<  Reflection One: First Impressions and a Transcendent Capacity for Hope

July-August 2015 Delegation to Palestine/Israel


Overview:   This first collection of reflections from the delegation begins with impressions from Stephanie Langer, Nina Stein, and Barbara Jean Keilt of the group’s drive to Jerusalem and their first day in the Old City of JerusalemCindy Tanner writes about one boy’s experiences living in Silwan that touched her and Jacob Pace brings in a touch of music and hope from their first full day on the ground.  Finally, Amber Gilewski writes about a video conference with Gazan students.

First Impressions | Stephanie Langer

The journey to Israel/Palestine had its challenging moments, but we made it! I’m certain everyone in the group was feeling exhausted by the time we arrived at the Tel Aviv airport.

On the bus ride to Jerusalem, the terrain was rocky and hilly with small shrubs and trees. Our tour guide, Said, pointed out that many of the trees are not indigenous to the region, except for oak trees, and possibly cyprus. Many pine trees and some palm trees had been planted to hide destroyed Palestinian villages along the route.

The highway we traveled on was built to allow drivers to avoid areas where Palestinian people live. There are other roadways for Palestinians that pass through tunnels to avoid the Israeli bypass road we were using. Some of the roadways are cut off, and dead-end at the Bypass Road.

We learned that Palestinians are only able to use certain sections of the Bypass Road for limited hours. However, they must go through a checkpoint where cars are detained and searched for several hours, making using the Bypass Road impractical. We also spotted a soldier on a ridge, and a surveillance balloon watching the highway.

Our guide, Said, pointed out the Palestinian villages with black water towers on the roof. He explained to us that the Israel government can cut off the water supply without notice, and the black water towers serve as a backup.

It seemed to me that the shadow of Israel was even more evident within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. On the surface the old city is vibrant, and beautiful. There are vendors selling spices, clothing, and freshly pressed juice. When viewing it through the lens of a tourist it is an amazing place to visit.

However, if you take a moment to scratch beneath the surface it quickly becomes clear that people living in the city are not truly in harmony. There are cameras on every street, and barbed wires and fences separating different sections. Israeli parents hire security guards to escort their children. More and more Israeli settlement homes are appearing. We passed a Mosque, which will soon have a settler home next to it. Street names have been changed from their original Palestinian name.

To me the old city was like a trip through Disneyland. Many areas were sanitized of their history, and visitors only saw what people in power wanted them to see.

Originally posted at: http://vegansagainsttheoccupation.com/2015/07/28/first-impressions/

A Land of Walls  |   Nina Stein

What struck me most on first arriving in Israel was the pervasiveness of the occupation.  Airport signs were in Hebrew, frequently accompanied by English, but only one contained Arabic: a single sign saying “welcome” in four languages.

On the bus ride from the airport to our hotel, our guide, Said, pointed out three tree-covered hills, an area called Canada Park.  The trees, planted by the Jewish National Fund from donations contributed by Canadian Jews, covered three destroyed Palestinian villages.

An armed soldier on a ridge along the road was a visible sign of the Israeli military presence, as well as military installations and further on, a prison.

As we rode toward Jerusalem, we traveled on a “bypass road” that for most of the distance was for Israelis only.  After a while, the Separation Wall appeared on one side of the road, and further on, both sides. 

Said said that Israel is a land of walls, some to keep people out, some to keep people in, and some to separate people from each other.


 The Limestone City  |   Barbara Jean Keilt

Indigenous limestone everywhere!   White limestone houses on tiers of land ascending the hillsides. 

Limestone walls running for miles along segregated highways for occupiers only, to protect them from the occupied who live on the other sides of the barrier. 

Limestone cobblestones in the narrow walkways of Old City Jerusalem. 

Limestone steps smooth and polished from millions of pilgrims and tourists treading. 

Heavy limestone headers over doors inviting us into ancient limestone block buildings of various Christian and Muslim sects. 

Limestone hallways, passing under arches, around columns holding up exalted ceilings of limestone smoothed by gracious hands.

How many generations of people of One Human Race have walked through this limestone Old City of Jerusalem?                                              

 A Boy in Silwan  |  Cindy Tanner

What a powerful day this has been. Coming from a Christian background, it was thrilling to walk the Via Dolorosa and to see where Jesus may have been buried.

After lunch we spent an emotional few hours at a community center in the Palestinian village of Silwan, a neighborhood of Jerusalem just east of the Old City.  In Silwan, we met a 15 year old Palestinian boy who has been arrested by Israeli police 9 times since he was 9 years old.

The Israeli police first came for him at night. He was accused of throwing rocks. Over the years he has been questioned for up to 8 hours without a parent present. He has been beaten and imprisoned.

His story is in complete contrast to the rights Jewish Israelis enjoy under Israeli law. It is one of many examples of how Israel is treating Palestinians. It is unconscionable.

 Music of Hope  |   Jacob Pace

A group of us were treated to a musical feast tonight when we attended a concert by Le Trio Joubran at the annual Jerusalem Festival

Le Trio Joubran is made up of three brothers from Nazareth in the north of historical Palestine.  Each brother plays a custom built oud designed by their father.

The beautiful sound of the music lifted our spirits after a long day filled with stories of suffering and resistance.  But it was not surprising to hear such gorgeous melodies here.  The youth who we met this afternoon had already shown us that in the midst of pain and hardship, there is also a transcendent capacity for hope.

In Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem just east of the Old City, a group of 12 youth met us at the local community center.  They spoke to us of the myriad ways that the Jerusalem Municipality curtails their rights and makes it ever more difficult for them and their families to remain in their ancestral village.  88 homes (housing close to 1,500 people) in Silwan are threatened with demolition by the Municipality.  The community is not large, and if these demolitions were carried out, it would be a death-blow to the life of the neighborhood.  Just this morning, the youth told us, the Municipality sent bulldozers and a wrecking crew to destroy a house in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the criminalization of the youth affects every Palestinian family in Silwan.  It is routine for men and boys to be arrested and we spoke with one young man who was arrested 9 times between the ages of 9 and 15.  The night before our arrival, Israeli police came at 3:00 AM, pulled 6 children from their beds, and arrested them.

All of this effort is meant to slowly clear this area of Palestinians and move in Israeli settlers.  Today, there are 58 Israeli settler families living in Silwan.  A Us-based organization called Elad (or Ir David) is funding the settlers and working to drive the Palestinians out of the neighborhood.

And yet the youth of Silwan welcomed us and spoke of the work they are doing in their community to help children suffering from trauma and work together to maintain their community.

After Silwan we met with more youth in Gaza. . . but we could not travel to Gaza because of the Israeli blockade on the coastal territory. . . so we held a video-conference. 

The youth in Gaza made the screen come alive!  They spoke candidly of their hopes for a future where they are free to travel, to study outside of the Gaza Strip, and to meet and speak with others around the world person-to-person.  They spoke of a future when they are able to join other Palestinian youth in the West Bank, inside Israel, and in the diaspora, to work for a solution that respects all their rights.  Their passion, dedication, and insight were clear to see.

And so, the concert by Le Trio Joubran, brought the evening to a perfect end.  Like the youth who spoke so eloquently, the music carried a spirit of hope, of resistance, and of steadfastness, in the face of any hardship. 

Take a moment to listen to it yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbU8cgW5Y_Q

 AFSC Palestine Youth Together for Change Program – Gaza |   Amber Gilewski

Since virtually no one can enter or leave Gaza at this time, we Skyped with Palestinians from the AFSC Palestine Youth Together for Change Program in the Gaza Strip.

When asked what life was like in Gaza we were told how the Israeli government is trying to fragment Palestinians by making them in different lands and it will make them weaker.
One woman quickly corrected someone who referred to last summer’s assault as a war and stated instead, “It’s not a war, it’s an aggression.”

Many of the Gazans we spoke with had to turn down educational opportunities such as attending medical school in Jordan, college with a scholarship in Tunisia, and more as they aren’t allowed to leave Gaza. They reminded us that the situation in Gaza is very bad, but they feel they need to stand for their rights. We stand with them.

Excepted from longer post at http://vegansagainsttheoccupation.com/2015/07/28/our-first-24-hours-in-israelpalestine/


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