Wednesday, June 18, 2014

East Jerusalem Tour

On Monday we toured East Jerusalem and visited the “City of David”. This area has been fought over for centuries. Who lived their first? Who should live there now? Whose land is it? Did King David even exist? These questions have created vicious turmoil between the Palestinians and the Israelis since the “war of independence” or “al-Nakba.” The only difference is that the Israelis emerged with a land to call their own and the Palestinians over sixty years later are still striving for that same goal.

We received a tour of East Jerusalm from the Ir Amim organization. Prior to this tour, I had not seen or visited any Palestinian towns or neighborhoods and I had not seen the barrier firsthand. We drove around and outside my window I saw trash, broken roads, no sidewalks, etc. Who chooses to live this way? The Palestinians in East Jerusalem are either Israelis citizens or residents of Israel. Regardless of their status, they should be provided with the same benefits from the government as those living in West Jerusalem. If the Israelis government does not want the responsibility to provide for their citizens or residents than they should relinquish the territories to a government that will provide the necessities for survival.

Below I attached a picture of the barrier and graffiti on the barrier. The moment I saw the barrier the first question that came to mind was, "Who would want to live next to this? A constant reminder of occupation"

Saturday, June 14, 2014


The other day we visited the holocaust museum here in Jerusalem. Having grown up in Europe, where, from an early age kids are taught about it, I have always been very sensitive to the topic. This museum drove home a few shameful facts:

1. Anti Semitism is very old, and widespread
2. The Nazis modernized antisemitism, and engineered a "final solution" to eliminate jews from the face of the Earth
3. The horrors of the holocaust were experienced by very large parts of the Jewish people. The depth of the trauma is unimaginable
4. After WWII when Jews tried to go back to their homes, or migrate to new places they were denied asylum, help and were persecuted

Even though I disagree with several policies put in place by the state of Israel in regards to its security and foreign policy, I cannot deny the fact that the Jewish people needs a country of its own, one that can provide it with all the protection only a state can afford its people. Hopefully the Palestinians people can achieve that same hope soon.

Jerusalem United or Divided?

Some of the most important discussions in our class have centered around the subject of Jerusalem. Today the city remains divided along ethnic, religious, cultural, national, and class lines even though to the average tourist the city remains open to all. Through conversations with representatives of Ir Amin and Terrestrial Jerusalem our class was exposed to the realities of oppression and seperation that exist in a city where territory remains under occupation in the eyes of the international community as well as its Palestinian residents. Through site visits and an in class lecture we were exposed to the realities of the city as well as different historical perspectives of Jerusalem. In addition we visited neighborhoods recognized as settlements, in relation to international law, and discussed the living conditions and disparities between Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods of the city. Facing the stark realities of the city today, our group discussed the potential future of the city in which its residents could live a more fulfilling, peaceful, and potentially egalitarian life free from oppression and violence. 

End of Trip Reflections

Today is already the last day of our trip to Israel! I guess it is true that time really does fly by when you're having fun. Reflecting on our time here, I can honestly say that my eyes have been opened. Though I have a much better understanding of Israel and the conflict with Palestine, I am no closer to having a solution. I think this trip has been one of the most enlightening experiences I have had. We've really learned about a plethora of issues, ranging from water governance to U.S. foreign policy to Druze and Bedouin hospitality (and delicious food). I feel like Dr. Ziv did a great job planning a well-rounded, multi-perspective curriculum.

A few of the more recent activities we have had that really stood out to me include talking with Gabe, an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldier. This was a spur-of-the-moment meeting that Dr. Ziv planned, and it turned out to be one of my favorites. Gabe is an American Jew who did "Aliyah" (immigration to Israel) and decided to join the IDF after graduating from college in 2012. I was so fascinated by his choice to join the IDF instead of the U.S. military. He justified this choice by describing how Israel needs more help and that by growing up in a Jewish household he feels like his values align well with those engrained in Israel. One thing that I found interesting about our discussion with Gabe was that he wasn't very political and therefore you could have a real, unbiased conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, I asked him how women play a role in the IDF and if they are ever subject to sexism. Since Israel has mandatory military service, which includes women, I wondered if this made any difference. It was fascinating to hear his first-hand experience and realize that he's just a normal, 23-year old American guy who felt very passionately about Israel.

A fun thing that a group of us did last week during our free time was visit the Notre Dame Jerusalem Center (at Dr. Ziv's recommendation). This ritzy church/hotel is a rooftop restaurant just outside the Old City with one of the most beautiful views that I have seen. We ordered some wine and cheese (which is one of their specialties) and watched the sun go down over Jerusalem. It was one of those moments where you just soak everything in, and I'd completely recommend this place for any future Israel trip-goers. Here are some pictures of the breathtaking views and delicious food:

So here's to a great trip with great people who became new friends. I definitely won't forget everything I saw and learned here!

Golan Heights

As part of our trip to the north of Israel, we travelled to the Golan Heights, Israel's border with Syria. Despite the controversial status of the Golan Heights, which was taken by Israel during the war in 1967,  it's clear that negotiations can't really take place right now because of the civil war that is still raging in Syria. While we were there I heard what could very likely have been some shelling or other type of explosion in the distance and also what sounded like small arms fire. The picture above shows the border between Israel and Syria, and just about 35 miles beyond, past the mountains in the distance, lies Damascus. Unfortunately for Syrian civilians the war there shows no signs of ceasing any time soon, and Israel must keep an ever vigilant eye on the border in order to maintain its own security. The situation is very real for Israel, because of possible spillover of violence. And just a few weeks ago, the very same area from which I took this picture was actually hit by some shells from Syria. The Golan Heights are truly beautiful, but the air is tense with the possibility of conflict.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Politicians and the Knesset

Yesterday, our group toured the Knesset and met with two current politicians in the Knesset. The building itself was beautiful - mosaics and paintings filled the walls, and numerous windows let in ample amounts of sunlight.

The first politician we met with, Boaz Toporovsky, is a self-assured member of the centrist Yesh Atid party. Though he is the youngest male member of the Knesset, he certainly picked up on all the traits of a typical politician quickly. With an easy smile, a confident strut, and a jealousy-inspiring capability of circling around questions without giving any controversial answers, he is on his way to success in the political world.

The second member of the Knesset, Sheik Ibrahim Sarsour, is the first non-Zionist speaker we have had so far (to my knowledge.) As a non-Zionist, he believes Israel has no right to any of the land of Israel and that the entire land should belong to the Palestinians. However, his political party, Ra'am-Ta'al, has generously decided to forfeit 75% of what they believe to be Palestinian land in the hope that Israel will allow the rest to be a Palestinian state.

My commentary may sound too harsh, but it was frustrating to hear both sides claim emphatically that their only goal was peace. That is all we've heard from everyone so far - Israel has a right to this whole land, but all I want is peace! Palestine has a right to this whole land, but all I want is peace! Israel is willing to compromise, but Palestine won't because they don't want peace. Palestine will compromise, but Israel won't because they don't want peace. All these conflicting messages have lead me to one conclusion - everyone claims to want peace, but no one is willing to sacrifice for peace. Everyone believes their cause is higher than anyone else's, and therefore is capable of deluding themselves to believe that they cannot be blamed for any of the conflict.

Despite this frustrating realization, the trip to the Knesset was fascinating and enlightening. We even got to see Netanyahu walk by us as we were walking through! He waved, but the majority of us simply gaped in shock at his sudden appearance.
Outside the Knesset Building

Listening in on a vote

Tapestry inside the Knesset

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Day of Walls

Monday was the day of walls. In the morning we viewed the wall separating East Jerusalem from the West Bank. The concrete walls are the physical component of Israel’s security “barrier” which also includes electronic surveillance, intelligence gathering, and cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. In the afternoon we walked the ramparts of the 16th century CE walls surrounding the old city. Next we went underground to view the excavated retaining walls and water systems from 8th century BCE. What struck me at the end of the day is that we viewed security systems spanning nearly three millennium - and tall walls are still in use. Nearly every aspect of human society has evolved over the 2700 years of history we saw on Monday, however some things remain unchanged.

Hezekiah's Tunnel to secure the water source to Jerusalem - 8th Century BCE

The Old City Walls - 16th Century CE

The wall separating East Jerusalem and the West Bank - Construction in Progress