Monday, April 2, 2012

and even more photos...

American Jewish Committee

On Tuesday (3/27), students met with Dr. Edward Rettig, Director of the Israel/Middle East Office of the American Jewish Committee one of the oldest Jewish advocacy organizations in the United States. The AJC's mission is "to enhance the well being of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide, and to advance human rights and democratic values in the United States and around the world.” During the visit, students discussed their trip experiences with Dr. Rettig and asked him several questions about the AJC and its work, along with several questions about his personal experiences living in Israel. Friends would like to thank Dr. Rettig for taking the time to visit with our group.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Human Element

Text by Eliza A. '12

After spending almost two weeks traveling throughout Israel, I find myself confused on many levels. I have so many questions I wish I could find answers to, and I have so many emotions all of which seem to be in conflict with each other. In reflecting today with the group on our experiences in the West Bank and hearing from a representative from the American Jewish Committee, I wish I knew how I felt. When reflecting on the experiences I have had here it is almost impossible to try and separate out all the political voices both here and in the international community; however, when I think about my Palestinian host mother, I find it easy to separate all this noise out. 

I saw my host mother as the Palestinian version of my grandmother, who I call Nanny. The similarities between the two are almost endless and at times just funny. To start with, I don't think there were five minutes that went by during my home stay where my host mother did not offer me some type of food. She was always cooking something warm and delicious and even between meals was offering me lots of snacks, which my Jewish Nanny would refer to as nosh. During meals, my host mom refused to sit down until everyone had everything they could possibly need, a scene that is mirrored during meals at my Nanny's house. One of the more funny similarities between the two is their abundant collections of free hotel mini shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles. Something so simple and silly, yet something for me that made me feel a connection between the two.

On the more emotional side, my host mother made me feel at home from the moment I walked in the door. She always checked on me to see if I needed anything, told me over and over that I could take anything I needed without asking, and really did everything to make me feel comfortable. For me, this was the greatest part of my home stay experience, the warmth and real love I felt from my host mother. She took away all the fears and anxieties I had and allowed me to fully enjoy my experience. Throughout my life, my Nanny has given me so much unconditional love, comfort, and support that I have always been grateful for, and my host mother in Ramallah provided all of that for me. 

When I reflect on the experiences of this trip, the criticisms of it, and the larger conflicts within this region, I have found it really easy to lose sight of the human element in all of this. When I think about my host mother and the way she treated me with love and warmth despite my personal religion and political views, I find it a little bit easier to see the human side and I am incredibly grateful and thankful for that. I am more appreciative that I feel I am coming away from this experience with more of a human connection absent of all politics.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Conversation About Coexistence

On March 26, students met with Dadi Komen of The Abraham Fund Initiatives. This non-governmental organization has been working since 1989 to promote coexistence and equality among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens. Named for the common ancestor of both Jews and Arabs, The Abraham Fund advances a cohesive, secure and just Israeli society by promoting policies based on innovative social models, and by conducting large-scale social change initiatives, advocacy and public education.

Meeting for Worship

On Sunday, March 25, students visited the Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse and attended Meeting for Worship. Following Worship, students met with Jean Zaru, Presiding Clerk of Ramallah Friends Meeting, and learned about the history of the Quaker community in Ramallah.

Zaru said that there has been an active and vibrant Palestinian Quaker community in Ramallah since the late 1800’s. In 1910, the community built the Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse and later added another building that was used for community outreach.

She added that the Ramallah Friends Meeting has always played a vital role in the community. In 1948, the buildings and grounds became the home to many Palestinian refugees.

Jean Zaru was one of the 18 religious thinkers and leaders who served on the Council of Conscience, a multi-faith, multi-national group. The Council crafted the Charter for Compassion.


On Friday (3/23), students, joined by their Ramallah Friends hosts, visited the Jordan River Valley with Mira Edelstein, who works in the Tel-Aviv offices of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME). During the tour, Mira explained the demise of the river and how a looming ecological disaster may foster Mideast cooperation.

FoEME is a unique organization that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists. Their primary objective is the promotion of cooperative efforts to protect their shared environmental heritage as they seek to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in the region.

Following the tour of the River, students volunteered at the FoEME's Auja Environmental Education Center.  There, students created traditional Palestinian bricks out of mud and straw, which will be used for construction in the Auja community. To learn more about this project and FoEME, click here.



Saturday, March 24, 2012

We are Friends

Text by Will N. '12 and photos by John G.

I will definitely remember today (Thursday, 3/22) for the rest of my life. It was one of those days that was so long and so full that it felt like at least two days, if not three. We toured Bethlehem, where among other things we visited the Church of the Nativity. We also toured Hebron, an experience which I will certainly never forget. Of all the places we’ve visited, it was in Hebron that I could see most tangibly the effects of the conflict in this region. Makeshift barriers closed off networks of streets. Waist-height barriers split deserted streets down the middle. A religious site was physically split into a synagogue and a mosque. Truly, I think one has to see Hebron to feel the full weight of the place and of the conflict.

On the same day as this intense visit, and halfway into a trip full of visiting and looking and observing, it was a welcome release to do something tangible: to write on the separation wall.

We had driven to a spot of the wall covered with artwork. Many of the enormous murals were beautiful and uplifting, and I felt bad painting over parts of them. But we found some free spots, and went to work. It was truly exhilarating. And I have to say, it was one of the most “Friends”-like experiences I’ve ever had. We were all painting messages of hope and peace, and beyond that I was moved by how much we were supporting each other, both metaphorical and literally: Not only did we cheer each other on and applaud each other’s handiwork, but I actually lifted Rose up on my shoulders so she could find space to write. I also wrote my own message; after much internal debate, I decided to write the phrase that kept coming to my head: “WE ARE FRIENDS.” And walking away in the sunlight, with empty spray-paints cans in hand and classmates at my side, I really did felt that these words were true.