< Reflection Three: The Lay of the Land and the Fruits of Harvest
- 2016 Olive Harvest Delegation Home
- The Suddenness of Tears and the Power of Resilience
- Colonial Contexts: Settlements and Resistance
- The Lay of the Land and the Fruits of Harvest
Overview: The final set of reflections from the 2016 Olive Harvest Delegation begins with a powerful story from a Bedouin leader, retold poignantly by Skyler Oberst and an expression of empathy from Pam Nice. The Olive Harvest is the heart of this collection and the focus of heartfelt reflections from Diane Josephy, Seth Morrison, Sheila Carrillo, and Arlene Lundquest.
Linda Houghton contributes three poems; Shirley Osterhaus recounts a Palestinian refugee's wish to drink a beer at the beach he is not allowed to visit; Kristin Stoneking shares the delegation's experience of passing through the ominous Qalandia Checkpoint; and Pam Nice recounts a visit to the Freedom Theatre in Jenin.
The delegation's day in Hebron frames additional reflections by Kristin Stoneking and Pam Nice. Arlene Lundquest and John R. Barker write of the visit to Yad Vashem. The final set of reflections end with a somber return to home by Sheila Carrillo, and a moving memory from Jerusalem by Skyler Oberst.
Read on for the full set of reflections.
Life in the Desert | Skyler Oberst – Spokane, Washington
The desert area in southern Israel known as the Negev derives its name in Hebrew from the word dry, or barren. This land, the ancient home of the Bedouin, has little vegetation and is sparsely populated with small collections of homes that barely pass as villages. The horizon is hazy with dust and the sun beats down without mercy.
But if you spend any time in this region, you realize it is teeming with life. Swallows sing from overhead; desert foxes dart between rocks; sturdy olive trees stretch towards the sky; and there is much laughter in the Bedouin villages.
After being greeted by curious children and an amazing meal shared between friends, our host, Khalil Al-Amour began to explain life in the Negev for the Bedouin people. He spoke over maps and dates and many points. But then, between sips of tea, the Bedouin recalled a story his grandfather told him about life in the Negev...
An Emir traveled across the desert with a servant. When the sun was falling, they began to look for a suitable place to make camp. It was then that they spotted the light of a campfire far in the distance. “Let us go there and make camp with those who are there,” the Emir said.
When they approached, they saw an old woman sitting by the fire alone — with only her goat, a small tent, and bundle of firewood. She greeted the visitors and asked them to join her. She gave them milk from the goat to quench their thirst. She threw the last of the firewood onto the fire, and slaughtered the goat to make them a meal. After the meal, she begged them to sleep in the larger area of the tent as she slept on the ground.
In the morning, when the Emir arose, he instructed the servant to give the old woman a small purse of gold before they left. But the servant was reluctant and hesitated. Seeing the woman sit alone in the Negev, the Emir said to his servant, “Sir, this is not a balanced consolation. You see, we have received only drink and a meal and a warm bed for the night. But for her, she has given everything she owns.”
At this point, our host stared off into the distance toward the road and the encroaching Israeli settlements and thought a moment before he said, “It is difficult to continue to live like this. Because we have nothing left to give…”
His eyes welled with tears. He stopped short of crying and continued on. Life in the desert goes on.
The Dark and the Light | Pam Nice - Arlington, Virginia
There is one speaker whose presence haunts me even today. It was hard to witness the trauma expressed by Nomika Zion in Sderot. I felt embarrassed rushing in and out in 45 minutes, hearing of her isolation and fear, but also of her courage in reaching out to Gazans who had caused her such pain.
Of all the Israelis we’ve heard from, she has been a real victim of war, however much we might want to compare her suffering to that of the Gazans so close by. Her shaking voice and nervous mannerisms reminded me how wounds stay in the body and spirit. I wished I could have given her something for all she gave to us.
Such a contrast later that day to meet the smiling Khalil Alamour at the Bedouin village of Al Sira. Surrounded by happy children and the houses of his extended family, he spoke of his creative plans for self-sufficiency — the solar panels, batteries, the water system. He had the sort of positive energy we have witnessed many times in our Palestinian speakers, in spite of the tremendous hardships they’ve endured.
When remembering Nomika, I am reminded of other Israeli wounds — how the Holocaust still leaves its traces in a real sense among some Israelis. This makes the cynical use of the Holocaust as an excuse for Israeli exceptionalism even more disgusting. “Never again” should apply to all people.
The contrast between Nomika and Khalil also show me how important it is in the struggles for justice to feel supported by a community. And what darkness can envelop those who struggle alone.
Circles | Diane Josephy - Hailey, Idaho
We gathered in circles every evening and for almost every visit to listen and learn from the stories of others. We gathered in the round when young men told us of the darkness of refugee camps, when a Jewish woman pleaded for life without wars and in a brief, light rain when the young of Hebron told us of impossible conditions in a city turned inside out around itself.
We gathered in circles to look into the eyes and the souls of storytellers and friends to see the questions, the confusion, the revelations. But there was no more powerful circle during our days together than the one we formed around olive trees heavy with fruit.
I have often heard olive trees described by Palestinian friends as family, mother, lover. This gnarled and rugged tree is the consummate survivor, a steadfast and faithful victim of the occupation spreading its roots deep into the earth, clinging to life for centuries. And in a twisted brush with destiny it now is brutally ripped from the land for no crime other than its very stubbornness to live where Israelis want to build. This tree and the Palestinian heart are one.
In this holiest of holy lands we gathered in a circle of life again, this time around olive trees one at a time with new friends from Burqin. Like a slow dance we, wound ourselves gently around the outstretched branches of each tree.
In a circle of purpose Palestinian and American hands gently pulled at the olives, reaching out, up, then down, brushing, crossing, reaching in deep among leaves to pull at the green, sometime mottled, often deeply black pieces hanging from the branches. I searched out the dark ones that have ripened the longest, my favorite.
The sun was warm. The newly turned earth was a deep brown beyond edges of the olive grove. We laughed and stepped gingerly around the olives piling up around our feet. For a short time, as we laughed, picked, shared space in the family circle, it was almost as if there were no occupation.
Everything seemed possible on this glorious day and we were fully alive in this place of history and traditions. For me, it was the last circle of survival, joy, hope and affection that I will take home with me. It was the circle in my life against which all others will now be measured.
Canaan Fair Trade Olive Oil | Seth Morrison - Las Vegas, Nevada
Most of our meetings have been with dedicated Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation through non-violent grass roots organizing, lawfare and education but our last major stop was Canaan Fair Trade a commercial enterprise that resists occupation by creating a viable agricultural industry while respecting and nurturing Palestinian culture. Palestinian Fare Trade Olive Oil competes successfully with the world’s other premium olive oils while providing a good income for local farmers. Over 1,700 farm families some part of 50 local co-ops provide olives and oil which Canaan packages and markets around the world earning premium prices for this highly desired product. They are also expanding into a new strain of locally grown almonds, za'atar and other local specialty foods.
While Canaan works with both conventional and organic products sustainability and economic empowerment for rural Palestinian communities through fair trade and low impact technologies remain their primary business focus.
Our mission arrived in time for the annual Olive Harvest Festival. Founder and Director Dr. Nasser Abufarha and his staff put on a beautiful event for hundreds of farm families with local food, music and lots of singing and dancing. But in keeping with the ongoing commitment to always educate and improve the afternoon included the gift of a composting kit at a display set up to inform the farmers how they could use composting to improve their crops.
Please look for Canaan Fair Trade products wherever fine olive oil is sold and ask for it if not on the shelves. You can purchase online at www.canaanusa.com/shop?code=IFPB and they have representatives in the US to facilitate non-profits selling Palestinian olive oil as a fundraiser and conversation starter.
As the festival ended our group was welcomed by local farm families who hosted us for the night and in the morning we got to help with the harvest. Three generations coming together to bring in the harvest and celebrate this amazing ancient culture. It was the perfect end to an inspiring trip.
Trip Highlight: Harvest and Homestay in Burq’in Village | Sheila Carrillo - Santa Cruz, California
On the last day of our trip, Shirley, Diane, Alene, and I rode with delighted anticipation in a dusty wagon pulled by a well-used tractor through the narrow streets of Burq’in Village (I actually didn’t know the name of the village we had arrived in the night before, until I noticed a sign —“Burqueen Pharmacy” — which afforded me both the village name and a chuckle!).
Our destination was the family’s olive orchard — 120 five-year-old olive trees gifted to them by Canaan olive oil factory. Previously, they had farmed vegetables on their small plot of land to sell at local markets and were barely scraping by. This would be their second olive harvest, and with the prospect of increasing yields each year coupled with a guaranteed market for the olives at Canaan, the family was beginning to prosper.
We had met the farmer’s wife, Wedad Salameh and her 16-year-old daughter Noor, the previous evening at the end of Canaan’s annual harvest festival — a gift of food, music, dance and congratulatory speeches to the farming families and local community. Two gracious and gentle women — the mother dressed in traditional long black dress with red embroidery and her daughter, a beautiful stylish teen, had quietly stepped in beside me to be included in a group photo of our delegation, and I learned soon after, that I was one of the lucky four assigned to spend the night at their family home in the nearby hilltop village of Burq’in.
Since they didn’t own a car, we took a cab to their house, where we climbed a flight of indoor concrete steps to a small second floor living room area flanked by a little kitchen and bedroom. A large circle of plastic garden chairs were being set up in front of the mats lining the white walls, uniquely painted with flecks of goldish particles by Wedad’s nineteen-year-old son.
We sat down and were introduced to her mother, brother and his wife, husband, and youngest son, who was lying still and silent on a mat in the corner, his face bandaged, discolored and swollen from a bicycle accident the day before. The four of us watched bewilderedly as a steady stream of people poured through the narrow entryway for the next hour, at one point reaching 32 in number — kids on the mats and adults in the chairs.
Sitting for several minutes in awkward silence, looking around and smiling sweetly, uncertain how to proceed, I finally took a breath and drawing on my experience teaching ESL, pointed to my chest saying slowly and dramatically, “My name is Sheila, and I am American from California,” bringing to my mind the childhood game, “My name is Alice, I come from Alaska and I sell apples." Then I turned and pointed to the woman sitting next to me who gradually got the idea and we made our way partway around the circle with help identifying relationships from Salameh and Noor — who were gradually gaining confidence in the English they had studied in school from first grade.
We learned that her farmer-husband — a deaf mute who had not been afforded schooling — has 12 brothers and sisters with a multitude of nieces and nephews and that accounted for much of the crowd. In a further effort to fill the void, I even went so far as to walk around the circle offering each person an Altoid mint from its little metal box that I carry in my purse — all the while wondering if they hated the taste and were too polite to say anything!
We enjoyed playing clapping hand games with the kids and sharing cell phone photos with the teens. At one point, I asked if anyone wanted to ask me anything and what the women wanted to know was whether or not I smoke!!
When everyone else cleared out, we had a traditional dinner on a little table carried in from the kitchen — a flat screen TV movie with Brad Pitt and Arabic subtitles as a backdrop. Dinner was followed by a tour of their recently constructed third floor. They were extremely happy and proud to have built 3 bedrooms and a bathroom with a toilet! Although we slept on the lower floor, they invited us to use the upstairs bathroom as the one near us had a porcelain hole in the floor, which they knew would be challenging for we Westerners. We were all acutely conscious of using as little water as possible since we knew that with Israeli control of the water, there are often times with no water in the households.
After a nice breakfast of egg scrambled in olive oil, humus, yogurt, and tomatoes scooped up with a torn section of flatbread baked with za’atar, onions, and oil, Wedad and Noor showed us around their village.
As we walked in the area of their house, I noticed the same sprayed black writing repeated on the mostly graffiti-free stone walls and asked Noor what it said. She called her mother to explain to me “It’s the name of a man killed by the Israeli’s.” Then pleadingly, “Why can’t they leave us alone?” “Yes,” I prayed silently, “ Why don’t they let them live in peace.”
Our walking tour included a recently-built municipal building for which Wedad had been involved in raising funds. She stopped in front and pointed with great satisfaction to the second story that houses a women’s cooperative she had been instrumental in founding. I marveled at this petite, unassuming woman who works for Canaan full-time, works on the farm on days off, has a small sewing enterprise, helps local women learn traditional crafts, has four children and a disabled husband, is a civic leader in her community, and has time to graciously open her home to IFPB delegates! I was awestruck by her strength, determination, and courage.
Our walk ended with a stunning surprise: The strikingly beautiful ancient stone walls and arched ceilings of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which I later saw described by Lonely Planet as "one of the oldest surviving Christian churches, dating to the 4th or 5th CE.” Then on to meet our tractor, driven by their son/house-painter, a strikingly handsome high-school dropout who loved to have his picture taken.
Driving bumpy dirt roads past olive orchards, long arched plastic greenhouses snaking in rows, and assorted crops, we reached their small plot of land studded with baby olive trees, and jumped out of the wagon, anxious to at last have a harvest experience (although some took a detour to visit a flock of sheep passing nearby!).
We all surrounded a tree with a plastic tarp wrapped underneath, plucking and dropping olives of all shades of green and black to press for olive oil, until there were verifiably none left on the tree. With baby trees no ladder is needed and only once did a young boy have to shimmy up to the tallest branch. Our beautiful produce was then lifted in the tarp, dumped into a bucket, and eventually packed in large white plastic bags — which we sat on on the way home. Then we moved on to the next tree. Lots of opportunity to chat and be playful, reminiscent of a quilting bee.
Sadly, we only had time to pick three trees and some small red chilies from her brother-in-law’s adjacent field before we reluctantly had to leave — tractor to taxi — to meet our bus to return to Jerusalem.
Teen fashionista Noor and I had connected via photos of my 17-year-old styling daughter, and as we said goodbye, I perked up when she told me she has Viber on her phone! “I’ll call you,” I promised, “when my daughter Sophie is with me, to say hello. so you two can meet each other! Would you like that?” She grinned and nodded and kissed me on each cheek. I gave Wedad a warm grateful Western hug and told her I would send her some odds and ends of fabrics and trims for her sewing workshop.
Turning to get on the bus, reluctant to leave, I resolved to plant an olive tree when I get home — and maybe a pomegranate to boot!
A Memorable Ending | Arlene Lundquist - Elmira, New York
The last two days were the perfect ending to this wonderful, informative trip. The Olive Harvest Festival was a blast and our host family was truly wonderful. They could not have been more welcoming and generous. We met the entire family (and then some, I think) the first night.
Saturday morning, before going to the olive grove to pick olives, we were given a tour of the village including the church and a very old building where US AID helped with rehabilitation.
After talking with others in our group, I believe we had the most authentic olive picking experience, since one family used more modern methods. Not only did we pick by hand, gathering olives in a tarp, but we also rode to the olive grove in a wagon on the back of the tractor. We also picked chili peppers, not just olives.
Again, the ending of this almost two-week, fascinating experience could not have been more memorable.
Three Poems | Linda Houghton - Washington, DC
Israel/Palestine is a hilly country. Our bus lumbers up and the land falls away in map-like fashion. Walls, walls snaking like contour lines along a map. The bus stops. We get out. Whether near or far, there is always the presence of a wall.
Empty stone houses. Hollowed out occupants long gone. Once beautiful. Still beautiful. Now a park with undetermined future. Descending down its stone streets, we see plants and green foliage seep in. Cactus planted by the Palestinian owner have grown into walls.
I have seen “dead stone” cities exactly like this before. Was it in Turkey? Or Syria? I can’t remember. Christian houses abandoned long ago. Now the pilgrimage sites of an occasional tourist.
The clock of day ticks by sounds.
Pre-dawn, a rooster crows.
From the minarets, the call to prayer.
I know immediately that it is four a.m.
Street wakes up with the voices of Children.
Shop doors clang and voices of men
join those of the children.
Car horns add to the symphony.
Everywhere it is morning in Palestine.
A Beer at the Beach | Shirley Osterhaus - Bellingham, Washington
"I just want to be able to go to the beach and have a beer."
These are the words of Mourad, a young man in his mid 20s who lives his life in the Deheisheh Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. Ironically, the following day our group travels to Jaffa and enjoys the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea; and today are in flight back to the states.
Are not all entitled to the right to move - be they Palestinians, Syrian refugees, people south of our own border and each of us?
The refugee camp Mourad lives in, established after the war of 1948 due to Israel's expulsion of millions off their land, now holds three generations of refugees and 10 times the population since the war that seized their land and homes. Expulsion then, today military control of movement and raids into the camp in the middle of the night are part of daily life.
Another young man, 24 years old, told me that he has been arrested three times with these middle of the night raids and has spent a total of 3 years of his young life In prison without ever given reason as to why.
This is the story of countless people in the camp. Their movement is to the prisons. Or as we disturbingly learned, their movement may also get disabled by use of a new weapon that targets the knees and grinds the flesh within.
The insidious ways the Israeli military controls the lives of Palestinians and their freedom of movement are shocking to those of us who, when we wish, go to the beach to have a beer.
Qalandia Checkpoint | Kristin Stoneking – Davis, California
The approach to Qalandia Checkpoint from the Ramallah side in the West Bank follows the occupation wall which is lined with graffiti: “One Wall, Two Jails”; “end the occupation”; larger than life images of Marwan Barghouti. These are messages of suffering and resistance, meted out liberally in the space of transition between the Palestinian Authority controlled Ramallah and Qalandia’s reminder that nothing in the West Bank is beyond the claw of the occupation.
Though most of our delegation’s movement through checkpoints thus far had been from the relative privilege of our bus, this time we were going through on foot. A small act of solidarity, which we hoped would not cause additional delay for workers coming home since we were crossing in the opposite direction from the typical flow.
We had been told not to take pictures of the checkpoint; photographing a military installation in Israel-Palestine is illegal. In the parking lot on the Ramallah side, we exited our bus and walked toward the checkpoint. Returning workers stood on curbs waiting for rides, vendors sold items that might be needed on this side or that, and anxious taxi drivers looked for fares. It was getting dark and the air was charged with tension.
We approached the checkpoint, a series of gates, metal walls, and cattle chutes leading to mechanized caged turnstiles that stopped arbitrarily with a buzz and red light, potentially trapping someone until the buzzer sounded again and the light went green. Soldiers, barely visible to us, lurked in bunkers in the middle behind thick glass with loaded automatic weapons. Once in the chutes, we noticed a thick metal grate about a foot above our heads, enclosing us in these elongated cages. There was no question in my mind that the intention of the process was to dehumanize, demoralize, threaten, control and evoke incarceration.
How does anybody survive this assault on their personhood, their being, their soul? I thought.
Then I noticed stickers on the wall, fading, some frayed at the edges, but in the familiar form of a surah from the Quran. Though not as obvious as the colorful graffiti that lined the wall, these graying stickers with black Arabic script were also messages of resistance, an assertion of dignity, communication between those who crossed to stay strong, stay faithful.
In the Islamic worldview, it is believed that the human person is born from the embrace of the most merciful, most loving God imaginable. There is no sense of original brokenness as in the Christian tradition where the work of life is to gain wholeness, to become more and more like Christ. In Islam, the work of life is to return to God. The call to prayer echoes this in its words, “Come to prayer, come to prayer.” Return to the bosom of the one who holds you and longs for you, take refuge in the global community of Muslims, the umma. Pass the test, return to God. Stay strong, stay faithful.
Surrounded by the evil of violence, here were messages of solidarity, messages of faith, messages of hope.
The Soldier of the Freedom Theatre | Pam Nice - Arlington, Virginia
Many people don’t know that Juliano Mer-Khamis, a founder of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, was a former IDF soldier in a special forces unit. He joined voluntarily, against his Palestinian father’s wishes (since Palestinian Arabs are not conscripted — Mer-Khamis was half Israeli Jew). As he said in an Electronic Intifada interview in 2010, “I don’t regret it, I must be honest. . . I penetrated the deepest sources of the Israeli propaganda, the smallest cells of Israeli society, which is fertilized in the army.” Like the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, his experience in the army was transformative, refocusing his life on the struggle he thought was the most important one in his society — the cultural and moral one.
Mer-Khamis, like many artists, was misunderstood. He said the purpose of his art was not to heal anybody from violence, but to redirect it to resistance through theatre. He predicted that he would be killed by a “crazy Islamist” who rejected his use of art and misunderstood his form of resistance.
When I stood in the courtyard of the Freedom Theatre, I could feel his presence. We heard about the recent project of the Freedom bus, which gathers testimonies from people affected by the Wall and the settlements, to be made into a play. That of course resonated with me because my play, “It’s What We Do,” also derives from testimonies. It is a form of documentation that is visceral because it relates the stories of people directly affected by events. And it proves, as Mer-Khamis said, that the biggest struggle today is not one of arms, but for people’s souls.
All Saints’ Day | Kristin Stoneking – Davis, California
November 1 in the Christian tradition is All Saints’ Day, signifying a time during which Christians believe the veil between the living and the departed becomes thin. In Palestine, this takes on special meaning. Here, those who have died resisting the occupation live on in those who continue to struggle for justice and freedom. On November 1, our delegation visited Hebron.
Hebron City is known as “Ghost Town.” To walk in the Old City is to feel the presence of souls who used to fill the paths seeing friends and family, buying special gifts or daily food, living life. But the streets are empty now. Twelve years ago a massacre in the city’s mosque by American born Baruch Goldstein which killed 29 and injured 125 more resulted in Hebron city being put on lockdown by the Israeli military to protect the 800 settlers who lived there.
In this cruel twist, the center of life for the community that was grieving was cut off, and the healing that can come from being together and participating in regular activities of daily living was prevented. Military checkpoints proliferated and lockdowns have persisted, negatively affecting the lives of roughly 500 Jews and significantly and adversely impacting the nearly 200,000 Palestinians who now live in Hebron. Violence has begotten more violence.
That day, after meeting with Youth Against Settlements on a bluff overlooking Hebron City, our delegation descended a back path and set of winding stone steps to the main Shuhada Street. We passed a school and a solider stationed on a wall, then exited the path through a checkpoint where another solider stood guard. Once we had all gone through the gate, it was locked behind us. For teachers and students of this school, the path through the checkpoint is the only way in.
The once bustling Shuhada Street felt deserted. We met with our guide at the beginning of the Old City, where graffiti stating “This is Palestine. Fight Ghost Town. Open Shuhada Street” had been stenciled on the walls in red English script. A few kids asking for money, selling bracelets and embroideries approached our groups, and many gave small donations or bought small items.
One boy, probably about 15, kept trying to sell us embroidered purses, even after everyone had either bought or declined. I bought one, but he asked again if I would like to buy, not taking no for an answer. I turned away in sadness and powerlessness, but then I began to appreciate his persistence. He stayed with our group, offering different deals, in shekels or in dollars. He wasn’t really bothering people, but he wasn’t giving up either.
We began to chat. “Never give up!” I said, smiling. “That’s right, never give up!” he replied. I bought some more purses.
He continued with our group, laughing and joking and high fiving.
At the end of the street, surprised, we came upon the Rachel Corrie Café, adorned with the images of Rachel. Since we were traveling with Cindy and Craig Corrie, Rachel’s parents, this was especially meaningful. The shop was opened for us and our whole group was given coffee, while someone ran to get the owner. It was a cold day and had rained earlier, and we were grateful for the shelter and warm rich coffee. Where there had been a chill and a closed shop front, there was suddenly warmth and life again.
On Shuhada Street, which means “martyr,” the veil between past, present and future became thin. Those we have lost were with us, and those from the future showed up for a minute with life and hope born out of persistence and sacrifice and solidarity. Our group left the Old City, passed another checkpoint which had been “upgraded” with bright lights and stronger gates, and returned to Jerusalem.
Violating the Sanctuary | Pam Nice - Arlington, Virginia
I had a powerful experience in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Khalil (Hebron). This mosque used to be open to Muslims, Jews and Christians who wanted to visit the shrine of Abraham, who is the patriarch for their three religions. My friend Tareq Shabaneh, who was born and raised in Khalil, showed me where Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler from the US, had entered the mosque and massacred the praying Muslims. I imagined the unspeakable terror of the scene, which lives on in the memory of the Muslim community.
The Muslims were punished for the massacre by having the mosque divided, and half of it given to the Jews as a synagogue. There is a wall dividing the two areas, the worshippers entirely separated. The sanctuary was violated again.
When walking down Shuhada Street, we saw several signs explaining its complete closure. None of them mentioned Goldstein’s massacre, and in fact laid the blame on Arab riots that went back to 1927. The unspeakable terror had officially become just that — a further violation of the sanctuary.
The reaction of a police state and military occupation in the Holy Land, the ultimate violation of the sanctuary.
Who Will Bring You Bread Tomorrow? | Arlene Lundquist - Elmira, New York
Early today we headed for Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial. I was surprised to have a physical reaction as soon as I entered. It was an open entrance, not closed in at all, but I felt almost claustrophobic.
A poem by Rachel Auerbach really touched me: "Who mother mine, who will bring your bread tomorrow?" (if the daughter didn’t make it back). Also the little girl who, even though she was escaping, had to return for her doll because “a mother doesn’t leave her little girl.” The picture of the little girl strongly resembled one of my childhood portraits; down to the same hairstyle.
At first I read all the explanations but soon realized I would not have time to do them all so started choosing. It didn’t take long to realize that some of the policies implemented by the Nazis early on in the Holocaust had certain parallels to what we’ve seen in the occupied Palestinian territories. When I got to the point where bodies were being piled up and others on stretchers being carried to the ovens, the comparison no longer fit.
I was filled with horror and revulsion while watching a film of a bulldozer pushing piles of bodies into a pit. I watched the film for a minute, and then I had a vision of a girls face. I thought it was the face of 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie who was bulldozed to death by the Israeli Military in 2003. Obviously this was not on the film but it is what I saw. After that I moved pretty quickly through the remainder of the museum.
Yad Vashem | John R. Barker - Knoxville, Tennessee
A museum and memorial to Jewish suffering at the hands of Nazis during the Holocaust. After the things I have seen and the stories I have heard from Palestinians over the last couple weeks, I found it hard to avoid feeling some irony as I learned again about the policies the Nazis implemented in the build-up to the Holocaust. I have seen Israeli-built walls forming Palestinian ghettos; I have seen Israel use tactics to segregate people based on ethnicity and religion; and I have seen Israeli-constructed systems to monitor and categorize people. All of these things are, in the view of many, including some Israelis, Nazi like.
But I saw more at Yad Vashem than I have here in Palestine. I saw the work camps, the gas chambers, and the mass graves. As yet, there is nothing in Palestine as huge and as systematic as what the Nazis did.
In some ways, this has become a land where some Israeli Jews play out their fantasies of a lost age. They seek to erase all history after the Second Temple. This erasure rejects the claims of other peoples - including the Palestinians - to the land. Palestinians today seem caught in a type of dystopian hell, resembling Franz Kafka's The Trial set in the Holy Land.
I had read that Palestinians have a love for horses as pets, and sure enough, as we travel around, we indeed often see a single horse here and there, including in the Bedouin village we visited. My own love of the Arabian horse led me to Facebook "Friend" Arabian horse lovers around the world. It is an encouraging sign that my Friends include both Palestinians and Israelis.
We Returned to a New Reality | Sheila Carrillo - Santa Cruz, California
The flight home was long and tedious: We prudently arrived 3 hours in advance of our 7:30 AM flight just in case we encountered problems leaving Israel with our political pamphlets and purchases made in the Occupied Territories. After the first 4 hour flight, we had a 5 hour layover in London, where I had my first, and probably last, glimpse of England where I was impressed by a gourmet-like airport meal of minestrone soup with fresh grated parmesan cheese and a complex arugula, sprouted seeds, pomegranate salad. Then the final 7 hour leg to D.C.
Arriving in DC on the evening of November sixth, I spent the night in an airport hotel, and so arrived home the eve of election day. I had voted by mail before I left — in the middle of the Trump sex scandals — feeling grateful once again to live in California where I can safely vote my conscience and confident that sleazy Trump was unelectable. I think all of us on the delegation were happy to have been away from the dumbed-down mainstream press assault those two weeks prior to election day, and we talked little of U.S. elections on the trip.
I arrived in California exhausted on election day eve and dropped into bed. The next morning, November 8, I unpacked still deeply absorbed in my trip experience and memories and battered with jetlag. I didn’t think to turn on the news till I had to run an errand in the early evening, when the frightening early results blared from my car radio. Soon after, knocked out with jet lag, I fell asleep, waking around midnight to the shock, disgust, and just-dawning recognition of what we, the American people, had done.
The next morning, our election results hit me in the context our journey: I had just learned about the surging numbers of Israeli Orthodox Jewish families, drawn to Israel from all over the world in the knowledge that all Jews are welcomed as Israeli citizens and provided with settlement homes and support services. This magnetic attraction is part of a long-standing strategy to build a Jewish state and is reinforced with a complex and capricious set of requirements for non-Jews to become Israeli citizens and the cruel oppression of the indigenous Palestinians to encourage their exodus. As a result, these ultra nationalists have become Israel’s most influential political group, holding 70 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, the governing body that makes the laws and selects the president and prime minister.
Ruled by a set of what are called Basic Laws, Israel — touted to be a democracy — has never formalized a constitution, leaving the Knesset with unchecked power to create (often-discriminatory) governing laws. Currently the Knesset is in the process of passing a law to ban all BDS activists from entering the country — despite the fact that BDS is a non-violent movement — with all the increased surveillance and harassment that would entail. With Trump as president and the House and Senate in Republican control and proposals to build walls and ban Muslims, I see in alarm the United States marching to Israel’s hawkish, apartheid-style drum beat. It’s no wonder that, while much of the world is quaking over a Trump presidency, Israel and Russia are applauding!
The Causeway of Jerusalem | Skyler Oberst –Spokane, Washington
The wooden causeway hovers over the pilgrims who pray at the Wall. Through the slats, you can watch as men and women in the midst of a spiritual experience across the vast courtyard, and the hum of their songs, prayers and conversations hang in the air. Suspended in the wooden tunnel, there is a sense of longing to be free, unencumbered. Like the pilgrims below.
Suspended above the scene you continue up the causeway and come into a new, open area. The voices and chants from below fall away. It's quiet. The courtyard is populated with a forest of ancient columns that break into a forest of trees.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque stands proudly to greet you and beckons you to walk and enjoy the vast space. Fountains and colonnades invite you to stop and enjoy the light morning breeze. Up the steps hovers the Dome of the Rock, one of the most holy sites in Islam.
The clouds break and fade away and the golden dome dazzles with light from the sun. The blue lapis tiles of the walls fade into the color of the sky and the sacred calligraphy and the golden dome float into the deep and infinite blue.
And here, above the city, you have a brief respite from the tangles of streets, and histories and pilgrims and politics and all of the stark contrasts in Jerusalem.The clouds gather again and the light fades. The tangles call you back down the causeway.
Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reflections. As such, reflections are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals. Submitted reflections 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 reflections with others.