#32- Reflection After Israel

It has taken me quite some time to process and come to terms with what I saw over the Israel/Palestine trip. Although everything here is the same, I feel quite different walking around. It’s as if I can’t get the trip out of my mind; I’m always thinking about it. Going through photos with friends and family definitely helped me realize the immensity of what I had seen. Although the situation typically makes me sad, since I struggle finding a solution with which I agree, I think it also had its benefits. It made me more aware of the situation and reminded me why I would like to work for human rights organizations, NGOs, and news companies abroad. After years of my family telling me I’m crazy and my trip to Africa, which left me feeling hopeless and used, this trip showed me that I really can try to help (even despite “the long, slow decline of hope”) and that my help would be appreciated. The trip also allowed me to bring home stories to share with those around me. Most of my family was shocked by the state of the country when I showed them my photos, and it really has been a learning lesson for them as well. It has also sparked some great conversations with my friends, who are either very knowledgable or completely unaware. This sharing of knowledge is key, as it can completely change how people think and potentially can lead them to sharing the information with others. Overall, the trip was one of my favorite, if not my favorite, trip that I have taken and I cannot wait to go back.

Helga’s Question- Based on the various sites that have taken you across the “Green Line” and across various parts of “greater Jerusalem” and the West Bank, problematize the notion (or possibility) of a clear separation between “Israeli” and “Palestinian” (whether people, places, infrastructures, identities, territories, etc.). Is it possible to think of the entire landscape as one variegated one with differences rather than two separate ones of “Palestine” and “Israel.” In other words, how can you conceptualize of everything as ONE “system” even if it has stark differences within it.

In Israel/Palestine, the separation is a continuation between clear, blurred, and nonexistent. Sometimes you can draw a line directly between Jewish and Arab areas, while other times you can’t even distinguish a distinct location of separation. The Green Line itself is practically nonexistent; you can drive over it without even noticing. The wall is a hard border that is impossible not to notice. But despite all this separation and difference, sometimes Israel and Palestine form a singular system. Both economies rely on each other, and if either was removed, the other would collapse. Therefore, separating the two groups would be quite a challenge. And although it might be somewhat of a stretch, the food both cultures eat is completely borderless. Whether you’re in Tel Aviv or Ramallah, you will still get a table covered in hummus, salads, dips, and pita at almost every restaurant. Both groups also center their identity around religion, even if they are different religions. Both groups take prayer seriously and live their lives according to religious laws (i.e. dietary restrictions such as halal and kosher, closing businesses on the weekly holy day of Salat al-Juma or Shabbat). Though there are many major differences between the groups, it is these smaller but critical details that show just how similar the two groups are.

Salads, dip, hummus, and pita- the borderless foods of Israel/Palestine.

Salads, dip, hummus, and pita- the borderless foods of Israel/Palestine.

The similarities between Jews and Arabs are most clear in the South. No matter what, there are Bedouins on either side of the Green Line and they live in the same conditions. The presence of these Arab groups blur the lines between Palestinian and Israeli territory. Throughout the beginning of the trip, the Jewish cities always seemed to be more modern and generally nicer than the Arab cities, but Be’er Sheva problematizes this notion. The city itself is mainly Jewish, but it is much more run down, less developed, and everything was much cheaper. In this sense, it was very similar to the Arab cities. It showed us that not every Jew lives in government-subsidized luxury and that even some Jews have to deal with less than perfect living conditions.

A sign on the Arab side of Shuhada Street.

A sign on the Arab side of Shuhada Street.

Another aspect of the territory that is borderless is resentment. Both sides of the Green Line resent the other side’s presence and wishes the other group would leave. This resentment structures the way of life and has been internalized as a natural belief. The prime example of this resentment would be in Hebron when we were walking down Shuhada Street. On one side of the street the signs read “This Land was Stolen by the Arabs” and on the other side, signs read “This Land was Stolen by Israel.” It is clear that both groups feel entitled to the land and believe that they were there first. This similarity, which runs through every aspect of life, is the source of all the conflict.

A sign on the Jewish side of Shuhada Street.

A sign on the Jewish side of Shuhada Street.

#31- Ninth Day in Israel (Tuesday)- The South

A military tank in a rotary in Be'er Sheva. There is a high military presence in the city as there is a military compound in one of the buildings.

A military tank in a rotary in Be’er Sheva. There is a high military presence in the city as there is a military compound in one of the buildings.

Today we spent the day in southern Israel in the Negev Desert region visiting different living communities. The first place we went was Be’er Sheva, one of the area’s main cities. It was very different from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It was much more run down, and much older looking. Stores were also cheaper. You could tell that the people from this area were a bit lower class. There was also a military compound in the city, so there were many soldiers walking around. We walked around and had a brief meeting with a local professor at an LGBTQ center. The professor argued that the southern region was entirely shaped by three qualities he labeled “CDE.” The first “C” was colonization, the second “D” was diversity (meaning different ethnicities of Jews mixed with Arabs) and the third “E” was economic development. We also talked with the center’s staff, who claimed that the greatest difficulty facing LGBTQ people in this region was daily life, which is very different from the much more open and accepting Tel Aviv.

A view of one of the nicer neighborhoods in Yeruham.

A view of one of the nicer neighborhoods in Yeruham.

After Be’er Sheva, we drove out to a legal Israeli development township, Yeruham. It was out in the desert, with nothing surrounding it but a small Bedouin village. It started as a town of shacks where Israelis would put darker skinned Eastern Jews in an attempt to spread out the Israeli population from the central cities. It eventually grew into what it is today, a modern suburbia with red tiled roof homes and subsidized apartments. Everything the people need is within the township, including shopping and employment. Many of the people move here to show mild discontent with the settlements in the West Bank. These development townships are built legally in Israeli territory, making them all-Jewish communities without the illegality of settlements. I think it was nice to know that such a community existed, and it gave me a sense of hope. But despite this, I personally couldn’t live there (and I’m sure, along with many others) because it is too rural and disconnected from any sort of city and excitement. I wouldn’t be able to handle such isolation, and I feel that this is what makes it difficult for many people to move here to make the community larger. The area is also trying to grow as a tourist destination, as a local woman told us in a presentation, but I feel that this isolation might make this difficult for tourists as well. It seems that there isn’t much to see but the crater, which was breathtakingly beautiful but easily done in a day.

Some of the communal houses with shared yards in the kibbutz.

Some of the communal houses with shared yards in the kibbutz.

After we stopped to look at the crater, we drove off to a kibbutz, which is a socialist commune. In total, there are about 380 kibbutzim in Israel, with about 20 of which are in cities. Students go to communal schools and houses are shared and therefore  don’t have fenced in yards. Theoretically, all income is shared and distributed evenly. What I found ironic was that we were told we were walking around one of the “nicer” neighborhoods, which would be impossible if everyone and everything is supposed to be equal in the kibbutz. If this were true, every neighborhood would be equally nice. Perhaps it is my personal bias preventing me from understanding the lifestyle, as I grew up with a very anti-communist father who spent a good deal of time in communist eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain. What was also interesting was the dynamic between the Israeli guides. Though talking in Hebrew, they often argued about the truth behind what the guide from the kibbutz was saying and we were still aware of the tension. Sometimes, the other two guides refused to translate what the kibbutz guide was saying. I felt somewhat out of the bubble, and would have loved to hear every word. These arguments showed that there is also a discrepancy between Israelis’ thoughts and what they believe is the best way of living.

One of the homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village we had dinner in.

One of the homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village we had dinner in.

After we went to the kibbutz, we drove down the highway and onto a bumpy dirt road to have dinner at an unrecognized Bedouin village. The Bedouins are semi-nomadic Arabs that have been living in the region for 500-600 years. In Israel, they have set up more permanent villages, but the Israeli government refuses to place the villages and townships (some of which reach 50,000+ people) on the map, and therefore refuses to provide them with basic services such as electricity, water, sewage, and roads. They believe that the Arabs stole the land from them. The man who hosted us for dinner (which was delicious) told many stories of human rights abuses by the Israeli government against the Bedouins in his community. The government knocks down newly built houses, including the one our host built for his son (and you could still see the foundation in his yard). They pay exorbitant amounts of money (which could build plenty of new schools) to transport kids to school as a way of refusing to recognize the community. They do not provide adequate healthcare, and in the case of one woman who needed electricity for an asthma treatment, they refused to provide her with the electricity (even though the cables run alongside the village) she needed and therefore, she passed away. The stories went on and on, and the host had many more he did not tell. Hearing these stories was quite sad, especially when the Bedouins had been so welcoming all evening. Afterwards, we all bought some beautiful hand-embroidered crafts made by the women in the community. At first, our Jewish guide (Aron) and the bus driver, did not want to go into the house with the Arabs and would have rather stayed with the bus. They claimed it was because they were concerned about the bus on the dirt roads, but really we all knew it was because he felt uncomfortable and threatened by the Arabs. Throughout the discussion with the Bedouin host, Aron’s body language said it all; he had a grumpy face, crossed legs and arms, and it seemed as if he couldn’t close in on himself any further. At certain points, the bus driver would interject into what the Bedouin was saying in Arabic. Although we couldn’t understand and Ahmed wouldn’t translate, you could tell he was arguing and raising the tension in the room. Again, the dynamic was quite interesting. It was hard not to feel sorry for the Bedouins after hearing all the stories, so it was strange seeing such resentment from the Aron and the bus driver. But we must also remember that this is what they’ve been taught their whole life and they don’t know how not to be racist. In this sense, it is not their fault and it’s hard to remember this when they say certain things and cause certain tension.

In front of the crater in the Negev Desert by Yeruham.

In front of the crater in the Negev Desert by Yeruham.

Helga’s Question- After visiting the old city of Be’er Sheva, a kibbutz, a development town/township, and an unrecognized village, analyze how the “South” can be an “alternative space” in comparison to the center of the country (i.e. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv). What makes it alternative? How do you understand the differences within and between each of these sites?

This “South” is alternative in the sense that the living communities are extremely different from the modern and religiously liberal Tel Aviv and the diverse and religious Jerusalem. Be’er Sheva was alternative in the sense that it was much less developed and modern. It was much older, and there weren’t many brand new buildings. The people seemed to have a lower income in general, thus the state of the city. It was also much more open; I saw many more Arabs walking alongside Jews and Israeli soldiers. I think this made it the most open city we went to in terms of ethnic diversity, and everyone seemed to be living under the same conditions. The development town reminded me of a typical settlement in the West Bank, especially in terms of appearance, but it was an alternative in the sense that it was perfectly legal under international law. They provided the same all-Jewish community with everything one would need inside the township as would a settlement in the West Bank, but the people themselves were more opposed to the illegality of settlements. The kibbutz was an extreme alternative to the rest of the places we have visited. It wasn’t a modern of built up city, but a open community with lots of open yards and walking paths. It was an alternative in every sense of the word; even the way people work and live is alternative. It was a socialist community, versus the typical capitalist towns and cities we had seen up until that point. In fact, I had never really seen a community like the kibbutz. The unrecognized Bedouin village was also an alternative in every sense of the word. It was very “third world” and lacked all the basic modern amenities because of the Israeli government. The people lived in basic “huts” made out of concrete, corrugated aluminum sheeting, and sometimes even tarps. Their electricity came from solar panels and generators at night. They didn’t even have roads, just dirt paths packed down over time. Of course, there were some houses that were nicer than others, and even an area of the village that lived in a socialist communal way much like the kibbutz. Overall, each community was very different from each other. Some were considered legal (like the Israeli development township, Be’er Sheva, and the kibbutz), while others were considered illegal (like the Bedouin village). Some were more modern and developed (like the township and kibbutz), while others were underdeveloped (Be’er Sheva, in comparison to the northern cities; and the kibbutz). They were all similar in the sense that they were so different from the central cities. Their alternative ways of life is what makes the South one contiguous area.

#30- Eighth Day in Israel (Monday)- Jaffa

A view of Tel Aviv and the beach from Jaffa.

A view of Tel Aviv and the beach from Jaffa.

Today, we were given a lot of free time. The only thing we had to do was meet up in the morning for a discussion. I think it went very well. Everyone shared their reactions to the trip, and there was a very large variety of feelings. We also discussed whether or not we thought Jerusalem was a divided or undivided city (the last journal entry for Jerusalem) and the security purposes of the wall. I thought this last part was interesting, as we talked about how the wall doesn’t really provide the security it claims to provide, and how a wall is such a primitive means of security in a such a modern technological age. Overall, the conversation was very deep and powerful.

The old clock tower in Jaffa.

The old clock tower in Jaffa.

After this, we had the rest of the day free so we went into Jaffa. We ate at the restaurant connected to the oldest bakery in the city. We got dips, salad, and pita (surprise!) and I got a kabob. When I go home, I’m really going to miss the food. The hummus just isn’t the same. After this, we walked around the market for a little bit and sat by the old clock tower. I got some postcards for those who asked (I’m going to send them when I get home, shhh). We all met up and went for a walk along the beach at sunset. It was very beautiful, and the beach was filled with sea glass, so I picked some up for my mom because she collects it. Now we’re back at the hotel and getting ready to go out tonight. We’re leaving Wednesday, and now that it’s around the corner, I’m going to be sad to leave. I’ve really enjoyed the trip, and it’s really affirmed just how much I want to work in human rights/NGOs/nonprofits.

#29- Seventh Day in Israel (Sunday)- E1 and the Dead Sea

One of the hills in E1. It has already been leveled for houses. There is also electricity towers installed in the area.

One of the hills in E1. It has already been leveled for houses. There is also electricity towers installed in the area.

Today was reserved for more tourist-y stops. The only political place we went to was E1, a site in the West Bank where Israelis would like to build another extremely large illegal settlement. International forces and Palestinians are very opposed to this plan, because when finished, the settlement would cut the West Bank in half. This would make a two state solution much more difficult as the Palestinian territories would become even more fragmented. Currently, E1 is the site of a police station. There are roads and electric wires (and most likely water and sewage pipes as well) and the hills have been flattened into terraces. Building is ready to start as soon as it is approved. In a way, this is quite disconcerting. This shows the Israeli disregard for Palestinian territory, regardless of legality (or in this case, illegality) of their actions, and how they are willing to go to any lengths to isolate the Palestinians even further. It also shows how Israel is not looking for a solution to the conflict, because it is widely accepted that this would only exacerbate the conflict.

The monastery we stopped at on the way to the Dead Sea.

The monastery we stopped at on the way to the Dead Sea.

After stopping here, we drove off the Dead Sea. Along the road, Bedouin shack villages and suburban Israeli settlements dotted the hills. Along the way, we stopped at a very old Christian monastery carved into the side of the mountain. It was very beautiful. While there, some Bedouins tried to sell us things, but I’m holding off until we go to the Bedouin village as a group.

Covered in mud at the Dead Sea.

Covered in mud at the Dead Sea.

At the Dead Sea, the saltiest body of water and the lowest point in the world, we covered ourselves in mud and went floating. The mud at the dead sea is known for its moisturizing qualities, and it made my skin very soft. It is also impossible to sink at the Dead Sea, since it is so salty. Overall, it was very fun and we all had a great time. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch and went shopping. I got some packets of Dead Sea mud and a small bag of Arabic coffee for my dad. Then, we drove back to the hotel in Tel Aviv. For dinner we went to Max Brenner, which is also in New York. Many of the dishes were the same, and it was just as good (and expensive). We tried to go out dancing at a club, or even find a busy bar, but it was nearly impossible. All the clubs were closed and the bars were very quiet. This was because Monday is the first day of the work week in Israel, like Monday in the United States. We eventually gave up and went back to the hotel.

#28- Sixth Day in Israel (Saturday)- Settlements and Segregation

A view of an Arab town behind the Separation Wall. It was taken from an Israeli settlement. Note the barbed wire and open green space. There was also a fence in front of the barbed wire, but I put the camera in front of it.

A view of an Arab town behind the Separation Wall. It was taken from an Israeli settlement. Note the barbed wire and open green space. There was also a fence in front of the barbed wire, but I put the camera in front of it.

Today was pretty short. We did a bus tour through many of the settlements and Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank. Our guide was very interesting today. He is Israeli and was raised Jewish (though now he considers himself secular), but was pro-Palestinian human rights and would be considered “radical left” to the Israeli government. His background and viewpoints was a very unusual combination. Because of this, I think he did the best job presenting the information factually and as objectively as possible, and this was a very important voice to hear. Also, it was Shabat, so many of the settlements were quite quiet as everyone was at home praying. At the first stop, we talked about how the segregation happened and how it has affected the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. We also talked about how the attempts at solutions only led to further conflicts. Our guide even mentioned his service in the army, and how this worked into his larger narrative. At this stop, you could see both the wall and fence that make up the Separation Barrier. You could also see a segregated road. There was a straight paved Israeli highway that ran over a winding dirt Palestinian road. Seeing this finally made me realize why the Palestinian commute was so much longer than the Israeli commute. We drove through some settlements to stop at a hill overlooking the city of Jerusalem. Many of these (illegal) settlements looked like fortresses the way they were organized looking outwards over the top of the hill. Trash filled the Palestinian neighborhoods, and the roofs were dotted with water tanks. The roads in the Israeli settlements were well organized, paved, and full of streetlights and wide sidewalks. The Palestinians had bumpy, unorganized roads that lacked streetlights and sidewalks. Each area felt like a different country. At the second stop, we talked about how the Israelis use housing permits to restrict Palestinian growth in Jerusalem. They are prevented from building anything if it lies on designated green spaces and from adding more than four stories to their homes even if they do own the land or building. I found this very unfair, although not surprising. The third stop was along part of the Separation Barrier next to a road in a Palestinian town. There was some more moving graffiti, but the ground was also littered with used cans of tear gas, which really put the tension of “security” into perspective. The next stop overlooked the desert and an Israeli settlement. This is H1, the site of a potential Israeli settlement that would fragment the West Bank even further. Our guide explained that these lands were declared National Parks to prevent Palestinians from expanding on to them. Our very last stop was within a very nice settlement that looked out over a Palestinian neighborhood surrounded by the Separation Barrier. This neighborhood is part of Jerusalem, but has been separated by the wall. It is also given minimal services; they don’t have sewage, water, public schools, or trash collection and are given minimal electricity. Hearing these stories made me very sad. It is hard seeing a modern neighborhood so close to something so disadvantaged.

In front of Jesus's tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In front of Jesus’s tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

After dinner, we had some free time, so we went back to the Old City. We got lunch at a place in the Arab quarter of the market, then we went over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so that we could actually take some time to pray. We went into Jesus’s tomb, though we were only given a few seconds (literally) inside. Though I am not very religious, I found it very moving and it helped me confirm my faith. We spent some more time praying around the church. We found a rock with lots of names written on it, so we assumed that was acceptable so we all began writing on it. Then a Greek Orthodox priest came up to us and told us to stop or we could get arrested, so we did. But thankfully, before we finished I managed to write my grandfather’s name, “Tony Antonio,” and “Papa,” with a heart on the rock. This made me really glad, and I can’t wait to tell my grandparents. We left when it closed and went back into the market. I got a headscarf for my mom and a pair of harem pants for myself. Jessie and I also got these kits that contain Holy Water, Oil, Ground, etc. with a cross for 10 shekels each. I got four; two for my aunts, one for my mom, and one for my grandma. I think they’ll like these, plus I got a great deal.

Segregated roads. The Israeli bypass road is the paved straight one. The Arab road is the winding dirt road below the bypass road.

Segregated roads. The Israeli bypass road is the paved straight one. The Arab road is the winding dirt road below the bypass road.

We came back and gave ourselves some time to work on journals before we got dinner. We got dinner at a place on Ben Yehuda Street around the corner. It was absolutely filled with young Americans visiting on birthright. For the first time in weeks, we were surrounded by conversations being held in English. In fact, there were almost no locals around. There was even a pizza place called “Big Apple Pizza.” It felt as if we were in a “Little New York” instead of Little Italy. I was shocked by the amount of birthright visitors there, and it made me wonder how many show up on a usual day.

A used can of tear gas in front of the Separation Wall.

A used can of tear gas in front of the Separation Wall.

Helga’s Question- Based on visits in and lectures about Jerusalem, take a stand as to whether Jerusalem is a “divided” or “undivided” city. Demonstrate this through an analysis of specific kinds of borders or non-borders that you examined in order to sustain your position.

I believe that on the surface, Jerusalem appears to be a undivided city, but upon further exploration, one finds that it is extremely divided. In the old city, the borders are certainly blurred. Vendors sell crosses next to menorahs and keffiyehs, and sometimes it is hard to tell if the vendor is Muslim or Jewish. One cannot tell when they are crossing the border from one quarter to another, and there is no wall separating the quarters. It is these examples that make the city appear undivided. But if you pay closer attention, the racism and segregation is still there. You don’t see many Arabs in the Jewish quarter, nor do you see a lot of Jews in the Arab quarter. Walking around, you mainly see the ethnic group of that quarter along with plenty of tourists. The racial tension is still engrained into the people’s thoughts as well, and if anything, moreso than any other part of Israel since the two groups are always in such close contact. Also, the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount is significantly divided from the rest of the Old City. Our guide called it a “shoebox” and it is just that- walled off from the rest of the city so that only certain people can enter. In terms of the greater city, it is very divided. Standing on top of the Mount of Olives, this separation was very clear. On the left (West Jerusalem), the buildings were tall and modern and there were many construction cranes dotting the skyline. This is the Jewish half of the city. On the right (East Jerusalem), the buildings were much shorter and older, and the roofs of buildings were dotted with black water tanks. This is the Arab half of the city. It was as if you could draw a line down the middle dividing the city into two completely different worlds. I think this is what makes the city so divided. The segregation is there, it’s just not in your face. I think this is intentional because 1. it is holy land and outright conflict would contradict religion and 2. it is major tourist hub, and the Israelis don’t want to make the segregation and poor Palestinian conditions apparent to the tourists because they are aware how controversial it truly is. Therefore, they hide the division in an attempt to make the city seem open to all groups, when in reality, it is quite the opposite.

#27- Fifth Day in Israel (Friday)- Ramallah

Lines and fencing at the Qalandia checkpoint. Note how tight the space is.

Lines and fencing at the Qalandia checkpoint. Note how tight the space is for the line.

This morning we got up early to go to Ramallah, the center of Palestinian government in the West Bank, with the Arab tour guide. I can’t put my finger on it, but I prefer him to the Israeli guide. I think it is because he is more reactive to what we would like to do and gives each religion more acknowledgement, besides Judaism, though he isn’t as blatantly racist (if that even is the right word). The first thing we did was go to the Qalandia checkpoint. Unfortunately, it is Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, so it wasn’t as busy as a typical day. The line wasn’t too long, especially in comparison to the thousands that can show up on a work day. The first thing I noticed was that it felt as if I was in a zoo exhibit. There were so many fences and bars that it seemed like the Muslims were animals being corralled and trapped inside a cage. The turnstiles were very small, and made it difficult for women with children, pregnant woman, tall or large men, or handicapped people to get through. There were more of these turnstiles as far as we could see. The soldier kept telling us to stop taking pictures and to move away from the fence, but one of the people from a human rights organization told us to keep going as there was nothing they could do about it. I wish we had gone on a busier day, so that the mistreatment was more apparent, but the general feeling of the place was still there. This was a feeling of entrapment.

In front of the Banksy piece on the Separation Wall by the Qalandia checkpoint.

In front of the Banksy piece on the Separation Wall by the Qalandia checkpoint.

After walking around the checkpoint for awhile, we walked over to the Separation Barrier (or Security Fence, according to whom you ask) to look at the graffiti. Immediately I remembered the piece on Helga’s slideshow that called the wall an “ugly gray piece of shit,” and this was all I could think about it when I saw it in person. Most of the graffiti is in English, and much of it is very profound, but at the same time, there is also swastikas on the wall. My favorite piece read, “The killing of Jews isn’t Kosher,” which I thought was interesting because it sums up how I feel about the situation. Of course the Jewish religion does not support the actions taken by the Israeli government. We also saw the Banksy piece of the girl floating over the wall with balloons. I was surprised nobody had painted over it, and was pleased to see the respect given for this piece. Our guide also explained that one of the towers was black because of the amount of times its been bombed. A few of us wrote on the wall in pen, including me. I wrote, “Security Fence,” in quotes, because I think I couldn’t stop thinking about the comment from the Jewish guide and how it contradicted the site in front of me.

Water tanks on the tops of buildings in Ramallah. They have these because the water is often shut off. They are very common in Arab neighborhoods and towns.

Water tanks on the tops of buildings in Ramallah. They have these because the water is often shut off. They are very common in Arab neighborhoods and towns.

When we drove into Ramallah, the overall appearance of the city changed to something completely different than that of Tel Aviv or the newer parts of Jerusalem. Garbage littered the ground as the Arabs don’t have garbage pickup, and water tanks dotted the tops of roofs as the Arabs aren’t given water either. The buildings were much older and more run down. The roads were busy and full of traffic as there weren’t any streetlights. In a way, it reminded me of my time in Africa because it looked very very similar. I even felt a sense of deja vu. It was strange to see a “third world” city only 20 minutes away from a “first world” city, and it kind of made me sad that such a big difference could be so close. The streets were filled mostly with men and only a very small handful of women. We asked Helga why, and she said it was because they were probably home cooking and preparing a big meal for the day of prayer. This also shows the male dominance in this culture and religion. We walked over to PACE, the company our guide works for. He made a presentation about how the occupation has led to the destruction of major archaeological sites. It was very interesting, and something I hadn’t thought about prior to the presentation. He argued that Israelis were excavating sites in the West Bank, and that they allowed the sale of antiquities which encouraged looting. Afterwards, we went downstairs to shop in the connected store. They buy items from local artisans and sell them without commission as a way of supporting the local economy. Afterwards we grabbed lunch at a local Palestinian restaurant. We had salads, dip, and pita (what a surprise) and rotisserie chicken and spiced rice. It was all delicious. After lunch we visited a few under appreciated Christian sites, a hotel where Jesus frequently stayed on his journeys and the first church (now in ruins), the Church of the Holy Family, which Muslims won’t build on top of in ancient respect for the Christian faith. I was very glad that the guide was showing us these sites, because even though he is Muslim, I thought it was very nice for him to acknowledge the importance of the other religions. He also explained how the tourism industry works in the country. He said that Israel makes billions of dollars in profit off of tourism, and receives about 95% of tourists, but that many of these sites are manufactured or the importance of which is exaggerated. Palestine only receives 5% of the tourism and much less profit, even though most of the truly important sites are actually in Palestine, not Israel. He said that the Israeli government does this intentionally to control the economy and opinions of visiting tourists. In fact, we were the only tourist group I saw all day, while Jerusalem is practically swarming with tourists.

Homes in the refugee camp. They are run down and built close together. Note the garbage in front; there is no reliable trash collection service in the refugee camp.

Homes in the refugee camp. They are run down and built close together. Note the garbage in front; there is no reliable trash collection service in the refugee camp.

Next, we got back on the bus and drove over to a refugee camp within the city. One of the organizers, who works for the UNRWA and was on strike protesting their increased cutback of various resources, talked to us before we walked around. He talked about the root of the conflict and potential solutions. Though he had to be translated, he said many moving things and was a very powerful speaker. One of the things that struck me was when he said that the Arabs were willing to make peace as it would only serve in their best interests. I think this is true, and it was nice to hear it said out loud. He said that the Arabs only wanted to live in dignity and nothing else, and when he put it this way, it was hard to argue against him. He also gave many examples of when settlers killed the refugees, many of whom were children playing in the playground at school. This was very hard to hear, and made me very sad. After speaking with him, we walked around the refugee camp, which is actually where our tour guide was from. We ran into many children walking around, and one boy showed us a bruise he got from being hit with a rubber bullet from an Israeli soldier. What’s worse is that this was one of five times that he’s been shot. The camp itself is not actually a camp with tents, but is a run-down area of various old buildings squeezed into a very tiny area and overpopulated with 5 times as many as the intended amount of refugees. The roads are mostly dirt, and many of the buildings were falling apart in one way or another. It was sad walking through, but the people were so warm, nice, and welcoming. One woman even invited us into her home. I think they felt glad that someone was recognizing them and paying attention to their unfortunate situation. On our way out, we drove past a direct conflict between some young Arab boys from the refugee camp and some Israeli soldiers. The boys were throwing rocks at the soldiers and lighting fires along the top of the road. While we were leaving the boys asked if we wanted to join them in throwing rocks at the soldiers. At first we thought they were joking, but then they said it was a daily activity because they have nothing better to do. So far, this was the most direct face-to-face conflict that we saw between the Israelis and Palestinians and it really brought the overall conflict to life for me.

Frappuccino at Stars and Bucks. Even the logo and cups are similar to Starbucks.

Frappuccino at Stars and Bucks. Even the logo and cups are similar to Starbucks.

After this we were given some free time so we went to Stars and Bucks Cafe, a rip off of Starbucks that offers very similar drinks. Even the logo was very similar. Of course, American culture always works its way into other cultures, such as this case. Afterwards we got dinner at a nice restaurant. It offered foods from all different cultures and for the first time, we weren’t given a table of salads, dips, and pita. From the types of food and the service, I could tell that this restaurant was for the upper classes. After dinner, we went to a local bar. I tried arak, a Palestinian liquor that tastes like licorice. Again, it was nice to end such an intense day with a little socializing. Well I need to take a shower and go to bed. Tomorrow we’ll be in Jerusalem again and we’ll have lots of free time, so I am excited.

Graffiti on the Separation Wall.

Graffiti on the Separation Wall.

Helga’s Question- Based on our visit, describe in what “hard,” physical and territorial ways Ramallah was “bordered” making sure to think through how it is “bordered” from the outside (as in, around the city), but also from the inside (as in, what kinds of spaces are “exceptional” inside the city and how are they physically and territorially separated).

It comes as no surprise that Ramallah is bordered from the outside. It is surrounded by the Separation Wall, and is only accessible through the far inside of the West Bank or through Qalandia checkpoint. At this point, the Separation Barrier runs through the West Bank, not between the West Bank and Israeli territory. In this sense, it is unique because it is separating Palestinians from Palestinians.

Ramallah is also bordered in the inside, but not as directly and apparently. The refugee camp we visited was an exceptional space, and clearly the most bordered of all the areas. It was surrounded by walls and to enter, one passes through a gate. This area was more run down than the rest of the city, which was already underdeveloped in comparison to the Israeli cities. This made it distinct from the rest of Ramallah. The richer area of town was also bordered from the rest of the city, though not through walls. In this case, the distinction was made with buildings. The majority of the city was composed of run down, shorter buildings. The more expensive area of town, where the Palestinian diplomats live, is composed of much taller and newer skyscrapers. The buildings and roads were clean, and not covered with garbage and graffiti like the rest of the city. I think it made this area exceptional. The other bordered area within the city was between the commercial center of town and the surrounding residential areas. In the town center, there were lots of shops and the roads were very busy with people and traffic. It was quite busy, despite the fact that it was the Muslim day of prayer. The other areas of town were much quieter. There were much fewer people on the street and there were very few businesses in this area of town. The few businesses were restaurants or closed. Though these areas do not have distinct walls, I think they are exceptional from the rest of the city and have therefore formed a border of their own.

#26- Fourth Day in Israel (Thursday)- Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock. Also known as Temple Mount.

The Dome of the Rock. Also known as Temple Mount.

Today, we left for Jerusalem and had a jam-packed day full of sightseeing with the Jewish tour guide. The first thing we did was go to the Mount of Olives, which gives you a great view of the Old City. First off, the view is beautiful, but it also allows you to see all the religious buildings of different denominations such as temples, mosques, and churches. You can also see how the Old City is walled off from the newer parts of the city. Our guide explained the significance of the Temple Mount for the Jews, but never said why it was significant for Arabs. It seems that the racism becomes apparent not through what he says, but often through what he doesn’t say and instead chooses to exclude. From the Mount of Olives, we went to the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount. According to Christians and Jews, this is the site of the creation of the world and where Abraham went to sacrifice his own son to God. According to Muslims, it is where the prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven. We were allowed to enter the grounds, but not the mosque itself. To enter, we had to wait in line and go through security. The building was incredibly beautiful and elaborately decorated. After awhile, it became hard to continue listening to the guide as he was only speaking about its significance to the Jewish faith and how it fell into an overarching narrative of Jewish history. He also didn’t want us to spend a lot of time looking around or taking photos. He kept rushing us, and didn’t really give us any time to take photos. Of course, this fits into the larger picture of the Jewish resentment of Arabs. We then walked through the market and bought bagels and other breads. We then ate them on top of a roof in the Armenian quarter. Again, we had a great view. Since we were closer, it was easier to see the distinction between each religious quarter of the city.

Where the crucifix stood within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is in the Greek Orthodox section, hence the very decorative appearance.

Where the crucifix stood within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is in the Greek Orthodox section, hence the very decorative appearance.

After lunch, we quickly went through some of the stations of the cross. The guide spent barely any time talking about them, especially in comparison to the amount of time he usually took to explain Jewish sites. We then went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified, anointed, and buried. Although I am not extremely religious, I was raised Catholic. I recently lost my grandfather and this has been tough for my very religious side of my family, so I wanted to say a prayer for him and my grandmother as I know most of my family would never be able to go to Israel. While we were waiting in line to say a prayer at the place where the crucifix was, the guide came over and told us to hurry up and to make our prayers fast. Though I am not easily offended, this made me very upset. For Christians, this is a very important site, and I could not believe how rude and offensive someone could be to say that. I struggled to keep from saying something, but I know that such a place is not a good place for confrontation.

Notes with wishes and prayers stuffed into the cracks of the Wailing Wall.

Notes with wishes and prayers stuffed into the cracks of the Wailing Wall.

Next, we took a walk along the Ramparts, the walls of the Old City. From the top, you could see a portion of the Separation Barrier. When Helga pointed this out, the guide immediately called it the “Security Fence” and said that it was built “to protect Jerusalem.” Clearly, this is not true. It was built to keep the Arabs separate and away from Israelis. Immediately, everyone picked up on this. The racism of the guide was becoming more apparent as the day went on. At the end of the Ramparts was the Wailing Wall. This is one of the most important sites for the Jewish religion, as it is as close as they can get to the site of creation. Our guide gave us 30 minutes at the wall, which was an extremely long time, especially in comparison to the time we had at Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This made me even more upset, as I feel he wasn’t giving all the religions equal time, and I think he should, knowing that we are all tourists of different denominations who came very far to see these sites. There were many soldiers at the wall, and it became apparent just how young they were. It was strange seeing kids my age walking around with guns. Men and women are separated at the wall itself, and I found it strange that the women had a small section which was extremely crowded and the men had a much larger section with much fewer people. At the wall, you could tell how differently people prayed. Some people were dramatically mouthing prayers and rocking back and forth, while others sat in complete silence. It was interesting to step back and watch the differences.

Salads, dip, and pita at the Armenian restaurant.

Salads, dip, and pita at the Armenian restaurant.

After the Wailing Wall, we walked through the market to buy items. I bought myself a headscarf, a pipe, and a chain of decorated elephants (I have always loved elephants, as they are good luck). I got my very religious mother and grandmother crosses because I knew that this would make them very happy. They always talked about how luck I was to go to the “Holy Land,” so I wanted to bring them back something for prayer. I got my father olive oil because he isn’t very religious and has been to Israel and Jerusalem himself, so he does not need another souvenir item. After this, we went to dinner at an Armenian restaurant in the Armenian quarter. The food was very good; we had salads, dips, and pita with pasta and lamb for dinner. I would have loved to learn more about the Armenian culture, and how they fit into the city, but we didn’t have much time because the driver had to go somewhere.

The view from the Mount of Olives. Note the gold Dome of the Rock and the Old City walls.

The view from the Mount of Olives. Note the gold Dome of the Rock and the Old City walls.

When we got back to the hotel, we had a discussion as a class. It became very tense at times, but I think we said a lot of very important things. One of the things that came up was the Holocaust and how the Israelis actions against the Arabs were very similar to the beginning stages of the Holocaust. I have thought about this before, and I think the ghettoization can connect to the segregation of towns and roads. The lack of basic services in the German Jewish ghettos reminds me of the lack of basic services in Palestine. This frightens me because I have always been very interested in genocide (I did my senior thesis paper on genocides and come from ethnicities that have gone through genocide). This may sound a little extreme, though I’m sure it would also sound extreme pre-genocide in Germany, but I fear that this could lead to genocide of the Arabs. I fear that if things keep going along the same path and tensions continue to increase exponentially, that it is actually pretty likely. The stages are very similar, and its almost a haunting sense of deja vu. It seems to me that the Israelis are finally happy to have a safe place that they are so fearful they cannot recognize that they are doing the same things to the Arabs that drove the Jews to Israel in the first place. We also talked about the distinction between Israel and Judaism, which are two distinct things that have become so closely tied in this country. I think it is the Israeli government that is doing these horrible things, not the Jews. In fact, I don’t think many Jews or the Jewish religion itself would support any of these things. But in a country that has drawn these two identities together, it is so hard to tear them apart and be critical of only one. For example, my boss recently converted to Judaism, but I don’t think that she would ever be okay with the treatment of Arabs knowing her stance on human rights. I think that the Jews are just not given the full story (nor are Arabs, at that), and that this is what makes it difficult for them to see what is actually going on and how it contradicts the morals of their religion.

Walking along the Ramparts, the walls of the Old City.

Walking along the Ramparts, the walls of the Old City.

After such a long and powerful discussion, we ended the night with something a little more light-hearted and social, by getting drinks and hookah at a bar called the Borderline. I just got back and am exhausted, so I’m going to get to bed so I can be (somewhat) rested for tomorrow in Ramallah.

A storefront at the market in Jerusalem.

A storefront at the market in Jerusalem.