, but I have already experienced a lifetime of memories.  Our flight from DC to Tel Aviv via Frankfurt was thankfully uneventful – except our flight was delayed by about an hour in Frankfurt due to “technical difficulties,” and five members of our delegation were pulled from Passport Control in Tel Aviv for “extra attention.”  All five are Arab-American.  Thankfully we talked at orientation about what to expect at Passport Control in Israel.  After over an hour, four of the five were released, but they were still holding onto and questioning the last one.  One of our leaders stayed with him and the rest of us headed on to Jerusalem on a bus.  The last delegate and our second leader joined us later that night.

Today we visited the Old City of Jerusalem in the morning.  The Old City includes four quarters: the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian Quarter.  Within each quarter are sacred and Holy Sites.  In the Jewish Quarter, we visited the Western Wall (the “Wailing Wall”).  I was allowed to enter and touched the wall saying a prayer for Israel and the Israelis.  In the Muslim Quarter, we visited the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and I said a prayer for Palestine and Muslims everywhere.  Muslims are preparing to celebrate the holiday of Ramadan, and so the Muslim Quarter is filled with holiday lights and decorations.  Some of the Muslim members of our delegation will be fasting during the holiday which means no food or water in 90 degree heat from sunrise to sunset.  

We finally visited the Christian Quarter where we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built over the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead.  It was an amazing and powerful experience, and I am looking forward to going back there when I have some free time.  

The path Jesus walked from when he was condemned to death to where he was resurrected is called the Via Dolorosa or “Way of Sorrows.”  It begins in the Muslim Quarter and ends in the Christian Quarter.  Walking along this route was a powerful experience for me as well, and I would also like to spend more time here.  My favorite station is Station IV where Jesus met his mother on his way to Golgotha.  I am reminded of the scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ when Jesus meets his mother, how she watches her son fall to the ground under the weight of the cross and is reminded of when he fell as a little boy and she was able to pick him up; however, this time, she cannot help him.

In the afternoon we met with a representative from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD).  We learned about and visited Jewish-Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land that is designated to the Palestinians.  We saw the strong contrast between the affluent Israeli homes in the occupied territories and impoverished Palestinian homes.  We saw piles of trash and burnt grass around the Palestine homes and were told that the Palestinians burn their trash because it is not collected even though they pay taxes to the Israeli government. 

We saw the massive wall running through the West Bank and East Jerusalem attempting to further discourage and cut off the Palestinians in their designated territory from resources like water, power, parks, roads, schools, and hospitals.  We saw huge piles of rock and wire where Palestinian homes used to stand. 

These were not easy things to see, and I was reminded of the demolished homes I heard about in Cape Town, South Africa under Apartheid.  However, there was something else I was reminded of from South Africa today, and that is the spirit of Ubuntu which is difficult to translate into English but basically means honoring, respecting, loving, truly seeing the other, seeing them as a fellow human being worthy of dignity.  This was the spirit with which black South Africans dealt with their oppressors under Apartheid.  I saw this spirit today when one of the Muslim, Palestinian-American members of our delegation walked to the Wailing Wall wearing a Yarmulke out of respect for this holiest of Jewish sites. 

There are people here who are falling along this difficult path they are walking.  In the coming weeks, I hope to continue to learn, listen, and grow seeing how God is moving here is this sacred place.

Inequality: Conflict Assured
By Alejandro A.

Today we had our first contact with the grassroots activist movement, and as we visited the wall built by the state of Israel. It was impossible not to draw parallels and make comparisons. Impossible for me not to think of the Jewish Holocaust, while visiting some Palestinian neighborhoods and passing through one of the biggest Jewish settlements. But it was also inevitable to discover some striking similarities with the Colombian internal conflict which, as a Colombian, I am most familiar with.

While the realities are never the same, comparisons are good for the understanding of social dynamics. It is mind blowing to see how it is the Jewish people who encourage segregation and exclusion; that very same people who suffered the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust and nearly faced extermination. However, segregation and exclusion are at the very base of the state of Israel. We all knew that beforehand, but it is always shocking to see it firsthand.

Later on, I was surprised to feel so much “at home” while visiting the Palestinian villages and the Jewish settlements. It felt normal, nearly comfortable, to be in poor Palestinian neighborhoods deprived of some of the most basic services; to go afterwards – within less than 5 miles - to a huge and flourishing Jewish settlement: Ma’ale Adummim. It seemed routine to hear the speaker go on about all the Palestinians that have lost their land and were forced to go elsewhere – mostly refugee camps.  Nor was it new for me to hear about the neglect and even violence that the question of return raises among political leaders.

Why did I felt so much “at home” while hearing all this? Well, because both the Colombian and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts share the same vectors: Land, Population, and Exclusion. In Palestine they fight over the territory of the ancient British mandate, in Colombia actors fight over the property of the land since Spanish colonial times. In both territories the question of the return of those displaced to their original land is the utmost threat to the status quo. And finally, excluded social actors – Palestinians and Colombian peasants – claim for access to rights they have been denied for decades: self determination and social rights.

The two conflicts also share some other interesting facts. Both conflicts started in 1948. Both Israel and Colombia receive huge military aid from the United States: Israel being the first aid recipient and Colombia the third (right after Egypt). The role of private armed and violent actors is important; settlers in Israel, Paramilitaries in Colombia. And finally, the possibility of a true and lasting peace in both conflicts is nowhere in the near future. Comparisons…

A Warm Welcome
By Sharif Z.

Let me start off this blog by saying that I wasn’t exactly the happiest of campers coming into Palestine.  We all left DC with high spirits, but the lack of sleep, disgusting food, and total of 14 hours of flight time took its toll. We safely landed in Tel Aviv airport and I could not stop smiling. I was told to expect that the Israeli officials would be interested in me and they did not disappoint.  Three others in my group approached the security gate before me and they were able to get stamped in.  When it was my turn to step up to the gate, the woman began to ask me standard security questions:

Are you with a group? Yes

Did you fly in from Frankfurt (our connecting flight)? Yes

*Looking at my name* Is your father’s name Naser? Yes

What is your grandfather’s name? It’s Jameel

What is your ethnicity? *paused* Palestinian…

Please step to the waiting area for further instruction.

She had taken my passport and told me that I would not get it back till after I was cleared through security. I sat in the waiting area and slowly a few other members of my group joined me.  It was no surprise that every Arab in our group was told to wait for security to check them. Israel is pretty well known for its racial profiling.  I was called into a small room where I was questioned further by a different man.  The entire time he stared at his computer screen and did not make eye contact. He asked me the same questions as the first lady, then started to ask me other questions.  

I was asked where my family was from originally; my purpose for being in the region; how long I was planning to stay; where I was planning to go; how old various family members were; and I was asked to release my contact information.  

During the questioning I asked for his name which he was willing to give to me. What was really frustrating was he asked me all of these questions about 3 times each.  I was also asked if I was connected to a certain family (I don’t remember the name) and then I was taken back to the waiting room.  The other members of my group were asked to move to a different waiting room. I waited for about an hour then I was taken in for another session of questioning. This time I was questioned by a woman but there was another man in the corner of the room. She maintained eye contact and had a sheet of paper in front of her.

What does that shirt mean? (I was wearing my Jewish Disaster Response Corp T-shirt) 
I went to Alabama with the Jewish organization Hillel to build homes, this was the organizations name.

Why did you go on this trip?
I was interested

Did you build homes for Jews?
We built homes for tornado victims, I don’t know what their background was

How did you hear about this?
I went with a friend

Was your friend Jewish?
Yes she’s Jewish 

And is your friend in your group with you now?

What is your connection with these people?
We all joined this organization on our own, I met them all in Washington DC over the last 2 days.

So you don’t know anyone before this trip?
One of the members goes to the same school but I don’t know him too well

Uh huh… *starts scribbling on her paper*

May I know your name?
No you may not know my name (oh well, I tried)

So you don’t know where you are going?
I know we’re staying in Jerusalem, and I know we’re going to Tel Aviv and Bethlehem

And you don’t have family here?
Not that I know of

Has your father been in the region?
Not as long as I’ve been alive

You aren’t going to the West Bank?
Im just going wherever my group takes me

And you aren’t sure where you are going?
No they kept the itinerary with them

How old is your father?
I don’t know, 50′s?

What do you want to do in Jerusalem?
I just want to connect to my religious roots

And you’re only going to connect to your roots in Jerusalem?
Im just going to stay with the group

What mosques do you want to visit?
I don’t know? Haram-al Sharif, al aqsa?

So you don’t know where your roots are, how is that? ( Ironic right?) 
My father emigrated to the states when he was a teenager, we don’t talk much about that

Why not?
I’m not sure

How can you not know?
My grandparents are my tie here and we don’t see them that often.

Where is your mom from?
She’s white, born in New York I believe…Hollinda Rhoades

Why did you mention she was white, you seem conscious of race.
I’m used to that where I’m from

Do you know how many Americans come through here?
I’m assuming a lot? (I was being a bit of a smart ass)

None of them talk about race, why did you bring it up?
I don’t know what to say, like I said, it’s common where I’m from

*Man in the corner makes a comment* He must be those “new americans” *he laughed*

Are you part of school organizations?
I’m part of Rainbow Theater, a multi-cultural group

What do you do?
We outreach to students, put on plays, speak poetry

Are you part of any other organizations?
I was part of Olive Tree Initiative for a while

What is OTI?
It’s a group that has open dialogue about current events in the region

What did you speak of when you were there?
I don’t remember, i haven’t been to a meeting in over a year.

So you really don’t remember what you talked about? (She looked perturbed at this point)
No, like I said we talk about current events and it’s been over a year

I can remember things that happened 5 years ago, you really can’t remember?
That’s impressive, no I can’t. ( Again, shouldn’t have been a smart ass)

Right…so what other organizations?
Hillel I guess for the time I was in Alabama

Anything else
…not that i can think of. ( I wanted to get off this topic )

Is your phone with you?
No it isnt

Why not?
…Because it doesn’t work here?

It can work
It’s expensive

So your phone is in the states?

Are you connected to (same name as the one before)
No, I told the last person I’ve never heard of that name

*hands me a sheet of paper* Write down all of your contact information
*Write down my email and number*

Any other emails?
*I wrote another email down* These are connected to each other though

Any other emails?

Tell your leader that she can leave. You’re going to be in here a lot longer and you may or may not get your passport

Basically this was the abridged and paraphrased version, and again I was asked the same questions multiple times.  I went back to the waiting area and told my group what had happened.  We waited for another 30 minutes or so and our group leader went to pressure them for our passports. A while later, they came back and handed everyone else but me a passport.  The rest of the group left with the bus and my leader Tim stayed with me in the waiting room. By hour three we were worried that I was going to be denied access into the country and I started to think about what my next step would be if I were taken back to DC. We decided to call the American Embassy and ask for their help. They called us back about 15 minutes later and said that “they weren’t done with me” and that was about all they could do.  Finally after 4 hours of detainment and questioning, I was allowed to leave the airport. (Hamdullilah

We met up with the group fairly late and by that time I was starving.  After coming to the hotel and getting some food in my stomach, myself and two others decided to check out the streets of Jerusalem where we stopped to smoke hookah and drink tea.  They offered to pay for the bill on account of the trouble I had been facing.  

Suffice to say, I’m blessed to be here and I’m fascinated with what I’ve seen so far.  At this point I’m sleep deprived and still on edge from the questioning and armed soldiers posted on every street corner. I’ve made it safely and the blog will continue! Stay tuned.  

A full version of this report originally posted at http://educatedpalestinian.com/2012/07/17/a-warm-welcome-32/


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