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Today's Realities, Tomorrow's Leaders
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
July 25, 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.



By Matt J.

Hebron is a nightmare and a dream
That I still haven’t awakened from
I can hear the distant firecrackers
Sounding like gunshots and bombs

Celebration is a form of resistance
To the 400 armed Jewish settlers
And their 1,500 armed bodyguards
A child threw pebbles as I passed

A Jewish child on a donkey
On the Israeli side of the road
Perhaps headed toward Jerusalem
To achieve what Jesus could not

‘Free Israel’ tagged on the walls
Arab children selling bracelets
Defying the soldiers with smiles
Trusting us gentle strangers

Some want to restore it to its former glory
Some want to take it all for themselves
Some just want to get out in one piece
I just want to remember – and to forget


Yad Vashem and West Jerusalem
By Robbie W.

We began today by going to Yad Vashem in West Jerusalem.  Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Museum.  Several members of our delegation did not want to go, and several reasons were given – I’ve been there before, I’ve heard the story already, I’ve been to other Holocaust Museums, the Holocaust narrative has been weaponized to justify the abuse and occupation of the Palestinian people.  Thankfully our group leaders emphasized that going to Yad Vashem is not optional. 

I feel that it is important to look at as many sides of the conflict as possible and not only hear the Palestinian side less we become so polarized that we begin to do the same thing to the Israelis that some members of our delegation claim the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians – dehumanize and vilify them. 

My experience at Yad Vashem was moving and powerful for two reasons:

1) seeing the Palestinian-American and Arab-Americans in our delegation go to Yad Vashem after seeing the Palestinians in the West Bank be so humiliated and oppressed by Israeli laws, soldiers, check-points, etc.  It took tremendous courage and strength from them to go, and I was very touched and moved.

2) I had an amazing conversation with a young, high school freshman in our delegation as we walked through the Museum.  She is Palestinian-American, and she asked me some very thought-provoking questions about why I was on the delegation, what I thought about Israelis, Palestinians, the conflict, etc.  She is an amazing and insightful young woman, and I appreciate the risks and vulnerability she took in our conversation.  Among many other things, she informed me that Yad Vashem had been built on the site of the 1948 Deir Yassin Massacre where over 100 Palestinian villagers were killed by Jewish militia members.  While in West Jerusalem, we also saw an ancient Muslim cemetery, the Mamilla Cemetery, where Israel wants to build a Museum of Tolerance – right on top of the cemetery!

After the museum, I had lunch with some delegation friends in West Jerusalem, and the contrast with East Jerusalem is striking.  East Jerusalem is located in the West Bank and belongs to the Palestinians under international law; however, in 1967 Israel occupied East Jerusalem.  Palestinians in the West Bank are not allowed to enter East Jerusalem unless they have an Israeli military-issued permit which is extremely difficult to obtain.  Even though Palestinians own homes in East Jerusalem and pay high taxes, many of their homes are often demolished, and they receive no social services such as the collecting of trash.  There is no development or construction of infrastructure in East Jerusalem. 

While in West Jerusalem, which is part of Israel proper, I felt like I was in the USA or Europe.  Shopping malls, fountains, department stores, ice cream shops, trees, flowers, gardens, air conditioning, jewelry stores, the Gap, and the list goes on and on.  It is absolutely amazing how different West and East Jerusalem are, and how comfortably and affluently the Israelis in West Jerusalem live contrasted to the poverty and third world conditions of the Palestinians just over the line separating the two halves.  It was unbelievable.

After lunch, some members of the delegation took part in a Women in Black vigil which takes place every Friday in Jerusalem.  Taking part was optional.  These protests began in 1988 when Israeli women stood silently with signs on a street in West Jerusalem asking for the end of the Israeli occupation and for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

After the vigil, we went back to our hotel in East Jerusalem and met with Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan, professor of language and education at Hebrew University (click here for photos from this meeting).  I was very surprised at her findings from looking at what Israeli textbooks teach about Arabs, Palestinians, and Palestine.  You can read about her results in her book Palestine in Israeli School Books (2011). 

I honestly felt very disturbed and a little frightened after her presentation.  According to Dr. Peled-Elhanan, Israeli children are taught about the inferiority of Arabs and how all of Israel belongs only to the Jews.  She said that by saying “Arab” instead of “Palestinian,” this implies that Palestinians do not belong in the land if Israel and need to find their home somewhere else in the Arab world.  It sounded very much like the education done in Nazi German teaching young German children about the superiority of the Aryan race over all others.  Does Israel hope to rid all of Israel, including the West Bank, of all Arabs?  Do they hope, someday, to spread into the Arab world as a next step?  What is the role of the United States in this grand scheme if it even exists?  You see why I felt a little frightened after her presentation.  I couldn’t help wondering if this Israeli woman was a little crazy and extreme, because if she isn’t, that would be even more frightening.

After the presentation, some delegates went to the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration in East Jerusalem (this was also optional).  Sheikh Jarrah is a Palestinian neighborhood close to the 1967 border that separates East and West Jerusalem and is home to about 3,000 Palestinians.  Since the late 1990s, Jewish settlers began seizing buildings and settling compounds in the neighborhood.  They are doing this throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  So every Friday, Israelis and Palestinians gather on the street near the neighborhood and protest the evictions and seizures (click here for photos from the demonstration).

At the end of the day, the group gathered for our daily reflection time.  Today was the first day of the month of Ramadan, so several members of our delegation, both Muslims and non-Muslims, fasted from sunrise to sunset.  Some people did not even drink water during the fast. 

I continue to learn so much from my fellow delegates developing relationships, and we continue to grow together despite the differences and varied understandings of the situation here on the ground.  Today was also my 36th birthday, and I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate than with this amazing group of people in Jerusalem.


Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Hebrew University professor
By Walter H.

We had visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, which graphically presented the Nazi genocide against European Jewry.  Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli professor, began her presentation of Israeli representations of Palestinians in mainstream children's history, geography, and physics books by pointing that the Holocaust museum was built on top of a now destroyed Muslim cemetery and overlooks Deir Yassin, site of a notorious Israeli massacre in 1948.  She notes that traumatic Zionist history is emphasized while ignoring the local narrative pertaining to Palestinians.  The message is, “They tried to destroy the Jews sixty years ago, never again!”  This narrative leads to deliberate ignorance of Palestinians other than representing them as a violent, primitive other (like the Nazi untermenschen) in possession of resources they cannot properly exploit (like the Nazi justification for lebensraum). 

“They learn nothing about Arabs in school except that they are a problem to be solved” —reminiscent of the Nazi “final solution.”  I found these parallels to Nazism a striking irony, reinforced the same day by Israelis mock spitting and hectoring us at street protests, spiteful looks spread across their faces — much like I imagine Germans treated Jews on the street in the 1930s.

Nurit’s power-point stemmed from her recent book,Palestine in Israeli Schoolbooks, published by the reputable academic press I.B. Tauris in 2012. The Israeli schoolbooks that Nurit researched ignore Palestinian history, culture, language, music, and photographs of actual Palestinian people almost never appear in the books.  Kids grow up with this ignorance and treat Palestinians as a “problem” that must be dispensed with for “security” and preservation of the Jewish state. 

Israeli discourse heavily emphasizes the absolute necessity for a Jewish majority—the “demographic threat.”  Palestinians are viewed purely as threats and problems and otherwise invisible or dehumanized.  They are primitive, vile, clannish, pre-modern, products of “Asiatic backwardness” or pathetic refugees.  They are cowardly — they “abandoned” the land in the 1948 war (a historical canard) hence they own nothing and their buildings can therefore be destroyed, their homes confiscated.  Children are represented as would-be terrorists — Nurit showed a photograph from a schoolbook of young kids throwing rocks but the photo had been cropped to remove the Israeli tank facing them.

Nurit turned to a segment she calls “Lying maps and cartographic incompetence” in which the Israeli schoolbook maps normalize the Biblical “Greater Land of Israel” and employ the terms Judea and Samaria instead of the West Bank.  Some schoolbooks blatantly aver Israel must expand in all directions.  Maps present the illegally Occupied Territories in the West Bank and Golan Heights as part of Israel. 

Given the Zionist biblical mandate, and the demonization of the Palestinian Other, violence is presented to the children as justified for “security.”  Massacres are not labeled as such though sometimes it is admitted that innocent people die.  Aggression is normalized as part of security initiatives and is presented as punitive reprisals rather than violence brought on by illegal Israeli settlements.  Violence serves to heighten Israeli morale and strengthen the national defense forces (IDF) and to deter “Arab aggression.” 

Nurit’s academic study leaves little doubt that Israeli schoolchildren are conditioned by their texts to view Palestinians as a sub-human Other, a “problem” in the path of Zionist “security,” a people that can justifiably be removed (click here for photos from this meeting).


Engaging Education
By Sharif Z.
Excerpted from original piece

I’d like to start off by saying that I’m several days behind on my blog. Unfortunately wireless is more of a luxury here and isn’t always available.  Currently I’m writing on a slow and outdated computer in an internet cafe, but Im in Bethlehem and I can’t complain! I’m going to outline my day as it went on the 20th (where I left off).

That day was the first day of Ramadan. It was an amazing experience to be in Jerusalem at this time. Several of us woke up around 3:15am to eat our breakfast. Myself and 3 others from my group decided to heed the call to prayer and we headed into the old city. We passed by several Israeli soldiers and I had to show them my passport.  We were getting deeper into the Muslim Quarter where this time I was stopped by a different official. Again I had to prove my religious background by showing him my name and reciting a few verses from the Qur’an. The women headed into the Dome of the Rock and the men were designated to pray in the Al-Quds Mosque. 

I’m not the most devout of Muslims but I have to say, it was an amazing sight. Literally thousands of people gathered early in the morning to join side by side to pray together.  It was a beautiful experience. I had a short conversation with the gentleman next to me. He happened to be from South Africa and we started speaking about Muslims’ roles in ending injustices.  We then prayed and headed back to the hotel.

After literally only 4 hours of sleep, our group was off to our next destination Yad Vashem, also known as the Holocaust museum. I’d first like to point out that on the bus ride through West Jerusalem (the ‘Israeli’ side), I noticed it was a very different environment from the East side.  The buildings were a lot more ‘modernized’ with clean streets and bustling commerce. 

On our way to Yad Vashem, we passed by the Mamilla cemetery.  An ancient Islamic burial ground that dates back thousands of years since the Byzantine Empire.  There are huge controversies of the construction of a new museum on top of the site.  The Israeli government has allowed for the area to be removed to made into a ‘Jewish Museum for Tolerance and Human Rights’ (Ironic?).

We arrived at Yad Vashem and it was amazingly large.  The first thing I noticed was that the construction of the museum was funded by Sheldon Adelson and his wife. Adelson is the 16th richest person in the world, owning several casinos including the Venetian.  They are the ones who currently own the Clarion fund (responsible for creating the movie ‘The Third Jihad’, a propaganda film that the NYPD has used to racially profile Muslims).  They are also the ones who funded over 15 billion dollars to Newt Gingrich and are now funding massive amounts of money into Romney’s SuperPac. . . [editor’s note: we skip ahead in this trip report since this material was covered by the previous entries.  To read his description of the visit to Yad Vashem, see http://educatedpalestinian.com/2012/07/23/engaging-education/]

[After leaving Yad Vashem] we walked around West Jerusalem and it was very bizarre comparing the conditions of Hebron to the bustling metropolis we were standing in.  We later ran into a group of Ethiopian Jews who had setup a table to protest the discrimination they faced within Israel (not all were Ethiopian yet still faced discrimination).   I was lucky enough to interview them on their school systems and their treatment within Israeli society (Interviews will go up on my blog when I return to the states!). 

For my own curiosity I began to ask them how they felt about the occupation and the Palestinian population from the perspective of a person of color.  I was quite shocked honestly.  They had given me the same narrative that most Israeli’s gave me.  They had never been in the Palestinian Territories (it was illegal) and they were afraid of terrorists.  When I asked them about why they were afraid, they mentioned suicide bombings and kidnappings. When I asked how many kidnappings had occurred, they could only list Gilad Shalit (former Israeli prisoner that Palestinians had taken in).  They had told me that in school they were taught that Palestinians were inherently violent and that they were afraid of being targeted if they were to go into the territories.  I then made some parallels to the US and our education system, and asked them if they had ever questioned their ‘education’ on Palestinian society.  They paused then said that they wish that they spoke more English so we could have a more in depth talk.  We traded info, overall it was a great conversation (hopefully we continue it!).

I then passed by a small protest in the middle of the street done by Women in Black.  Although I was there shortly, I spoke to the person next to me and we talked about our involvement with this issue.  Literally I was there for 5 minutes when I had faced at least 7 slurs coming from people who drove by.  A member of my delegation had been verbally assaulted and spat on.  Having fasted all day, I was quite drained and it was hard to deal with the intense racism of the counter protestors. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel meeting room to meet our next speaker.

It was almost coincidence that our next speaker was a professor who taught the way Israeli discourse was shaped.   Her name was Nurit Peled-Elhanan, an Israeli professor at the Hebrew University David Yellin College.  Her lecture was based on how Israeli textbooks are written, mainly critiquing the top 15 textbooks used in the country.

Dr. Peled-Elhanan first agreed that building the Yad Vashem site was a form of ethnic cleansing.  Israeli text books look at the Palestinian population as a ‘problem that needs to be solved’.  Young Israeli’s aren’t taught their culture, relations, language, history, literature, just how to spread zionism.  She related it to Rachel Dawkins’ ‘infecting the mind’.  Peace, mixing, and coexistence has never been taught in schools.  Palestinian discrimination is normative as a necessity for Israeli security.  All text books can be written by anyone yet must be approved by the Ministry of Information, all have ideological commonalities (sounds much like the U.S.?).  All books use existential assumptions that antisemitism exists, Arabs are a threat, and that Jews have historical rights to the land.  All books also teach that Palestinians abandoned their lands and were not driven out.  Most importantly, students are taught that Arabs are a demographic threat to the existence of Israel and that all Palestinians in the West Bank are a constant threat.  

What I found most interesting about Dr. Peled-Elhanan’s study is that Palestinian people were not actually shown in the books.  Rather, racist caricatures were used to describe Palestinian people (her belief that it was used to help propel the fear if Israeli’s had an enemy they could not readily identify).  Palestinians are shown as primitive and dangerous and that aggression is in the nature of their person.  Arabs are also portrayed as parasites and are not allowed to build land as it could infect the Jewish state.  Everything a Palestinian builds is considered illegal since they are not allowed to get permits.

The Israeli’s are told that Palestinians purposely do not get permits so that they could avoid taxes (sounds like a common misconception in the states).  In several text books, they describe Palestinian architecture as primitive (they are actually more sustainable for the region) and Europeanized homes that Israeli’s build are a sign of progress. Only 3 Palestinian massacres are actually acknowledged in Israeli text books, yet they are downplayed.  Soldiers are glorified and made out to be heroes who have conquered the problem for the benefit of society.  What sickens me the most about all of this is that even Palestinians receive the same narrative.  This is especially problematic for Israeli-Palestinians who are faced with 2 different histories that do not match up. Overall it was an excellent lecture and I’m planning to create a detailed presentation on Israeli narratives.

I had a great day overall since I am mostly interested with the education of Palestinians and Israeli’s.  Hopefully I’ll catch up with my posts soon. Stay tuned.

To read this post in full, and see other recent posts not included in this Trip Report, continue here: http://educatedpalestinian.com


Beit Sahour Homestay
By Matt J., Alejandro A. and Amani B.

We stayed with a Palestinian Christian family for one night in Beit Sahour, a famous town of 17,000 in the West Bank known for its civil disobedience to Israeli dominion during the First Intifada. Now we will ensure that they are known for their hospitality.

Earlier in the day Mazin Qumsiyeh, former biology professor at Yale University and current professor and activist in the Occupied Territories, told us that the people of Beit Sahour purchased cows in order to produce their own food and milk and managed to hide them from the Israeli army for several weeks. The goals and philosophy behind this was reminiscent of Gandhi’s ‘constructive program,’ which was designed to resist British colonialism through Indian self-reliance. Beit Sahour residents also refused to pay taxes to the Israeli authorities and otherwise withdrew their cooperation without resorting to violence.

While not as direct a form of resistance, the home of our hosts is open to travelers throughout the world looking to hear a unique perspective or, in the case of Israelis, see how ‘the other half’ lives. Our main host, Awad Qumsiyeh (a relative of Mazin), challenged us to name one country unrepresented by his numerous visitors. We told him he’d be welcome to visit us in Washington, D.C., Bogota (Colombia), and California, respectively (click here for photos from delegate's homestays).

Controversy erupted when he told us that an Israeli settler with Canadian nationality stayed at his place, but he explained that it was important to influence those we may disagree with — or even find reprehensible — through dialogue. He came to this conclusion only recently, he said: after an Israeli Jew from Italy (who had mistaken him for a fellow Italian) drove him and his girlfriend from Haifa to Tel Aviv, almost two hours away, for free. He said the Italian-born Israeli maintained his kindness even after he found out that Awad was Palestinian and invited him to his home once they arrived in Tel Aviv.

Awad returned to his beautiful home in Beit Sahour forever changed. Through patience and candor, he was able to convince one of his house guests, an American Jew, not to join the settler movement. It may seem like an insignificant achievement, but it amounts to one less settler, and there is no way of predicting its ultimate impact on the conflict. Under a regime of occupation and apartheid, the mere act of mutual exchange with ‘the other side’ is subversive and, perhaps, revolutionary.

Nonetheless, we — a white American, a Colombian, a Palestinian, and a Palestinian-American — eventually concluded that dialogue does not mean love, agreement, or even acceptance. It is a starting point — a way to build understanding and, perhaps, shift extremist views ever-so slightly with the hope that truth will spread like a mustard seed.


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