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Today's Realities and Tomorrow's Leaders
Delegation to Palestine/Israel
August 15, 2013

A Prayer for Displaced Families
By Joel Wool

Sunset on a Friday night, orange light framing the joyous dances of observant Jews. The first time I went to the Western Wall, I was nearly breathless with the sheer beauty of the holy city. Discrete circles of denominational pilgrims marked out their own music, prayers stepped and sung in discordant chorus. Confused, awestruck, I couldn’t have felt closer to the divine.

I believed what I’d been told: this ground was a place for Jews to come home to. The natural order of things, as if the land had no other attachments, simply ceded to the feet of Israel’s children. It took me years to learn otherwise.

The open space, plaza and staircase leading to the Western Wall were not always empty. After the ‘67 war, it took only 14 days for Israel to demolish 150 homes to clear the way for Jewish prayer. The Moroccan families who lived by the wall were descendants of those who’d come hundreds of years ago with the army of Saladin. By the times their homes were destroyed, these families had been residents of Israel for centuries.

Standing at the Western Wall for the second time, I see a peace marred by cycles of seizure, destruction and control. With home demolitions occurring to this day in Israel – 150 in East Jerusalem, 150 in the West Bank in 2012 – a war within is clearly still continuing.

After 1967, much of East Jerusalem was zoned as “open greenspace,” prohibiting new construction. Settlers continue build homes in the area while Jerusalemite Palestinians are denied the right to do so. The city’s 250,000 Palestinians received only 18 building permits in 2012, keeping them cramped and resource-scarce, many wanting for shelter.

The next time I choose to worship, I’ll pray for 150 Moroccan families, and for thousands of Palestinians who continue to face an incredible struggle for home.



Looking Back in Time
By Naomi Goldenson

I didn't want to visit religious sites. But sure enough we started at the Western Wall. Almost no one I know is aware that prior to 1967 there was a neighborhood in the old city where today a plaza for visitors exists. Having heard this some time since my last visit, I dreaded the emotions that visiting might provoke.

On a teenage youth group trip I had been led to a lookout over the plaza and read a poem about soldiers first seeing the wall in 1967 when they took over the old city in the war. I had imagined them seeing it from the vantage I occupied at that moment. I had no sense of geography at all, looking out at other vistas and never told which neighborhoods were Palestinian towns absorbed into East Jerusalem, or Jewish Israeli settlements.

From the outlooks you can't see the differences in infrastructure or the demolished homes. There was no wall then either. Today we passed a standard outlook to the old city, piled with tour buses. A bit further around the corner on the road to Silwan and the separation wall comes into stark view in the distance - a 26 foot high military border separating the Palestinians annexed by Jerusalem from their neighbors across the street in the West Bank - far from the pre-1967 border.

Alternatively, the wall along highway 443, cutting through the West Bank northwest of Jerusalem, separates a settlement from the Israeli only road that everyone uses as an alternative when the main route has traffic. There it looks like a wall beside an American freeway... with just a smidgen of barbed wire added on top.

How many people take this route straight to Jerusalem to visit the Western Wall without a clue when they've crossed into or out of the West Bank?  

Hint: it's not where the checkpoints are - checkpoints that you drive through slowing down less than you would to electronically pay a toll, but only if you have a yellow Israeli license plate.

A green license plate belonging to a Palestinian from a town just beyond wouldn't bother trying to use the road. To avoid a two-hour search, they'd go around and through a tunnel under the highway. There are no exit ramps anywhere near these tunnels. They are not junctions; they are the infrastructure of something more than a temporary military occupation.

The wall and the roads are just examples of how things have changed for the worse since my trip 14 years ago. But soon enough it's like they've always been there, just like the plaza that ruined the Western Wall for me today, without needing to be present at a moment during which a Jewish army actively enforces which Jews can pray there as they please and which cannot.

Touching Two Walls
By Jim Anderson

Surrounded by chanting and bowing religious Jews near the ancient wall in the old city, I felt unsure of how free I was to approach in the midst of all this piety.  One of them came up to me, asked me to take a picture of him and friends against the wall - humans, aren’t we all, wanting to remember a special place.  I approached and touched the wall, thought of the long, in some ways failing, history this wall represented, and its buried but persevering hope.  

Later in the day, we walked to another, larger wall, separating two peoples in this time and place, scratched with graffiti, whose sentiments, even if some were moving, added to the frustration and obstructed hope of us all.  I touched it too, smoother, just as impenetrable, symbol of another failure in our efforts to live our human community.

There’s a third wall - I feel it inside - the sense that nothing can be done, the problem is too big.  All of us here felt the shape and thickness of that wall and shared its challenge in our evening debriefing.  But for me our presenter Jeff Halper undermined it today - partly in his tenacious continuing commitment and effort over these many years leading the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, but also in the simple act of stepping in to the shop as we visited the separation wall - a shop now little frequented because the wall has obstructed the flow of traffic - and buying a coke.  He said something like “I frequent this shop whenever I come here.  It hardly gets business now that the wall has cut it off.”  

There is a connection between his housing demolition work and his coke purchase, something that holds them together.  It feels like a crack in the wall.


Who Meets Movie Stars in East Jerusalem?
By Jeff Cohen

After watching a powerful movie, it's rare that one gets a chance to meet the "stars" of the movie and sit down with them for lengthy discussion.  The gripping movie is called, "My Neighborhood" - and the stars our delegation sat down with on Tuesday were two women who have lived through the ongoing nightmare of having been evicted from half of their house in the middle-class Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.  They suffered this partial eviction at the hands of zealous and aggressive Jewish settlers who have harassed them ever since.  You can watch the 25-minute documentary here: www.justvision.org/myneighbourhood/watch

The two brave women we met on Tuesday were middle-aged mom Maysa al-Kurd and her 94-year-old mother, who'd lived in the house since 1956.  Maysa al-Kurd grew up there.  As we walked to the back part of the house that the al-Kurd family still lives in, I caught a glimpse of the settlers now occupying the front of the house, where an Israeli flag adorns the window.

This Palestinian family had been living in Haifa at the time of the 1948 war, and had to flee. They moved into the Sheik Jarrah house in 1956, when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian authority.  Now settlers are using intimidation in hopes of forcing them to flee again.  

Other Palestinian families - with dozens of family members - have been forced out of their homes in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood, sometimes protesting their removal by living in tents near the homes they'd been evicted from for weeks at a time.  

When longtime residents have nonviolently protested in efforts to stay in their homes, they've been subjected to arrests, fines and worse.

With the help of neighbors, as well as Israeli and international activists, the al-Kurd family has been fighting for years to be able to live in peace and dignity in what's left of their residence. That's not easy with the settlers as "neighbors from hell" inhabiting the front of their house.

If you watch the movie, you'll see a story that is both depressing and inspiring.  It's uplifting to see progressive Israelis rallying week after week on behalf of these Palestinians and their homes.  Also uplifting is family-member Mohammed "Hammed" al-Kurd, in the 7th grade at the time of the filming, who announces in the movie that he wants to be a lawyer or journalist battling for human rights when he grows up.  We saw him briefly during our meeting; we were told he's thriving at school (we were shown two of his paintings) and that he still intends to be a human rights lawyer or journalist.

Maysa al-Kurd wanted us to tell her family's story to President Obama, and - if we can't reach him - to tell the story in social media.

She wanted us to ask Obama “if it would be acceptable to him if his own kids were harassed in their home. And, if not acceptable for his kids, then he shouldn't be silent" when it's Palestinians and their kids suffering.

Please watch this short, illuminating movie and forward the link widely: www.justvision.org/myneighbourhood/watch


Two Sides of the Wall
By Bob Osborne

After seeing the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock this morning I was stunned by my reaction this afternoon listening to Jeff Halper speak and fitting that together in my mind with what our guide and others had been saying about the insidiousness of the invisibility of the Israeli oppression. I was so angry I didn't get out of the bus to see the most visible proof of it when we stopped to take pictures of the Wall.

I looked up once and saw someone looking down the road taking a picture. I looked in that direction and all I saw was a green minaret standing right near the wall a ways down. People got back on the bus and I got angrier on the tour of the illegal Israeli settlement (what they call a "community") of Ma'ale Adumim that had all the banality of Pleasantville.

Early in the evening I took a taxi to the West Bank for dinner. On my way, I was on the other side of the Wall heading right at it before we turned left. As we turned, I saw the same minaret that I had seen earlier. I was on the exact opposite side from where we had been earlier taking pictures.

The Separation Barrier cut between two Palestinian neighborhoods without any Israelis in sight that needed protection. From the West Bank side, it's an imposing obstacle that isolates and greatly extends travel time. From the Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem on the other side, it's the same.

The taxi driver's lament, "It only used to take a minute to drive between those two neighborhoods. Now it takes forty minutes without any traffic."


The View from Ma’ale Adumim
By Nadya Raja Tannous

Today was the first time I had ever seen an Israeli settlement from behind its walls. We 26 delegates drove down the highway that bisects the E1 corridor in the West Bank in a stream of cars with yellow Israeli license-plates. Behind us were the outskirts of East Jerusalem, whole Palestinian neighborhoods like Atur and Abu Dis, which had been sandwiched between the expansive wall through Beit Hanina and the imposing shadow of the "Separation Barrier" that designates the beginning of the West Bank.

All around us spanned the desert. In front of us were the shiny, red-roofed, homes of Ma’ale Adumim, the largest illegal settlement in all of historic Palestine.

We passed through a checkpoint but were not stopped on account of our yellow license plate.

Two boys walked their donkey up a large hill in the heat beside the highway. The trees were small and dry and the shade was minimal.

A new police station sat atop one of the hills in the distance, watching over the whole valley - a recently privately-funded project by five U.S. citizens in order to facilitate the construction and expansion of Ma’ale Adumim and its future sister neighborhoods.

The Wall stood tall in the backdrop of the valley.

Upon arrival to the settlement entrance, the landscape changed abruptly. Palm trees sprouted from the median in the road, hot pink flowers grew in abundant bushes beside them, smooth pavement spanned on either side of the convoy, and ancient olive trees that had been uprooted from their original groves were placed in small landscaped roundabouts as a fashion detail.  All these features slid by us one-by-one as our bus drove past an urban shopping area and a manicured community park across the street.

A Bedouin woman carried her bags to the mouth of the avenue. The day was hot and the air was dry aside from a cool breeze that ruffled her sleeves and the blue plastic bags that she carried in her hands. Someone commented that many times the Bedouins in the area are used as remedial labor for these Israeli settlement communities that are expanding onto their land. I thought of the new proposed settlements in the E1 corridor, those same development plans supported by our US President Barack Obama and pushed into a normalized occurrence by the international media, and I was angry.

After passing multiple apartment complexes, the bus climbed to the top of a large slope and parked in front of a vista point. From the top, I saw the same sprawling desert of rock and small dry trees surrounding the highway that we had just come through a couple of minutes prior. Around us on the hill we were surrounded by luscious plants that, unlike their neighbors outside the settlement walls, had plenty of water to drink and bloom into their potential thickness. The stark contrast made the settlement block around us appear fictional and out of place.

During my time as a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, I spent many club events and breaks between classes tabling in the quarry with my fellow Committee for Justice in Palestine members with the goal of educating students on my campus as to the detrimental effects of settlement complexes, such as these, on the political landscape of the area and the daily lives of their Palestinian neighbors. Yet, upon looking down the hill into a large ornamental pool of blue water and the surrounding beds of lush green grass, I was suddenly lost for words.

The presence of the military occupation, the systemic violence of this occupation, is inescapable in its blatancy. While it can be systematically ignored by most world media sources, political leaders around the world, and many citizens of the Israeli state, the demonstration of such intensely polar power dynamics created a context where the Occupation was unquestionably present as it reigned over the landscape and the people within it. I know I am not alone in this observation.

I can only imagine what it is like to daily look onto the outside walls of Ma’ale Adumim and know that it is literally sucking the life force of my neighborhood, my family, my friends, from under our feet.

Beauty is often a shallow descriptor and it can easily turn to ugliness if it is cultivated by greed. The colorful flowers were bright in the late sun but they were not beautiful. The recreational park, the olympic-sized swimming pools, and the ornamental pond looked hideous in the middle of the brown desert even as they glistened in the light rays. The olive trees looked lonely and oddly contained in their prim roundabouts and, as the tall blocks of Palestinian homes with their black barrels and beige rooftops came closer into view, I saw that there is nothing beautiful about Occupation, even on the surface; even if it looks clean, it is ultimately covered in grime.

I told myself that it didn't have to be this way. And I lived up to my name. I let go of the intensity of my anger and I pushed it into my heart. I Hoped.


Day and Night: Israeli Settlements and Palestinian Villages
By Kristian Davis Bailey

. . . In East Jerusalem, Palestinian areas do not get serviced by bus, garbage collectors, or ambulances (to call an ambulance requires a police escort). East Jerusalem is part of the city of Jerusalem, which is the capital of the state of Israel.

In case this needs saying, Israel is not providing services to people who pay taxes and live in its capital based on their ethnicity and what they say are “security threats.”

The roads we saw in East Jerusalem are significantly narrower, frequently have no sidewalks, and are strewn with trash when they do exist.

Israel is currently building a separated highway for Palestinians in the West Bank, on the road that is currently shared between illegal Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Once the road is completed, a wall will divide the highway between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, who will have direct access to Jerusalem. Palestinians living in the West Bank are not allowed to enter Jerusalem under most circumstances.

The issue of settlers may seem distant, but there is a lot of American involvement in this process. Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions spoke to us about one American who donated a police station for illegal Israeli settlers in order to convert the old police station into condominiums for additional settlers.

To be clear: a private US citizen gifted a police station to a national government to grow the illegal occupation of land halfway across the world. 

At one settlement stop, the billboard for the project featured an American number and a US contact person to inquire about more details.

I literally could not wrap my mind around the existence of the settlements - the discrepancy in resources between villages immediately next to each other, the fact that the settlements are blatantly illegal yet approved by the Israeli government anyway - any of it. . .

This report is excerpted from the original post on Kristian’s blog.  For the full post, see http://postcardsfrompalestine.com/post/58202766064/day-and-night-israeli-settlements-palestinian


By Barbie Ulmer

A rich full day of seeing, hearing from a variety of people makes so graphic what we've theoretically known, which has now become real!

Seeing the newly established Israeli settlements, not yet with walls dividing Palestinians from Jews, or even a Palestinian neighborhood. Settlements are huge towns or even cities with complete infrastructure including separate roads.  They use much more water than Palestinians, actually more for their swimming pools than the Palestinians combined. In Palestinian East Jerusalem and in the West Bank there are black water tanks on the roofs to store what water they get, whereas, the Jewish homes have white solar tanks.

The Hebrew word for separateness is hafradah which has exactly the same meaning as the Africans/South African word Apartheid.

And the purpose is the same:  complete separation.  

I think the hope of the Israeli government is that the Palestinians will be overwhelmed by all the bureaucracy that allows their homes to be demolished (one of which we saw when we were with Jeff Halper, Co-Founder and Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions). 

We spoke with a family who has taken the case to save their home all the way through the courts and are hopeless. The 94 year old mother of the family made an aside: “We're just wasting our time talking with this delegation;” she was truly hopeless.

She believed that only getting to the governments can do any good   So we don't have to be hopeless.  We can write to Congress, the State Department and the President and get others to do so.  Now is the time when “the peace process” is going on.


Do You See What I See
By Alice Su

2 weeks ago, my 16-year-old sister Andrea asked me where I was going (“Somewhere else in the Middle East again??”) and why. I explained to her that I’m going to Israel and Palestine for a few weeks because there’s a conflict here, and it’s a big deal in the region, and if I’m going to stay and work and try to understand the Arab world, I have to come see the situation and understand things for myself.

She’d never heard of the conflict before, so I tried to lay it out in simple terms.

OK so basically you know the Israelites? Like the people in the Bible? Well they still exist, and they have a state in that same Bible place that’s now called Israel. But there’s a conflict because they didn’t live in that place for thousands of years and then when they came back there were all these people living there already called Palestinians. And Israel kicked them out because they wanted the land, like they just came in and took the space saying it’s theirs because the Bible says so, and now tons of the Palestinians have no homes and Israelis are trying to push them out more and they don’t have human rights or anything, but Israel can just do this because they have a lot of weapons and America supports them.

It was the first time I’d laid out my impression of the situation even to myself in such stark terms. Andrea was confused. “Wait, so then where are the original people who were living there? So where did they go?”

Well. They spread out. They’re all over the world, but also a lot of them are living in Israel still and they have a small chunk of land that’s supposed to be theirs, but they’re still mostly controlled by Israel. And they want their own country and they had treaties to divide the land, but then the treaties were violated and Israel also keeps building more and more houses and taking over their land all the time.

"Huh? So how do they do that? Just like, go in to someone’s house and say ‘go away?’"

Basically… yeah. And if they don’t leave, the army can hurt them or put them in jail or just shoot them. It’s controversial though because the Palestinians were really angry so they’ve fought back and some of them used terrorism, so now Israel just says they’re all terrorists a lot of the time.

"Oh but they’re not all terrorists right? And isn’t that unfair in the first place? How come it’s OK to do that? Why is that controversial?"

It’s not OK. But it’s disputed because. I mean. I don’t know. People say it’s not so bad. I don’t know, that’s why I’m going, I’ll let you know.

So. Here I am. Jerusalem! القدس ! The Holy City! We’ve been here for two full days and I’ve had thoughts to fill a lifetime.

Yesterday I walked along the Via Dolorosa, drove around the Mount of Olives, saw the sites where Christ, died, was beaten, gave His all and was crucified. I touched the Western wall of Solomon’s ancient temple, marked the rock on the hill where Abraham would have sacrificed his son.

I watched Chinese tourist groups dragging a cross along the Via Dolorosa, reading Gospel passages in Cantonese and sobbing with emotion. Italians and Filipinos sprawled across the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, frantically rubbing icons and memorabilia so they could bring some Holiness back home. Jewish men and women wept at the wall, eyes lifted, Torahs in hand. Circles of Qur’an readers gathered outside Al-Aqsa, all the women in their hijabs and men a little distance away. There are so many people here so desperate to reach God, trying every which way all stacked and interspersed among one another. . .

. . . But then there’s the Wall.

Some background: I came on this trip with all my skeptic defenses up. After 4 years of formal education and reading my own materials all over the right/left/in-between wings of the Internet, Princeton’s libraries and my Oxford tutorial reading lists, I’d heard a thing or two about the Arab-Israeli conflict (only now do I notice the intention behind using that term rather than Israeli-Palestinian. . .)

I remember reading Khirbet Khizeh in Max Weiss’ intro to Middle East history class in 2010 and thinking, Wait. Something is wrong. Isn’t this wrong? This must be… what? But that’s as far as it goes. I read this book, BS-ed my sleep-deprived way through a precept discussion or two, and stopped wondering about Palestine. It’s the Middle East, y3ni, there’s always conflict. Things were bad but surely they’re better now. There are treaties and stuff, there are all these negotiations going on so it must be OK right . . . ?

. . . At the end of my senior spring, I was assigned to write a piece on J-Street U, a new student group that was trying to stimulate campus conversation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They wanted me to visit all the student groups from the Princeton Committee on Palestine to Tigers for Israel, interview their leaders and map out what the dialogue looks like, if the kids are engaging with one another, what the CJL thinks, etc. I’d just finished my thesis and took this as perfect timing to explore something I’d always intended to know more about but never had time for because I was a busy, important, thesis-writing Princetonian. Also I remembered the hummus debacle and had written off everyone involved in this issue as a bunch of crazy radicals.

Imagine my surprise when I found most of the kids not only perfectly rational, but also convinced that the conflict demands attention, RIGHT NOW.

The first event I went to was a talk and writing workshop by Pamela Olson, a Stanford grad who’d written a book about her two years living in Palestine. I liked this girl immediately because she started off saying how she’d graduated jobless, with no clue what to do, and ended up backpacking around the Middle East. Then she stumbled into the West Bank and found CRAZY things there: segregation! Military occupation! A huge wall chopping up the occupied territories keeping Palestinians from access to jobs, cities, and basic things like human rights and homes and their loved ones. Orwellian checkpoints where you stand in lines like cattle being heckled for hours and this dystopian world where police detain and arrest kids arbitrarily, settlers take over your homes, your brothers disappear and you can do absolutely nothing about it. UN resolutions, international laws, human rights statutes and all standards of basic dignity are violated, but no one helps.

America beams in approval.

I didn’t believe her.

I listened to this girl and saw the pictures she showed us. I read her book. I went to more events, contemplated the complexities of the situation, but I didn’t believe her. 



This report is excerpted from the original post on Alice’s blog.  For the full post, see http://aliceysu.tumblr.com/post/58279392163/do-you-see-what-i-see


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