Akka, Haifa and more Family

On Wednesday, the 23rd, we left Tiberias for a visit to Akka and Haifa and then to the Druz village to the location of our hostel. I was looking forward to this day because I had planned to meet with another family member, a cousin of some sort who was my age and I had never met before. We started out by driving to Akka, where we walked around the open markets, I bought some music cds; talked about the sea side city, and ate a famous Hummus place that was extremely busy-who knew there could be so many variations of hummus and that it could be as lucrative as now present. We left Akka in the early afternoon and headed for Haifa and the entire time I was anxious to meet up with my cousin and her friends, who I told I’d be free by 3pm. Sure enough things don’t go according to plan and I couldn’t find an exit strategy from the group as we had more things planned than I expected even though our leader said I should be fine to leave with my family by 3pm. Regardless, we ended up visiting the Bahai Gardens, which were beautiful and then we had a scheduled dialogue at a religious secondary school with right-winged students (around 18 years old). The focus of the discussion by the students was on the love of the land and the love of the Jewish people. Much of the quoted dialogue is below as follows:

“It’s my land because they [the Arabs] have 22 countries and we only have one.”

“We’re not against the Arabs, against our enemies because I’m Israeli and I don’t want to blow up.”

“I want them to think logically and lie in peace together, but if they teach their children hatred, there is no chance for peace.”

“They [the Arabs] don’t want peace, they just want to push us to the sea.”

“Secular Jews are part of our nation, I respect this.”

Question to the students: “What are your views of the settlers?”
Answer to us: “I think they are real Zionists because they built our land. They are Zionists of these days.”

When the students were asked how they’d feel about having an open dialogue with Palestinian students their age; their reply was that it would be “useless”, mainly because of their election to Hamas. This doesn’t make much sense because they are basically implying that all Palestinian students their age have a say and responsibility in the politics of the Palestinian people and that every Palestinian civilian has support for the Hamas political party as a whole. Essentially over-generalizing the political situation, and just because various events happen by radicals, from either side, it doesn’t mean that the majority of civilians support what had happened.

The students went on to reference the Jewish treatment in teh Holocaust as comparable to the Germans who just wanted to make them extinct; they continued to remind us that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, 1/3 or the entire world Jewish population.

They state stated at one point: “You can’t compare the morales of the Israeli government to the Palestinians. The Israeli government has a higher morales.” In my head I was thinking “you weren’t with us at the Knesset listening to Dudu.”

The over all situation seems push and pull; the Israeli Jews don’t want to take any risks in promoting peace, in fear and assumption that the Arabs will not be satisfied with their efforts for peace and once they give them leniency they will take advantage and thirst for more. There also seems to be a lot of pride involved in the situation.

A simple and general example of the push and pull situation is if a Palestinian villager takes out the electricity station from a Jewish settlement, the Jews don’t give the Palestinian village any electricity, so the Palestinian village continues to take out the Jewish settlement electricity station. This of course is a very basic example and actual actions under the “push and pull” tug of war analogy are far more complex and dynamic than herein described.

Question: “What do you think about the equality of the Arab-Israeli and Bedouins in Israel?”
Answer: “They are equal?” (Which was an answer contrary to what we learned at BGU from professors, Arab-Israelis that we met and Bedouins)

Question: “Do you feel that Israel should stand at the expense of the refugee’s lives as human beings?”
Answer: “Yes, because if they come back they will overpopulate the Jews.”

The students stated that if the Arabs are loyal to Israel being a Jewish state, then they will accept them as citizens of Israel.

After, the meeting, which was a bit frustrating but nonetheless insightful, we went to a restaurant called Broadway Bagel. The students we dialogued with were invited to come eat with us, and many of them decided to come. I didn’t get to talk to them much at the dinner because my cousin and her five friends ended up meeting us at the restaurant as well. We greeted each other at the retaurant entrance as if I had known them and see them every day. We sat outside, conversed, joked, and various people from my group joined us, including Yossi. After dinner, I had the option of staying with my cousin and her friends and getting to meet more of the family at their homes but I was talked into staying with the group so that I don’t miss out on the next days activities. So, I made plans with my cousin to meet up in Tel-Aviv; although come tomorrow I would regret not staying with her in Haifa as I already had second thoughts as the bus started to leave and another group member chose to stay in Haifa and go to his family.

Anyways, we drove to the Druze village, about an hour out of Haifa, and settled in to our new hostel in Ba’eia. That night I got into a minor argument with Sau about the use of the dialogue and that day’s discussion with the right-winged students. I pointed out that although we can’t effectively do anything with the information to change and heal the conflict, we gained “factual opinions”, in that we heard people’s actual thoughts instead of speculating them, and that we can use those to teach others of those “factual opinions” but the question of what will that solve was raised and contemplated.

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Visting Churches and a day at a Kibbutz

On Monday, the 21st, we had “Christian day” and basically went out to visit various churches in the area in the following order:
We went to the Church of Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes at Tabgha, then to the Church of the Primacy where Jesus was said to appoint St. Peter complete jurisdiction over the Christian church. Our final stop was to Copernium, which happened to be a moderately long walk from the Church of the Primacy and one student ended up staying behind at the Church of the Primacy. Copernium has a modern chuch built upon the ruins of what is archeologically thought to be St. Peter’s home. After some time at the site, we went back to pick up Ri and then went to eat at a restaurant by the Sea of Galilee, which we passed by on the way to Copernium. The food was rather good, and I myself had fish considering the location that we were in. The restaurant itself was quite busy and there were a lot of tourists around. After our day looking at various churches we headed back to the hostel, some people went out for a run, and decided to have some think time atop a hill overlooking the lake. We ended that evening by having a dialogue with a women, Yael Shoham, about her experience on her Kibbutz in Sderot. She was a very kind woman and spoke about the Qassam rockets that were launched onto her Kibbutz near Gaza. She was very humane during her talk though and expressed understanding from both sides, saying that she wishes the Palestinians well being and she doesn’t have a sense of hatred. Yael simply wants to be able to live her life safely and not have to worry about her health or the well being of those that are near and dear to her. She expressed that in the end we are all human and we need to understand that about each other, and sincerely wants all the fighting to stop so the people of both sides can just live their lives and raise their families in peace. After her talk, she gave out her contact information so that we can stay in touch and she openly invited us to stay with her if were ever to return to Israel. To say the least, I liked this woman.

Today we just went to visit another Kibbutz, played on its playground, we also visited a museum on the Kibbutz which had jars of preserved animals, including human fetuses. Our last stop of the day was at a park with some left over tanks, then we headed back to the hostels after eating to have our last night in Tiberius. I went to the beach with a couple other people during our free time.

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Shlomit, Kibbutz, Jeeps and on to Tiberias

On Friday the 18th I got up around noon for the first time the entire trip and we set out to take a hike towards a Kibbutz that bordered southern Lebanon, the closest I’ve been to Lebanon since 2001. On the hike we saw banana trees, and had to jump over a fence, which had signs posted stating “Danger, Mines”, but we kept going on the trail assured that we’d be fine so long as we don’t veer off the trail. I tried to peel some cactus to eat, but got prickles all over my hands in the process; because at the time I did not think to use banana leaves to protect my hands from the prickles. So I pretty much spent the rest of the day trying to clean off the prickles from my hands, which ended up breaking off from the surface and remained embedded in my skin, and for about three days every time I touched something I would a get a sharp stinging sensation. When we finally made it to the beach, it was definitely a site to see. The Mediterranean Sea was beautiful and I was excited to see large waves crashing, and ran in as soon as I could and although the water temperature was great the rocks on the ground were extremely painful and I eventually gave up on fighting them and settled my joys of day on food. After being on the beach for most of the day we started walking towards the main street to catch a cab to town to have dinner. During the day,Sau lost his shirt so I lent him mine, thinking I was not going to need it. Sure enough, we headed to a no shirt no service restaurant so instead of taking my shirt back I ended up getting suckered into wearing a female low cut, skin tight, V-neck tee shirt; a bit embarrassing to say the least, but I made the best of it by absorbing its humor. Dinner was good nonetheless and my table had good discussions about business branding, and what we’d do if we had a lot of money.

The 19th was a bit of an adventure day, we headed out to the Rosh HaNikra caves at the border of Lebanon and Israel. We walked around the grottoes for a bit and then went into a cave/movie theater where we watched a video on the history ofRosh HaNikra and the train line that went from Turkey all the way into Africa. After some time at the caves we made our way to Eli Avivi’s Micro-country of Akhzivland. This was quite the interesting experience, as this man rebelled against Israel to maintain his artifacts and home from reform by the formation of Israel. We crossed the border intoAkhzivland to be greeted by his wife. We had a talk and then were set free to look about his museum of a home, filled with various artifacts and pictures of the past. Much of his findings were during his days as seaman and were very interesting to look at. After looking at his home we gathered outside, had a discussion about Eli’s past and foundation of his country and those who brought their passports lined up to get them stamped as memory of passage intoAkhzivland. I, unfortunately, forgot to bring along my passport. After our hospitable visit to Akhzivland we made our way towards a beach to spend the rest of our time at. The beach we went to had calm waters, as they sea was break-watered and it was essentially like swimming in a large salty pool. The rest of our day was pretty much relaxed.

Today, the 20th, we essentially got up to our long awaited surprise addition to our trip, which was a jeep tour through the off roads of Shlomit. We got into the backs of three jeeps and rode through some of Israel’s nature preserves. We’d occasionally stop to look at wildlife, specifically an Iguana, we also stopped to have a discussion about the crusaders while looking over a cliff at an old crusader castle. We also had a nice treat of watermelon while we sat in on the talks of our stops. During our trip, I was on the smaller of the three jeeps, but I’d say the most exciting as we were constantly singing and clapping and just goofing off while off-roading. All the other jeeps seemed quiet and calm the entire time. At our last stop, at a hill near a church, we stopped to have our final discussion about the land around us, then just as we were going to leave our little jeep decided not to start anymore. So we ended up having to stick around while the other jeeps returned tot he hostel to drop off everyone else and then come back to pick us up. The wait wasn’t that bad though, our driver made us some tea, we talked, and a couple of us started playing a game of throwing rocks into a distant steel barrel. After we finally got back to the hostel, we returned to our bus already loaded up with our luggage and we set out to our next stay in Tiberias. We got to Tiberias in the early evening and settled in to our new hostel, which was the nicest thus far; at least for the males of the group. Our sleeping quarters were much like mini houses-log cabins and they had seperate bedrooms, the girls unfortunately had to cram in two; seven bed and one bath, rooms. However, the location of the hostel had a gorgous view as it looked over the Sea of Galilee, which was actually a lake, and we could see distant towns over the horizon as it was located on a high hill overlooking Tiberias and Galilee. At night we decided to take cabs into town and walk around. Good end to the day…

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From Eilat back on up to Shlomit

On Wednesday the 16th, we had a full free day in Eilat. Myself and most of the other members of our group took a taxi to Coral Beach, instead of the main beach across the street from the hostel; as it was supposed to have been cheaper. We essentially swam, snorkeled, and spent time on the sand and at the bar the entire day. Snorkeling was great in the red sea, and there was a lot of coral reefs to look at. One of our group members decided to take a piece of coral as a souvenir and ended up getting in trouble for it when a beach staff member noticed the cup of coral. At night, we went back to the hostel to clean up from our day at the beach and have dinner. Then I had a discussion with Ri about my walking out during the settlers discussion on Tuesday, once that was settled I went with Ar and Ra to ride the “sling shot” which was a carnival like ride which is essentially a big ball that we enter, which is attached to bungy cords that launch us into the air…quite amusing to say the least. We then went to join some more of our group members at the beach to just talk and relax, from that location we could see Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt; other groupies went out to a club-part of me regrets not going with them.

Today we essentially had breakfast and set out on our next and longest transportation adventure of all to Shlomit. We took a public transportation bus back to Be’er Sheva, then we had to pick up our luggage from Solome’s house (our private bus driver). Actually, a few volunteers, myself included, joined Yossi to pick up everyone’s luggage via about 5 taxi cabs, while everyone else waited for us at the bus station. Once we all had our luggage, we made our ways to the train station to ride a train from Be’er Sheva to Tel Aviv. We rushed to the train station to end up missing the train and having to wait for the next one. Once on the train, we were able to calm down a bit. Everyone just spread around and found random seats, at one point I got bored and started aimlessly walking around the train and ended up seeing Pavli, the Russian friend from BGU with the parakeet. When we finally got to Tel Aviv, we had a bit of an issue finding a way to Shlomit from there, but Yossi managed to talk a public bus driver to allow us to join his bus. We then proceeded to rush to the bus, and stuff our bags in the bus as fast as we could as to not delay the original departure of the bus; quite the hectic but adventurous experience.

The bus ride from Tel-Aviv was not too pleasant to start off with, as once we started moving we hit a lot of traffic due to security blocks on part of the route the bus was to take to get on the freeway. On top of the delay, I ended up sitting in the very back seat, which I though I was luck to get but soon regretted as the engine vent was unlocked below and hot air kept blowing up on my legs from the engine below. Then to top it off I had two air condition vents blowing right at my head from opposite direction, so I was very cold from top and very hot from bottom up. Quite the experience for about four hours, but luckily my group members helped me out by handing me their towels and hats to cover up with. Soon it became a joke as I started to look goofy and I was dubbed “Sheik Shafik” by some; to make the ride a bit more amusing.After we stopped at a convenience store for a break, I met a girl that studied at BGU and ended up conversing with her for pretty much the rest of the trip north. When we finally arrived to the bus station, we were greeted by two taxi buses, loaded our bags and made our ways to our new Hostel. I started to talk to the cab driver, and we talked about the area, he pointed out Lebanon and where all the military bases were on the hills around us. When we got to the hostel we unloaded and pretty much went to sleep with permission to sleep in the next day.

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From Jerusalem down to Eilat

Today was our transition day from learn, learn, learn to finally a break; but of course we couldn’t leave Jerusalem without an emotional bang to myself and much of the group as a whole. We started out by going to the Israeli official Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, which we went into in groups of three to avoid being attached to a tour guide. The museum was very well organized and dynamic, with various videos of interviews, documentaries, memoirs, photographs, and comprehensive time lines. However, it seemed slightly biased as it never discussed the non-Jews that experienced genocide during the Holocaust and the early maps (prior to 1948) showed present Israel as being “Land of Israel (British Mandate)” at the time. Beyond the emotions brought about of the tragedy of the Holocaust, the museum was personally effective in making me realize three things:

  1. The universality of individual suffrage; it doesn’t matter what your culture or ethnicity is-a child lost is a child lost, a mother murdered is a mother murdered; all personal tragedies remote us back to our universal human primitiveness.
  2. Had the Holocaust not happened, the occupation of Palestine would have never occurred.
    1. Had the occupation not happened, my father’s parents would not have fled to Lebanon, where my father was born and grew up to meet my mother, and thus I would have never been born. Goes to show that time is as fragile as the grain of sand that goes into the glass we drink out of.
  3. The emotional hardening of Jews on all “external” people due to their Nazi treatment and experience. On the mentality that “we were taken advantage of for so long, and now we’re going to to create a universal hardening on anyone that’s not a Jew”. Kind of on the same analogy that a police man seems to become an asshole everyone because he/she has had to deal with so many assholes.
    1. This also goes to show the hypocrisy of human nature.

After the museum we went back to the hostel for a final lecture, before our vacation to Eilat, by a Jewish settler. Adi Mintz is the head of the Yesha Council in the West Bank. Adi was very right winged and religious, referring to his right to the land of Judea and Summaria from 2000 years ago. Yet, anthropological studies have shown that a race’s entire skin tone can change after 2000 years. Adi also made strong claims to rightful higher quality road ways and easier passage for settlers within Judea and Summaria (West Bank) and separate road ways for Palestinians to travel on, which were of significantly lesser quality and efficiency. He even expressed personal justification for violence by settlers on Arabs, and using ambiguities of International Law to support his claim of rightfully occupying land in the West Bank. He emphasized that security was key and motive to the necessity for all decisions to be made unilaterally by the settlers to protect their best interest; making complete disregard to humane rights of the Palestinian s who have been living in the areas settled in for generations within the 2000 years since the initial exodus of the Jews by the Assyrians and the Roman Empire under Emperor Heraclius. The speaker was nice but offensive and I ended up to vent my frustration from his lecture and also to keep myself from blocking my ration due to emotional intervention of logical reasoning. Essentially, I knew if I were to stay longer in the lecture I would stop thinking as a scholar and go into “defense mode” which I wanted to avoid completely while on this trip as to not take up a hindsight bias while taking in the channels of information from this Dialogue of Civilizations. This lecture left me wishing even stronger for necessary dialogue between our own lecturers, for the sake of the conflict itself-not for our increasing knowledge. At this rate, it’s as if nochiasma is occurring from all these channels of information; no delta forming at the end of the river.

We then took a public bus ride to Eilat, a resort city on the southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea. The ride wasn’t too bad, almost like taking a bus from Boston to New York City; just a different scenery. We were supposed to have random seating arrangements so that we could mingle with Israelis, but many of us ended sitting next to other group members, including myself. When we arrived in Eilat we basically settled into our new hostels, relaxed a bit (although some group members were still emotionally taken from the day’s events), then the majority of us went out for a walk and dinner on beach boardwalk, before heading back to sleep. From where we ate, we could see Jordan and Egypt which was quite amazing to fathom.

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A Long Last Jerusalem Day

Today was the day we were able to make use of the professional clothes we were to told to pack for the trip. We woke up relatively early to have breakfast, I of course missed it because I can never get up in time, then made our way to our first lecture of the day with a representative from the Israeli Negotiations Unit. The lecturer discussed the basic negotiation strategies placed, from an Israeli perspective, between the Palestinians. The lecturer stated to us that the Palestinians are more on a narrative of the past rather than moving forward with a peace process of action; sticking to the emotional prospect of their occupation. Yet, it’s better to fix the future rather than try and change and dwindle on the past. The next lecture was by Wassim H. Khazmo; a communications advisor for the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department Support Unit. A summary of his discussion includes: if the Palestinians were able to vote they would throw off Israel being a Jewish Democracy; which previously according to Guy Ben-Porat, doesn’t make much sense anyways. Wassim also talked about the West Bank area divisions in that only Area A, which makes up 18% of the West Bank and houses 85% of the Palestinian population is under complete control of the Palestinians; and as of November 2008 there are about 500,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. International Law states that the acquisition of land by force is inadmissible. More information and direct sources to International Law, and how it pertains to the State of Israel can be found by clicking here. Information on the Laws of War in general can be found here. Wassim also stated that the continuous growth of settlements will soon make the possibility of two states non viable, and the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit works on a stand point that the first form of negotiations was on position in the conflict and now its on the best interest of the Palestinian and their identifiable future. Israel disagrees with an international mediator, whereas Palestine does.

After our first two lectures at the hostel we headed out for the Knesset,or the Israeli Parliament. After passing through security we were greeted and escorted to a roundtable conference room where the financial committee holds its meetings. Our first discussion was hosted by Dudu Rotem; a member of the right-winged Yisrael Beiteinu political party. Many of his statements were quite crude and at times aggravating almost to the point of evoking open cross-fire debate versus intellectual dialogue; and at times undermining Palestinians, as a whole, as coherently intellectual human beings. He discussed how the media states the conflict as territories and settlement and war between history of Arabs and Jews has happened over hundreds of years. The conflict is over religion and “the way of thinking”; and Israelis are fighting for only a state. Dudu states that “Arabs are dreaming of having power over Europe and the Middle East… Islam is looking to take power on Europe and Middle East.” He also mentions that Democracy does not lead to peace, referencing that Stalin and Arafat came to power via Democratic election. “Our system of democracy is weak”. Dudu has a strong standing on all of the Land of Israel as belonging to the Jews and that “every Arab has to pledge to Israel as a Jewish-Israeli State… and serve the army.” His stands on Zionism are in security, defense, support of the settlements, and Jewish immigration. When asked about the Israel’s violation of International Law, he responded: “I don’t recognize the international law to decide what is legal in Israel.” The next Knesset member of which we opened dialogue with was Alex Miller, a senior member of the Likud Party education community. He was quite neutral in his discussion, stating statistics and information about his drive for education in science and technology for Israelis.

When the meeting was over, we all gathered to leave the Knesset and headed to our next lecture with OCHA; the Untied Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for West Bank and Gaza, lead by the Deputy Head of Office: Allegra Pacheco. She essentially discussed the check points and the conditions of those living in the occupied territories and what the goals of the organization are in terms of mainly informing and working towards the betterment of humanitarian affairs within the occupied territories. Through the use of map visuals, she pointed out specific barriers, borders, road blocks, and “security measures” placed on Palestinians that are not only moving between settlements but are simply trying to get from one Arab village to a neighboring Arab village. Allegra also spoke about the conditions of Gaza and how it’s essentially a large prison for the 1.5 million Palestinians living there since the 2004 relocation of the settlers from Gaza. The majority of us left the office with a lot of literature on the occupation situation and maps of the West Bank and Gaza movement restriction, blocks and borders with chronological detail embedded. There was also a good amount of mixed feelings at this point of the day. I was personally wondering why all of our lecturers and presenters thus far couldn’t have a meeting amongst each other; which may prove to be quite beneficial due to the expertise and array of focus that each speaker would bring to the table on the conflict at hand. Our sixth lecture of the day was at the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), and was lead by Hanna Siniora, the co-CEO of the organization. He basically started the meeting by offering us food and drinks and then we all gathered in an office as he stood and gave us a chronological history of the Israeli/Palestinian politics; essentially recapping much of what we had learned at BGU. Details of the discussion include: In 1948, 55% was supposed to go to Israel, but during the fighting Israel ended up with 78%; leaving 22% to the combined Palestinians in Gaza, at the time part of Egypt; and the West Bank, part of Jordan at the time. He went on to discuss the, the 1st Intifada, Oslo Accords, and how Hamas was a disaster because it didn’t recognize Israel as a state and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yaser Arafat’s Peace Agreements in Oslo Accords leading to Israel boycotting Palestine. The wall is considered to be Israel unilaterally placing their borders beyond the 78% originally gained in 1948. Hanna proceeded to raise the question of a binational state or a two state solution. In 1967, all 22 Arab states refused to recognize Israel as a state, but in 2002 negotiations at the 2002 Arab League Summit all 22 nations were willing to recognize Israel if they returned to the original 1967 borders, as in Resolution 242, and yet there is still no answer from Israel. It was again endorsed at the 2007 Arab League Summit. He also mentioned that the next potential Palestinian president could be Marwan Barghouti, but is in Israeli prison under charges of murder. One of the most “eyebrow raising” statements of the meeting was a potential unilateral idea by Israel to create a 40 mile tunnel to connect Gaza to West Bank. I find it shocking for the idea to even exist, as it raises questions to safety, what if there were a mere car accident, let alone the further condescending of human beings’ right to move freely. Nonetheless, the meeting ended on a warm note with IPCRI’s drive for peace education and reform in negotiation and the offers for internship within the office. Our final meeting was with a woman from Machsom Watch, which is a leftist group of women peace activists against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and monitor the IDF checkpoints. She essentially discussed the group’s history, accounts of what she’s witnessed and heard of, handed us flyers and took us to the Bethlehem checkpoint.

After a long and exhausting day, we went back to the hostel and changed to casual attire and myself and a few others went out for a walk to find a place to eat. We ended up splitting pizzas, I didn’t eat much as I had made plans earlier in the day to meet up with the rest of my extended family for dinner. Thus, I took a cab from the Pizza House we walked to the Notre Dam Center near the Jaffa Gate. The cab ride was interesting, as the driver was an Arab-Israeli and we started discussing the situation and my trip and he made me realize the difference between actually being in an environment of political conflict, but outside the occupied territories, and being “connected” by culture but disconnected by dwelling to the people affected by the conflict. In the sense that being there it becomes the norm and reality can be a lot more enduring to the human mind than imagination of a situation can be. Hence, the emotional outcries are less drastic from Arab-Israelis as the news and atrocities of “their people” are the norm, so in the end they are less likely to “tear up” over the situation as would a Arab American watching the situation on TV and longing for the empathetic connection of the daily treatments of “his/her people”. After I was dropped off at the Notre Dam, I called my great aunt’s niece and concluded the night with a long loud table that results from the process of getting to know your extended family after only years of stories of their existence. Pretty nice feeling…

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From the Tents to Jerusalem…

I woke up earlier than I expected as it got cooler in the dessert over night and was kind of chilly, and didn’t get much sleep due to a snoring member of the group. On top of that I woke up find myself swollen all over my body with bug bites, most annoyingly on my fingers; but I didn’t complain too much as someone in our group managed to get bitten on his lip and it looked like he ran mouth first into a brick wall. Anyways, after we all woke up we made our way back to the “gentlemen’s tent” to have breakfast and talk, then one of the Bedouins brought over his camel and gave the willing short camel rides. I decided to take a ride myself. Then I came back into the tent, while the girls were invited to visit the bride, the males of the group stayed at the tent and basically I was left to translate questions from the group to the Bedoins. Some of the questions included: What’s the difference between being recognized and unrecognized? General answer: we get water pipes and electricity running to us, but the water runs above ground so we have to cool it ourselves; and those who are unrecognized send their donkeys to valleys to have buckets filled with water by people by the water, who then send back the donkeys to the unrecognized villages. Another question was: Where do you see the Bedouin community in 50 years? Answer: Sarcastically (jokingly) “run to the ground”. Soon after, we all reconvened under the tent, got on Solome’s bus and started our journey towards Jerusalem

Along the ride to Jerusalem, I tried to sleep a bit, but being unsuccessful from the itchiness of the fresh bug bites I decided to go talk to the bus driver a bit. He was very informative about the history of the area, and pointed out various landmarks as we drove to Jerusalem. He also stated that one of the greatest contributions the Zionist movement did to the land was develop it to modernized infrastructure with navigable roadways, shopping centers (commerce advancements), housing architecture. Before I knew it, we had arrived at hour Hostel International location: Achsanya Rabin. We essentially settled into our rooms, then everyone was getting ready for the lecture of the day with Tom Segev. I ended up missing it because I planned on spending the day with family and essentially as everyone was leaving to the lecture I was picked up by my great aunt’s friend (Samia) and ended up spending the day getting a private, and religious, tour of the Holy Land. She gave me first hand narratives of the her experiences of the area, and holy landmarks (mostly Christian based) of Jerusalem. Sites included, the Garden of Gesemeny, Ein Karem and the Church of the Visitation, Mount of Olives, The Church of Nations, and many more. We also got close up to the barrier wall separating West Bank from Israel and Samia explained to me how the barrier has separated families, and has run between neighbors of the same “ethnicity”, essentially separating Arabs from Arabs that at one points would send their children to each others houses to play or borrow sugar. She also discussed the properties that her family has lost over the years, and even pointed out their exact location. She stated she doesn’t mind living around Jews, and at one point they lived side by side, but the loosing of their realty without even a mere consideration of compensation is incredibly frustrating (ti2el al-dem). I then spent time with the family at Samia’s house (in Beit Hanina) and got to go to another wedding reception that night after having a light dinner at the house. Another great experience, made new friends and had an interesting conversation with a Palestinian about an experience he had in Jerusalem in regards to the fears Jews have on the Arabs. Where he was in an area in Jerusalem and a Jewish boy ran towards him saying “hurry hurry get away an Arab is coming towards us”. The moral being fear gets in the way of reality and bottom line we’re all the same to the extent you can’t even tell the general difference if there is no label or environment to expel the identity of a particular individual, which is true on the Jewish side to the Arabs, otherwise the settlers wouldn’t be able to go “under cover” as was explained to me at the south Hebron visit we made. Anyways, the night ended well until I got dropped off at the hostel at around 2am and had no clue how to speak to the security guard because he didn’t speak English or Arabic and I didn’t know what room I was in because we were reorganized to different rooms after I left. Eventually, I saw the guest roster on the customer service desk, pointed to our group and narrowed down my room to the hallway we were in. Finally, I found a note Glenn left at his door, addressed to me and where my room was…I proceeded quietly into my room and went to sleep.

The next morning, on Sunday July 13, I told Yossi that I wanted to go to church with my family. Soon after, I was picked up by a chauffeur that works for my great aunt’s company where I was taken to meet my great aunt’s husband’s sister’s daughter who took me and a friend to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was an awesome experience entering the church and simply being in the old city of Jerusalem for the first time. Inside the Church there were essentially sections for all the denominations of Christianity; I witnessed mass at the Antiochian Orthodox section (which is my faith), we waited in the huge line to enter the tomb from which Jesus rose after three days. During which I managed to have my place held while I went to bargain on some souvenirs to bring home to family and friends. After mass, we walked around to the Old City and in the Arab quarters of the open markets until it was time to meet the rest of the group at the Wailing Wall for our lecture with Shaul Arieli. We parted ways from my “aunt” and walked around the Jewish quarters for a bit and then went to our lecture site, which happened to start at the roof of an abandoned mosque. Shaul Arieli had a thick accent, which was quite amusing to us all, and he discussed Jerusalem Security, greeeeeeeeen line history and status, the Geneva Initiative, and the wall separating West Bank and Gaza from Israel; all via the aid of an intricately labeled map. After the lecture we walked around some more in the markets (aswe2). I managed to bargain my way to buying a darabuka for $20, which paid for in U.S. dollars. After some group shopping time, we went back towards the Wailing Wall to meet our bus. I played my new drum for a bit after having a sandwhich, while waiting for the bus to arrive. When we got back to the hostel, I got in touch with my “aunt’s” friend’s daughter and she told me that she had bought me tickets to a Palestinian Cultural Festival. I ended up going back to Old Jerusalem with most of the group to do some more shopping in the markets. I didn’t really care much for shopping anymore so started to talk to various shop owners and spent most of my time just having conversations with them while everyone else was walking around; after which I became known by them as “Shafik made in Lebanon” to the rest of the group. After my conversations, I met up with some of our group getting food, I decided to get a quick sandwich and ran to Jaffa gate where my “aunt” was waiting for me to go to the folkloric show; a great way to end my weekend.

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A Historical Work out and a Bedouin Wedding!

As I predicted, I slept maybe an hour and was thankfully woken up by my suite mate. Grabbed all my bags and used sheets and headed over to the bus to make our departure from BGU and head towards Masada. We got there around 6am, at the crack of dawn, and despite being extremely tired from lack of sleep and, for the first time on the trip, feeling a bit nauseous, I got some water from a local store and we started walking up the trail to embark on what would be most likely the longest planned, but fun, day of the entire trip. We made it to the top of Masada just in time to see the sun rise over the hills and reflect off of the River Jordan. An amazing site indeed and by this time I was so sleep deprived that I started to mentally lose it and went off acting like I was a preacher and basically goofing off to counter-act by body crashing; all in all it turned out to be quite humorous, although some were too cranky to enjoy the moment. Regardless, I silenced myself when our Masada guide, Liat, began her presentation about Masada; despite the background noise of the apparently highly touristic area of Masada with plenty of American youth walking around. We proceeded to get the whole history of Herod’s hide out and the final war between the Romans and the Jews while going from one preserved area of the fort to the next. It was quite entertaining as Liat and Yossi would act out certain scenes and even take on costumes for our visual immersion aspect of attaining knowledge. We then started to descend the mountain from the other side on the snake path, although there was a telefrique available-we all had to walk. The trail down was long and steep at times, I started to entertain myself by singing out loud but was soon silenced by complaints from tired (out of shape) hikers. At the bottom we were greeted by a large orange juice stand, which all submitted to despite the price out of thirst and boredom of water. Then we convened at the large gift store area, where I got bored waiting again and had a continuous high of energy. So I found a random hiking stick and started doing martial arts with it to the music in my headphones until summoned to leave to our next adventure of the day.

The next stop was to eat breakfast and hike the “David Stream” to the Ein Gedi preserve. This was a nice hike as it took us through trails that ran by a stream, we were told to wear sandals on this one if we had the type that weren’t flip-flops, and out of no where it turned into a scene that you’d only think to see in movies. The stream lead to something like an oasis, or natural springs, and there were families with children playing in turquoise water, and random cataracts around an area that you’d look up and around and see rocks and dessert terrain. Some of us weren’t wearing bathing suits but had merely brought them with us, and we had to find random places to hide between the rocks and change. I managed to find a secluded area, where no one could see me, enjoyed the freedom of being naked in the open for a few minutes and the quickly put on my bathing suit to meet up with the others in the water. Once in we talked and took pictures, then I got bored and started to goof off with some children playing next to us. This turned into a huge water fight between me and them, which was eventually called of by their parents as they started splashing people sitting on the sides that weren’t expecting to get wet and my language barrier with them didn’t help in my attempts to control the situation. Shortly after my splash fight with the kids it was time for us to walk back the bus for our highlight of the day towards the Dead Sea.

At around 2:30 pm we arrived at the Dead Sea, the lowest point on the Earth, and made our way towards the water. The temperature outside was a scorching 46 degrees Celsius, over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Before going into the water we were warned not to submerge our faces and to cover any cuts with Vaseline as to not have them sting from the high salinity of the sea. We started to walk into the water and were met by incredibly warm water, almost too hot to be comfortable, and casually walking on the floor of literal balls of salt we started to float with no effort at all. In fact, the water was so buoyant that we could stay up right in the deepest end and continue to float with no effort to wade in the water. One could honestly read a newspaper in the water, while holding a drink no problem. You could also do abdominal workouts in the water by just doing normal crunches on your back and fighting the buoyancy to stay stable. However, I started to sting from all orfaces of my body exposed to the water, which eventually went away, but while trying to adjust in the water I got my face a little wet and water started to role into my eyes. It got to the point where I couldn’t open my eyes from the intensity of the sting and I called for help from someone to guide me out of the water and to the fresh water showers. After dousing my face for about 30 seconds I was fine and made my way back into the water; until Sheila came called to us with packets of the infamous Dead Sea mud. We all got covered from head to toe with the mud, took pictures and then washed off. The way my skin felt afterwards, was unreal, I thought it was just a myth but the exprience did indeed leave my skin feeling like a baby’s bottom.

After having something to eat, the convenience of lowest Burger King on Earth, we headed back to the bus to make our way to our Bedouin hospitality stay for the night. On the way to the Bedouins we stopped for a break at a mall, then continued to arrive at the Bedouins around 5:30pm; while along the way we found out that we’d be attending a wedding. I got excited because we were told we’d also see a zaffa, which is the bride’s processions, and in the weddings I’m accustomed to they are very musical and uplifting towards the bride. When we arrived, the village was filled with random tents and farm area and houses placed all around and we were greeted by our main host who lead us to the wedding procession after brief meet and greet under the “gentlmens meeting tent”. Counter to my expectations, the Bedouin zaffa was a series of honking cars and people essentially running horses and camels, while the “drivers” were arm in arm and side by side along the wedding tents. Then we were greeted by the entire community at the Bedouin wedding tent and the men were seperated from the women, as according to Muslim tradition at weddings, into adjacent tents. The women’s tent was loud, filled with children and dancing, and people playing the darabuka; while the men’s tent was essentially lined with men seated in rows and simply conversing over what ever there was to converse about. Again, I found myself playing mediator between my group and the Bedouin community of gentlemen; filling the language barrier. What was interesting from my viewpoint however, is that regardless of the Bedouin experience being as new to me as it was to my peers I still felt some sort of connection while explaining everything to my peers from the discussions I’d have with the men sitting next to me. It was also relieving to know that the Bedouins would adjust their dialect of Arabic to match mine, as it was explained to me that the only people that can understand the actual Bedouin dialect are the Jordanians as they originated from Jordan. Anyways, eventually they started prayer, then were greeted by by the groom and the father of the groom, which soon was followed by dinner via a meal called “mensef”. It was a plate to be eaten by hand and consisted essentially of rice and lamb on deep communal dishes. A couple of youth would walk around the rows of men, one with a pitcher of water and the other with a bar of soap and a towel and as a community we’d wash our hands and then eat. At one point, tjhe groom’s father came to eat with us and he started to break down the shank of meet on our plate and set food for us to eat.

When dinner was done, we said our good byes to the group in general, and packed into a van to get transported to the “gentelmen’s tent” for a final meeting before going to sleep. In the van, the excitement and party continued, we started clapping, I was singing, and then being in a squatting position in the back of the van, I couldn’t help but release some gas after the large meal we had just had. Naturally, I got my scrutany from the group after a failed attempt to cover my guilt of stench; but we got over it and continued to clap and sing and make darabuka noises until we arrived. When our final meeting was over, we were taken to an children’s activity building and mattresses were brought to us to line up in the building and sleep on. It was kind of like a big slumber party or nap time in kindergarten. After claiming my mattress I went outside to go to the bathroom and just sat on the swing for a while to think, look at the stars, which were incredibly visible and beautiful as there was next to no light polution what so ever. Eventually I got sleepy and went in to finally catch some zzzzzs.

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The Final Three Days at BGU (with a hint of emotion)

From Tuesday, July 8 to July 10 we essentially spent our days at BGU to eat and sleep but all “coursework” was now field education based. Starting at 10 am on Tuesday we took a tour of the Development Towns in the Negev. We went to Yeruham and Arad and discussed the way in which society in Jewish towns has changed over the past forty years. At 2pm we met with the former Mayor of Haifa, Amram Mitzna, to discuss the future of the development towns of the Negev. He ended by offering us an opportunity to intern with him.

On Wednesday, July 9 we met up with Ilan and Shovrim Sthika again and together we went toward south Hebron at 10am. From there we went made various visits to hill tops where we can oversee entire villages and Ilan discussed the movements of Arab villages to make way for Jewish settlements. He also discussed a story about a water stream poisoning by which an Arab woman came ill from drinking it and died. Before this, we went to spend time with a Palestinian family living in tents. We all were welcomed by the Palestinians, all men with random children running around. We all gathered into a tent and Ilan would translate to English the stories the Palestinian spokesperson was saying to Ilan in Hebrew. During the dialogue we were constantly offered tea in small glasses, which were very sweet but nonetheless good. We also met with George, a British humanitarian spending time with the Palestinian village we were visiting. After the discussion everyone started to walk around the village to discuss more about the situation, but I stayed back at the tent a little longer to talk to our hosts some more. They were happy to speak to me about their lives more on what they’ve gone through; discussing what area were there’s across the land we could see and when they were forced to move and told me about stories of Jewish settlers dressing like Arabs and learning Arabic to basically get the inside stories and understand the familial situation of the villages to relay the information to the military stations near the growing settlements. In the end we exchanged information to stay in touch, told me to send their blessings to my family in America and we parted ways for me to get back on the bus with the rest of the group.

After we got back to the campus Yossi took a bunch of the willing for a good cardio exercise via mountain biking through the dessert. It was a nice experience, and exciting terrain for me as I was used to mountain biking in the woods or in the city streets of Boston. We had a mixed group of experiences as it pertains to biking so at times we’d have to slow down for group members to catch up; at one point someone felt nauseous and we had to stop for few mintues for her to feel better. Other parts of our biking adventure included having to bike up a steep hill to be greeted at the top by a couple of loud dogs running full speed at us, but in the end they turned out to be all bark and no bite. We ended the trip by biking back to campus via the main road, as it was too dark to go back by the trails.
On Thursday, July 10, we started our day at 8am to meet with Liat Bussiba to be guided through a hike through the Ramon Crater. We walked around the edge of the cliffs of the crater and then went towards the observation deck at Camel Mountain. We hiked and had lunch, finishing around 2pm. Then we went to an Arab town near Dimona to have a meeting with Rawia Abu Rabia. She discussed the Bedouin community further and gave us more information on the women’s role in the “new age” of the Bedouin life style. Our final stop, and highlight of the day was dinner with a Palestinian family.

We were all invited to this family’s home and started our evening at our host’s by gathering in the living room where we were greeted by the head of the household, Khader Oshah. He made his living through his passion for his art and through working at the local school. He introduced himself, and seemed a little nervous in front of us but nonetheless expressed his passion about his heritage, his art, his family of eleven children, and his the appreciation for the health and life that he has despite all the hardships that he has endured. After speaking to all of us, he took us around his home for us to freely look at his art. Then, I went to greet him and before I said anything he told me that I looked like one of his friends; I proceeded to tell him that I’m Lebanese American and that my father’s parents were from Jaffa and migrated to Lebanon in 1948. He was delighted to meet me and I offerred to help him with his work in selling his art for profit through an e-commerce website. He like the idea and we exchanged information to stay in touch. After I talked to him, I started to get a little sentimental, not exactly sure why; possible out of a sense of connection to my culture and the sense of hospitality that the home gave me, or how genuinely happy Khader was for me to offer to help him. I proceeded to walk around the house again, started to meet some of the children and just zoned into a pondering mentality as I started to analyze the art alone as people started making their ways upstairs for dinner. Out of nowhere I started to turn into gushy Shafik again and started to tear up; then was called upon to go upstairs and eat, quickly wiped my tears, rinsed my face and washed my hands in the bathroom downstairs and went upstairs to meet with everyone else.

Dinner was set up as a buffet style and everyone lined up to fill their plate, with the typical Levent food that I’m used to from home. I found myself playing host helper for the family. We started to converse as if we’ve known each other for years and were quick to joke and goof off between the older children. I helped the mother serve and explain some of the foods and drinks to the rest of the group. I started out eating with everyone and then when I went for seconds I sat in with the family. After which they brought the Argili and started serving coffee or tea to everyone. I told them they’re more then welcome to come visit me in America and I felt like I brought the group to get more comfortable opening up the family and the children of the family to open up to my peers. At the end of the night, I was appointed, by Yossi, as being in charge to get everyone back to the bus. I ended up being last and the bus driver called me repeatedly to get me back on the bus. Khader had offered me to spend the night, and I would’ve had it not been our last night at BGU and I had to pack everything out of the dorms for an early leave to Masada the next day. So, I reluctantly said good bye to the family and got on to the bus for the ride back to BGU. Nonetheless, a great day and wonderful evening.

When we got to BGU we all ran to our dorms to do final clean up and packing as we weren’t to return to BGU. People were doing laundry, updating their blogs as am I while waiting for my laundry to finish and cleaning up the dorms. I doubt it if I’ll get any sleep tonight as I need to be up at 3am to get to Masada for our early morning hike to avoid the heat of the midday…

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Desert Society Workshops

Our day started at 10:00am today with a series of Desert Society Workshops. The first was a class by Oren Yiftachel entitled “The Negev: peripheries within peripheries”:
Oren brings us to the Negeve through the lenses of ethnic society. Isarel is flowing wtih the U.S. based methodology of military practice. The Naqab is the “frontiphery” and Dual Polarization frontier and economic periphery. In 1992, Yitzhik Rabin was elected prime minister and in 1993 The Oslo Agreement was initiated. Oren also mentioned that the first suicide bomber was an Israeli and that European Jews (Ashkanazi ) formed the state of Israel. Israel was created under the UN 181 Partition Plan, where 55% of the Palestinian British Mandate was to be allocated to the Jewish state and 45% to Palestine. Shimon Peres was a zionist activist and was appointed as minister of defense in the Yitzhik Rabin government. There are currently 180,000 bedouins in the Negev, from recognized villages alone. At the end of the lecture Oren played a song about the Jewish settlement towns called Male Avak, or “Dust Heights”.

The next lecture of the day was at 1pm, delivered by Yagil Levy about “The Changing Role of Military in Israeli Life”:
General Command of the IDF: Career Army, those who chose to take the army in their middle ages as a career; Reserver Army, the offensive and often regular army called upon for aid; Regular Army are the mandatory servicers of the Israeli army and once they are released after their two year mandatory service from the age 18 they should go to teh reserve army for at least one month per year. Alice Miller was a woman who fought to be a pilot in the Israeli Air Force. The military hierarchy is as follows: 1st to serve are the Ashkanazi, middle class, and secular Jews; then are the immigrant and Mizrachim Jews; last are the women and the Bedouin society. The Arab Israelis and the Ultra Orthodox Jews are not required to serve in the military.

The final lecture of the day was at 3pm and was delivered by the Abu Basma regional council in regards to the council working on recognized villages:
The Bedouin population doubles every 12 years. Sixty percent of the population are under the age of eighteen and fifty percent of the Bedouins are unemployed and nearly all of those unemployed are women. Abu Basma Regional Council is four and a half years old. Their goals are for community development and participation in decision making for empowerment. The main problem is that a lot of land within their settlements are not available for development and they cannot compete with poverty. The Council has contributed twenty four elementry schools with about 700 students per school and two technical high schools.

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