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Category Archives: Politically-themed

“Here I stand: I can do no otherwise. God help me. Amen!”

The above quote is from the namesake of my given religious affiliation, Martin Luther. It is attributed to him as his closing statement at the end of his apology (think the Greek root word “apologia”; his defense speech) speech at the Diet of Worms in Germany, 1521. This is a fitting opening for this post, given how I spent this past Friday and Saturday.

Some information on EAPPI

The Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is quite accurately summarized by the title of their organization. It is a group of clearly-marked Christian internationals, and they seek to accomplish the following (the mission statement of purpose is an excellent explanation):

>>The mission of the EAPPI is to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions and to carry out concerted advocacy efforts to end the occupation. Participants in the programme monitor and report violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, support acts of non-violent resistance alongside local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and Israeli peace activists, offer protection through non-violent presence, engage in public policy advocacy and, in general, stand in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation. <<

Today, the EAPPI is involved in a variety of areas in Israel and Palestine. They are not the Christian Peacemakers Teams, meaning they will never ever directly interfere or even get particularly close to settlers who have come into the areas the EAPPI is there to watch. They have a chain of reporting to do in the case of problems, which revolves around contacting the local mayor, then the local rabbis affiliated with the closest settlements (who, in some cases, I am glad to report, actually do attempt to stop the violent tendencies of the settlers), followed by the local IDF command (who arrive but almost never do anything to stop the violence perpetrated by settlers), and finally the EAPPI head offices. They live in and among the communities which need the protection, in teams of 3 or 4 for three months at a time, and report weekly to various international organizations. It is a wonderful thing, albeit frustrating for the EAPPI folks on the ground – they can tell the whole world what happens before them, but are personally unable to do anything to stop it – because if they interfere, the settlers will indeed leave (they cannot afford to hurt internationals), but will take it out on the innocent Arab people further.

Some Background Details on the Area Around Yanoun

Yanoun is a small village about 12 kilometers south of Nablus, one of the major Palestinian cities of the north. Located within sight of the border with Jordan, and overlooking the Jordan River Valley, this village of around 150 people is nestled in a small valley with beautiful mountains and hills all around it. Unfortunately, there is an illegal Jewish settlement called Itamar located on the edges of the hills around Yanoun. The settlers have a particular point of view:

>>Interestingly enough, not many Jews have come to resettle this Land. It is still a hidden place to most. In all Gav Hahar there are no more than 500 families. They are spread upon these ancient mountains, Harey Kedem, sparsely.<<

The above quote, drawn from the website of the Itamar Settlement which is slowly encircling and choking off the Palestinian lands with verbal and physical threats, is telling. One reads what they have to say as though 1) there are no other people there (false); and 2) Jewish people need to settle the entirety of “Eretz Israel,” the entirety of the current State of Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza (a fundamentalist opinion at odds with the UN, the USA, the EU, and a whole slew of other groups in the world). Unfortunately, as happens in some/many (as a matter of opinion) places in Areas B and C, settlers have this preconception that the West Bank really belongs to the Jewish State of Israel and no one else, and hence they will work towards this end by using violence. I wish I could say this was guesswork, but below is a map of the Yanoun village, and the numbered sections are where acts of violence from the settlers towards the peaceful villagers have occurred.

Map with attack locations

(See the full-sized map in its original form here. There is no copyright information given anywhere on the site, and as I have also seen the original map hanging on the wall of the mayor’s home, I figured I could use this photo as long as I clearly gave credit where it was due.)

Map location 1
Map location 2
Map location 3
Map location 4
Map location 5
Map location 6
Map location 7
Map location 8

My Personal Experiences in the Area

My experiences this weekend involved fulfilling the directives of the organization from the above statement of purpose. Leaving Jerusalem in the early afternoon, I experienced something very odd with the Arabic bus system of Jerusalem – I was refused entry onto the Arabic bus 1 in front of Hadassah hospital. Not really sure of why, but already running late, I ended up taking a cab down to the Damascus Gate to do two vital things. First and foremost, I purchased a kebab pita for breakfast/lunch, and was intensely pleased at having done so. I eventually got on the bus to Ramallah, and was let off near the taxi parking garage in the center of town there. I got into a shared taxi van, and off we went towards the Huwarra checkpoint in the north, where I was told to meet a specific cab driver.

At Huwarra, I indeed met up with Razan, a friend of the EAPPI teams in Yanoun and who always drives their visitors and is able to introduce them to the team’s work due to his excellent English. Early on in my trip, I experienced the reality of Area C full military occupation. The road we were going to take into Yanoun had been blocked by the IDF with large rocks in less than 40 minutes after Razan had last been there, and when I suggested that we get out and move the rocks, he told me that we could not, because if the soldiers were still around, it could be very dangerous. We later saw additional evidence of the IDF’s handiwork – they have slowly but surely closed off all routes to Yanoun and Aqraba over the years. Not just with a gate, though – they bulldoze a ditch into the ground, and then use the dirt to build a mound on the other side of the new hole. The small hill of dirt is usually covered in cement and brought to a steep incline, so that the road is unusable completely.

Arriving in Yanoun, I was dropped off right in front of the International House, where the EAPPI teams live and report from. As per usual, the settlement had erected armed watchtowers and water towers on the tops of the mountains looking down in the valley (in Arabic, Wadi Yanoun, or the Yanoun Valley). I was introduced to the 3 team members I would be working with: Lena, a retired lawyer from Sweden; Elaine, an adult education focused on employees of international organizations; and Johanna, a retired historian and professor from England. Among other things, our weekend conversation included religion: as I found out, Lena is a very spiritual Christian woman who is mostly attracted to singing and in that she finds God; Elaine is sort of Deist/agnostic, who believes in God but doesn’t have the details at present, thank you very much; and Johanna is a Quaker.

After telling me a bit about the place, and giving me a chance to sort of explain a little bit about who I am, we departed for the house next door – the home of the mayor of Yanoun, Rashid. We went inside and sat down on the cushions in his living room, and heard a little bit about his life story. He also told us about the difficulties faced by the villagers – a farming community, the settlers have slowly but surely taken more and more land. They will come down from the hills with weapons drawn, and tell Palestinians that “this rock” or “this tree” is now the new border past which Arabs cannot go. In this way, there is no longer enough grazing land for the animals of the Yanouni farmers. They are forced to spend some of what little money they have in order to buy feed for the animals from Nablus, which was heartbreaking to hear about. His seemingly identical daughters were not told to do so, but they brought us freshly-made coffee, and were very polite. In between discussing the situation in Yanoun, I managed to get into a running argument with Lena (a Swedish lawyer, you’ll recall) about copyright law and why (in my opinion) it is morally unjustifiable for speeches and other publicly-vital knowledge… heck, lets say all knowledge to not be freely available to all people. Quite the odd place to argue such things, but I think I made progress in convincing her of my side of the debate 🙂

After an extended stay at Rashid’s, we departed on foot for the long hike over to Lower Yanoun. We met with the extended family of a man named Josef, who had to leave on his tractor to get some work done just as we arrived. Josef lives in a small walled-in compound of several houses, each owned by a brother of his. Josef’s father Khader is the oldest man in the community, said to be 130 by the locals, but probably closer to 100 years of age. We met all of the children, and sat and spoke with some of them and Josef’s brother Abu Mohammed. The conversation was focused partially on how safe conditions seemed to be recently (no problems for over two months with the settlers there), and then other small talk. Eventually, the older kids of the combined families got their English class books and were very proud to recite lessons and sentences to us (they were pretty good, as it were). Our visit to the homes there ended with the older kids gathering around to sing a Palestinian national song, about hoping to one day return to their land. Given that their land was around them and being stolen by armed settlers, it was a fitting choice it seems. I recorded them:

On the second day, I learned more about EAPPI and the people I was working with, and things got exciting early in the day. There was a settler or two or three (it was high up on the hill and thus difficult to see) regarding some Yanouni people shepherding their flocks. “Regarding” through the scopes of their rifles. As is their purview, the EAPPI members and I quickly went out to be near the villagers and ready to call the list of organizations prescribed, as well as to help the villagers. Not a pleasant feeling to have people on the top of a hill with guns pointed at you, to say the least. Thankfully, our presence or perhaps some other factor persuaded them to leave and the 2 month streak of peace at Yanoun continued.

We then walked back towards Upper Yanoun, and visited the home of Um Hani, to go see how they were doing as well as to purchase some freshly dried almonds. The matron of the household is not fluent in English but was a lovely hostess – serving us almonds and Arabic-style (read: overly sweet) tea. Her daughter-in-law, Fayide, was our hostess for most of our stay, and her very young son was absolutely adorable. He had all of us laughing the entire time we were there, mostly because he couldn’t decide if he liked the presence of us visitors, or didn’t like us. We returned to the International House, and Lena persuaded me to try some sheep’s milk… which was a MASSIVE mistake. I am told that the look on my face was priceless… and while it is nice to know that I brought smiles to the faces of the EAPPI people, I strongly caution people against trying it in the West Bank, to put it very politely.

All of that said, my weekend at Yanoun was a positive experience – it was difficult to see what the inhabitants there are still forced to live through, but the world is slowly starting to realize that the settlers need to be stopped and now. The next visitors to Yanoun after I left? German political advisers, gathering additional evidence to back their recent public call to stop Israeli settlements.

I hope you enjoy the photographs I took: although the reality of the situation in Yanoun is difficult to accept, the area was breathtakingly beautiful.

The alternate title for this post was going to be “Areas, Areas Everywhere.”

Why, you might ask? Because although my previous posts have speculated about the difficulties of living in the West Bank and traveling for the Palestinian people (and me, and other internationals), I have never actually laid out the official rules regarding the governance of the West Bank (because I figured since I know them, everyone does… which is not a fair thing to assume).

Under the Oslo Accords (which, the more I see them implemented on the ground, the more I think it was a mistake for both sides in many ways), the West Bank was split into three areas of political governance. Area A is land directly under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Area B is in some cases under Palestinian control, but usually has anywhere from partial to nearly-complete ruling based on the Israeli military. Area C is fully under the military occupation of the IDF, which runs a military judicial system in lieu of a civil one, and thus lets all sorts of settlers do whatever they please in the area.

The checkpoints one hears about in the news are well-fortified areas on main roads where the IDF mans cement fortified guard booths, with their M16s pointed at oncoming traffic while one of their compatriots stands aside and motions cars ahead one by one, to check papers, and sometimes trunks, and sometimes full body searches. Not so pleasant to go through, to say the very least.

For more details, I encourage you to go check out this report by the Israeli peace group Peace Now (so therefore more solid facts and less editorializing that a more biased group might put into this sort of report).

The reality of the West Bank (not even thinking of Gaza, which is fenced and walled in and surrounded by quite a few guns) – it is well and truly a military occupation for all of Area C, and a fair portion of both Area A and Area B. Israelis and supporters of Israel will be inclined to refute the preceding sentence, perhaps making claims that “it is necessary for security” or something similar. While they are welcome to their opinions, I would suggest two things. First of all, I have gone through the Calendia checkpoint into Jerusalem multiple times, and once near a group of Jewish American people. They were outraged that they had to wait in such a large press of people to get through, and couldn’t fathom why they wasn’t a quicker line for American people, since “we didn’t do anything wrong so why do we have to wait?” American impatience aside, perhaps they need to more carefully listen to what they themselves said; well golly gee, could it possibly be that maybe the majority of Palestinian are just as innocent and therefore are also highly inconvenienced and psychologically-hurt from constantly being treated like a probable criminal? Perhaps they too would like to have a “fast line” for the innocent – and I can guarantee you, the majority of them would pass through that line and be just as innocent when they came out as when they entered the queue.

Secondly, for those advocates of “security” via the checkpoint/military occupation method, I would challenge them to go through one of those checkpoints, just once. No need to go far out into the West Bank – just go out of Calendia and then join the line to come back in. Be prepared – it takes a very long time, sometimes several hours. Be prepared to enter what is essentially a prison (or far worse, depending on what one makes of what they see). You will come up to a warehouse, and then enter a queue to go through extremely narrow metal fences. Like, my shoulders are broad enough where I am almost forced to walk through at an angle. The huge metal bars of the fence are accompanied by metal fencing across the top of the vertical walls, thus caging a person in (think like a prison, or far, far worse). At the end of this narrow Alcatraz-style corridor is a turnstile with ratchets (to only allow people to go in), and with an electronic locking mechanism to only allow a certain number of people through at a time. I shudder when I think about the number of lives that would be lost in the event of a fire in that hellhole.

Passing through the first turnstile, the mood was set by a girl in the IDF screaming in the microphone (from within her tank-armored little building) at a pair of Palestinian mothers with twins trying to get her attention to let them through the handicapped with their stroller. The girl in the IDF was rudely calling for someone who spoke both Hebrew and Arabic to show themselves and assist the IDF with its business… because 1) why would they assign Arabic-speakers to a checkpoint used almost completely by Arabic people; and 2) why would politeness be a good idea when attempting to solicit help from the people around her? Anyways, with the cacophony of her shrill interrogative speech in the background, I cued up underneath a bank of 5 CCTV cameras, always watching everyone in the place. If the high metal fences, barbed wire, steel armor-plated command rooms, and low-sound quality police-style loudspeakers didn’t already make the character of the place clear, the fact that we were constantly being watched only added to the “fun” of the experience.

There was a man several people ahead of me who got through with two other Arab guys, as they only let 3 people through Security Turnstile #2 at a time. This poor man was late for some sort of important meeting, I gleaned from the people in the crowd around me. He had papers with him, and yet after politely explaining himself, and then more hurriedly pleading, then outright yelling, then begging to be let through, the soldiers would not let him pass. As a matter of fact, they told him that he would have to pass through the Huwarra checkpoint before getting into Jerusalem again. Well, “they” isn’t quite right – an IDF grunt came out of his armored room with full battle gear and weapon at the ready to “explain.” The individual who called himself a soldier added insult to injury – while telling the man what he needed to do, he refused to make eye contact with him even once. I cannot explain why – perhaps he is very racist and doesn’t like Arabs (which I have seen in soldiers here), but more likely he was uncomfortable that he was the one chosen to tell this poor man he had to go all the way to Huwarra. Huwarra, where the Arab guy just came from. Huwarra, which is an hour and 15 minutes drive to the north. The dejected man left and started to the north… again, because he had no choice when the “legitimized” force of the military compelled him to do so.

This would all be accompanied by photographs, but the IDF doesn’t take kindly to people recording the truth.

I suppose that there is only one way to end this post – I truly have to pose the following question, as many people seem to have never thought of it. At the end of the day, it is truly worth treating human beings like hardened criminals and animals, and forcing them to wait for long periods of time for a sort of Russian Roulette to get see if they’ll get through the gate this time? Besides the fact that this only causes hurt and doesn’t create too much in the way of “security,” consider the further implications. Do supporters of the military occupation as a method of achieving “security” REALLY believe that treating the innocent, both young and old, like prisoners is really going to incline them to want to like Israel, or coexist with Israel, or even acknowledge Israel as a country; as an equal?

Watchtower and High Fences

This past Tuesday afternoon represented the culmination of a lot of work on my part, and additional motivation to go the last few miles and finish my Hell paper strong. Yesterday was the Honor’s Program Research Symposium, where the 5 students in the program were supposed to present the research they had done for their papers.

I opened the event with my presentation; I encourage you to watch the video of my speaking below, as it is a minor miracle. The week leading up to yesterday, I didn’t get to sleep earlier than 4 AM on any of those nights due to multiple assignments and my application to lead a trip to Vietnam this coming winter (hence the existence of an Exploratorius Vietnam, to be filled come January). As a matter of fact, I was up until 6:45 AM the morning of the presentation, finishing up bits of it and getting things done, so the fact that I gave the presentation without going into a coma was surprising, to say the least.

Other than my presentation “From GeHinnom to Hell: An Etymological and Conceptual History,” there were four other presentations given. After my talk was Micah, who hadn’t written a paper but instead presented preliminary research for his intended undergraduate thesis; a look into race relations and the Spanish Inquisition. After him, we got to hear Angela’s presentation on mainline Protestant churches (i.e. ELCA, PCUSA, and the Episcopalians) and their theology regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fourth presenter was Keenan, who had a fascinating talk on the constantly-evolving state of religious law (his two examples were excellent: 1) the thousand-year absence of the special blue die for tzitzit; and 2) an inquiry into just how and why the Pope of the Catholic Church has managed to attain Papal Infallibility, and the implications therein. Soly, who hadn’t originally planned on presenting, decided to go to the front and do a short impromptu presentation on the general methods of governance in Islamic states and why, which although short, was quite interesting.

Here is the PDF of my paper, for those people interested in reading it. The photo gallery will eventually be expanded to include a photograph of the cover of the publication my paper ends up in, as has been explained to me by Dr. Knafo of the Honor’s program.

(you need to right-click the link, and then choose “Save link as” in order to get the PDF to download properly)

From GeHinnom to Hell

Creative Commons License
From Gehinnom to Hell: An Etymological and Conceptual History by Michael A. Repas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

(embedded youtube videos from Keenan will be here in the near future)

Here are a few photographs taken by Yoni Kaplan, head of the Rothberg School (drawn from here, so go check out the rest):

Preemptively, please take note of the intended specific use of “attempted” in the title, and know that my respect for the IDF, Israeli police, and “security” guards just dropped another 5 or maybe 6 notches.

After a grueling week of working on papers, the Vietnam trip application, and a million things in between, I had a bright spot scheduled into my week. As Pope Benedict’s visit to Israel was only the third time in history that a Pope would visit this land, I desperately wanted to see and ideally hear him speak. I was in luck; my neighbor in Reznik is an Israeli-Arab Christian (that is one heck of a mix, right?), named George. He is a native of Nazareth, where the Pope was to speak on Thursday of his time here, and George’s family was nice enough to secure a ticket for me as well (we had been planning on this trip for over a month). As a matter of fact, my Class B1 (don’t know what that refers to) ticket is number 11901. I was all set and ready to go, and George assured me that leaving very early the morning of the event would leave me plenty of time. A mistake, as it turned out.

From the moment I walked out of my dorm at 7:05 AM, I was already accosted by IDF units lining the streets on Mount Scopus. As a short background, the only helipad in Jerusalem is adjacent to the Kfar haStudentim, the Student Village; given that the Pope was staying on the Mount of Olives, his route took him across the campus every day twice, which meant they absolutely closed down the place like a military prison. Therefore, instead of being able to simply walk down the hill to a bus (no traffic on the hill meant NO traffic), I had to waste 30 minutes explaining in Hebrew that yes, I had a ticket to go see the Pope, and yes, I realize that he was going to be driving this way soon, and yes I realize that the buses aren’t running on the hill, and yes I know I have to walk to a bus… as was my original intention. A lovely start to the day. It got worse; I was told to get on the wrong bus for the Israeli Central Bus Station, and thus eventually asked, found out I was misinformed, and jumped off the bus and took a cab over to the right place. I ran upstairs to the upper level and found… that the last bus towards Nazareth had recently departed, and although it was 8:12 AM, I had to wait until 9:30 AM for the next bus. Lovely.

One of the few high points of the day was the fact that the Jerusalem-Afula (the nearest drop point to Nazareth) was running on time, and quickly to boot. We got there a bit faster than the given transit time, and then I ran over and caught the connecting bus to Nazareth. As we approached, I saw massive impromptu parking lots on farmer’s fields, and police restricting traffic very much so, only allowing vehicles to approach Nazareth South. Fair enough, as the Mount of the Precipice (where the crowds gathered to hear the Pope) is on the northern part of the city. The driver let me off, and I could already see the massive 70,000 person crowd about 2 kilometers away. What was insane is that I could also hear them singing hymns from that distance… I have trouble imagining the noise to be within that crowd. I asked a policeman (in Hebrew mind you) how to get to the Pope, and he disinterestedly told me that he wasn’t from there, and didn’t know. Lovely. I started wandering towards the general direction of the hill, and picked one side of the street to wander down. That ended up being a mistake.

I arrive at the bottom of the hill, having noticed along the way that the street was gradually becoming more fortified, with police officers lining temporary metal barricades and preventing me or anyone else from crossing. I politely explain that I a Christian pilgrim, with both a Bible on me AND an authentic ticket to see the Pope, and they respond gruffly that I can “go through in a couple of moments.” Israelis and Arabs are less polite; they attempt to cross. They are made to back up and get behind the barricades by police threats of force, at which point the scum that had police uniforms on resumed asking how each other’s families were doing and other small talk. So it was a “dangerous” situation for Christian pilgrims, dehydrated tourists, and natives of the town to try and cross, but not so dangerous that those bastard police would need to be on the look-out for much of anything.

To make a long, deeply- and intensely-frustrating story short, I was trapped behind that barrier for 3 hours. I did not get to walk the last kilometer and see the Pope, even though I had a ticket and could see the area of the crowds and his stage from where I was trapped by the unnecessary, highly offensive use of oppressive police force. For 2 hours and 45 minutes, no one used the road. In the last 15 minutes, the Papal limousines drove by to pick up Benedict and his entourage. Apparently, seeing the Pope was not on the list of allowed actions by those so-called “police,” who seemed to derive pleasure from blindly but unwisely enforcing orders and thus creating visible distress amongst the dozens of people who just wanted to cross.

That tale of woe, finished, I also have to report that beyond the predominantly-Jewish police forces and soldiers preventing me from seeing the Pope all day long, George and I met up and walked around for a little while and had some “balancing out” by Muslim people around Nazareth. To be more clear: George was raised speaking Arabic, so he always knows what other Arabs are saying. I am clearly not Arabic, and he had a white-and-yellow Papal cap on, so we were clearly Christians in the eyes of the Muslims in the town. George explained to me that at the minimum, 80% of Muslim men and women we passed by called us either “pigs,” or “monkies,” or both in Arabic, due to our being Christian. This was just what I needed – after being treated like a criminal all day and thus losing the opportunity to see the Pope in the land of Israel for the third time in all of history, I really desired and required to be labeled a “pig and a monkey,” based on my religious beliefs. This wasn’t all; the Muslims who lived closest to the Greek Orthodox church said to house the original well from Mary and Joseph’s house decided to more clearly and openly signal their dislike for the Christian presence. They set up 2 subwoofers taller than I am, and blasted Latin American dance music pointing at the church, at an unthinkable level for even a party. The entire town square was rattling, and the message was clear: Christians aren’t welcome in the town of Jesus, according to the local Muslim population.

Days like that one make it harder and harder for me to fight what is right in this world. Having done nothing wrong, I was mistreated all day due to my lack of having a certain religion… I can only begin to fathom just how terrible life must be on average for George. To give more specific evidence, we met up after he got out of the Papal speeches and he had tears in his eyes: he explained to me that it was the most wonderful feeling in the entire world to feel like part of the majority and not a despised minority, if only for a few hours. I can almost tell you that hearing him say that and truly mean it almost made the rest of the day’s injustices easier bear, in a way. His family has invited me to stay at their house and tour the town when it ISN’T locked down tighter than the Guantanamo Prison… an offer I will take them up on, and hopefully blog about in the future.

Leaving Balata with a couple of the friends we had made, we got into a couple of taxis for the short distance ride over to the nearby city of Nablus (maybe 2 kilometers away?). We got out of the taxis in the main square of the city, and I was finally in one of the largest Palestinian cities, one that is firmly pro-independent Palestine. The square itself was a testament to this; the banners and crisscrossing lines with small flags depicting the colors and symbols of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the Palestinian National Liberation Front, and a couple other groups which have resorted to political violence. As per usual with Palestinian places, I was again immersed in a much more real type of “bustle” than any Israeli or American city could ever claim. People walking past and in between and around and through each other, all on their way to something but with a completely different sense of “personal space” and the lessened necessity of feeling the need to be on time. We met up with an acquaintance of the guys from Balata, a Brazilian man who works as a tour guide, or more accurately, head of public relations for Nablus. With him as our volunteer guide, we got quite the amazing tour of the Old City there that we couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

That guy knew EVERYONE.

Our first stop was an unexpected one; just like every other stop. We went into an olive oil soap factory, apparently a large part of the economy of Nablus (or at least it once was). We went inside a huge building where the the smell of olive oil was in the air, and got to walk in and amongst the boiling contraptions that prepared the oil for turning into soap. We walked up very narrow stairs that were slick with spilled olive oil, as all of the movement of things between levels of the building are done manually. The upstairs room of that soap factory is one of the coolest places ever… like the sort of place that is the dream of every child (and not a few adults), as half the floor is taken up by a giant cooling-to-a-solid retaining area for soap, and the other half is slippery enough that it puts most ice skating rinks to shame. Yes, even though I am now 21 (!), my shoes were worn down enough that I did me a little bit of “soap” skating, as it were. We slid on over to the next room over, which can only be described as the soap cooling towers room. They stack up the soap into chimney-like structures, and leave them there to age – as we were told, soap needs to be aged like fine wine, especially since they only offer fine soap 😀

We each bought some of the soap (which I have yet to use, now that I think about it), and departed for our next stop… a walking tour through parts of the Old City of Nablus. Amongst other things, we saw a famous old mosque whose name escapes me at the moment (but you can see it too in the photos); we also walked by an unbelievable number of small shrines and commemorative monuments to people, innocent or engaged in (sometimes armed) political opposition to the state of Israel, who have been killed. Although I don’t particularly appreciate the fact that many of those memorials have weapons and guns and calls to continue fighting as part of them, it was overwhelming to never walk more than 20 meters without seeing another plaque proclaiming that this person was killed at this spot by the IDF on this date. These were no fakes or mere propaganda, either – many of these sites, and plenty of stretches of walls in between were riddled with bullet holes. Hearing some of the accompanying stories to the destruction we witnessed was also horrifying. Attached is a photograph of a house undergoing reconstruction for the 11th time… and the 9th time it was destroyed, it was bulldozed by the IDF without any warning given to the occupants. The mother and 7 of the daughters of that family died, leaving a father with one son and his last surviving daughter to try and pick up the pieces. Perhaps it is “understandable” for outsiders and Israelis to subscribe to the “security” argument, but think for a moment – what good came of that IDF incursion? Innocent people were killed in a very graphic and public way; private property was treated with callous disregard and destroyed (again); the IDF didn’t get whichever alleged terrorist they were looking for; and maybe 1, maybe 5, maybe 20 more residents of the West Bank now had additional impetus to consider political violence as their only course of action. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard an Israeli/foreign supporter of Israel tell me that “this is what those terrorists do to us; how can we make peace with them?” in a tone of moral indignation and with the assumption of automatically holding the moral high ground. Now, forgive me for trying to apply systematics to my experiences and the way the world works, but is it so different for innocent people to get killed by a terrorist attack with a bomb (thus destroying a building) as compared with other innocent people getting killed by a bulldozer (thus destroying a building as well)? Did either of the sets of innocent people have any warning? Did either of the sets of innocent people do anything wrong? This is the point in time when far too many people I know would make an “it was in the name of security” argument, which I categorically reject. That sort of argument has the built-in assumption that somehow it is worse for innocent Israelis to die as compared with innocent Palestinians, which is racism at its ugliest (particularly since I routinely hear these sorts of sentiments from individuals who are in the liberal American system of higher education, supposedly).

That put out there for your consideration, we eventually stopped into another outstanding little anomaly… a former British Mandate prison converted into a candy factory. Nablus, it seems, is known as the “sweetest city in the West Bank,” as it apparently adds sugar to EVERYTHING. As my experiences that afternoon proved to be true. The candy factory was probably the best-smelling place I have ever been… imagine going into a place where very fine sugar powder and dust is in the air constantly, so the very air you breath in is a riot of various [delicious] flavors and sugary heaven, essentially. We also had some candied chickpeas, which were surprisingly delicious.

We stopped into a spice factory and retail shop, which holds a special place in my heart: to date, of all the places I have been in my life, this one wins the Most Eclectic Pile of Stuff award. As you can see in the photographs, they had everything from authentic Turkish fez and scimitars (check out the photo of me modeling them, Ralph Lauren-style) to World War II artillery shell casings-turned flower vases to everything in between. The spices also made the air in that place almost too strong; one breathed in a mix of the freshest coffee, cumin, saffron, cinnamon, and then HUGE barrels-worth of zatar… it smelled good, but when mixed together, it smelled… strong, lets put it.

We visited one of the original Turkish bathhouses in the city, and since it was a men’s day (they alternate genders on different days), only a few from our group were able to go in and see. I have never been to a place as humid as it was in that area… I actually couldn’t breath, it was so hot and steam-filled. It seems like I am not cut out for working shoveling coal into any trans-Atlantic ocean-liner’s boiler room. We were told that we HAVE to return and set up appointments to get the full body treatment, as we would feel like brand-new human beings afterwards (I have to wonder if that experience will renew my warranty).

The last major stop of the day was two-fold: first we stopped and got authentic, fresh kanafeh. Let me be a bit more emphatic… our buddy the tour guide brought us into a kanafeh shop’s kitchen and put us in the way of the poor guys just trying to cook the stuff, so we would know EXACTLY what we were about to eat and why we should expect to enjoy it. And my goodness gracious did we enjoy it… it is a base of fresh goat’s cheese on top of very thin pasta, and then all sweetened with fresh honey…. Even with that description and the photos of it, I still cannot successfully impart to you just how incredibly delicious that experience was. After eating that and walking around a little bit more, we eventually went for lunch in a hole-in-the-wall place owned by a buddy of our guide… but not just any buddy. This kindly old man was 1) a really good cook and 2) a retired HARDCORE Communist from back in the day, when he did prison time under the British and so forth. Good times, and good food… although I think some of the vegetables were unwashed, as I was very, very sick for several days after returning home.

We had some intensely sweet drinks at a cafe (like, fresh lemonade + 2 lbs of sugar and then some sort of fruit syrup + whipped cream ambrosia mmmmmmm), and then departed for the long, long trip back to Jerusalem. Check out the next post for the end of the story. (I am aware that this post and the last post have some pictures not flipped the right direction; I tried fixing it and nothing worked, so they remain as they are for now)

A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to travel with some good friends up north to the city of Nablus (I talk about that part of our visit in the next blog post) and the nearby UN refugee camp known as Balata, because of the village they still lease the land from. Operated by the UN since its creation in 1950, the camp today is incredibly large in terms of population, but extremely small physically: it is a one square kilometer piece of land with 26,000 people living on it. The official UN figure given is closer to 22,000, but they haven’t done a recent census according to the refugees who showed us around the camp. That is getting slightly ahead of myself, though; the trip to even get there is quite an endeavor in and of itself.

We departed in the early morning on Saturday, taking an Arabic bus from outside the Student Village towards the nearby Palestinian provisional capital of Ramallah (as a point of pronunciation, think “ruh-MULL-lah”). On the way, we had to pass through the massive walls around Jerusalem, and then walk through them on foot to go find a shared taxi towards the north. In the middle of Ramallah, the taxi drivers all congregate in a massive parking garage structure where there isn’t really enough room for all the vehicles present, but nevertheless they eke out a successful living based on squeezing people in between taxi vans to climb in for the ride. And what a ride it turned out to be – a whole bunch of firsts for me that day. It was the first time I got to see the very conservative fashion for Muslim women, where they wore not only a hijab (head-covering) and a long skirt, but also a veil and even gloves, to cover all skin except for their eyes. It was the first time I had driven through a large Palestinian town which was so clearly Muslim in character, so the character of the street was different than Bethlehem for example, where one could see nuns walking past Muslim girls with their hijabs. We got to see a great many settlements on our way north, since our status as foreigners afforded us the right to take the settler’s road which had much fewer roadblocks and was of much higher quality than the roads taken care of by the Palestinian Authority. The two other points of interest were things I was unable to get photographs of as we drove by so quickly. First, we drove past a small Palestinian neighborhood’s town square with a monument in the middle. It wasn’t just any monument, however; it was a stone tablet with the iconic image of Saddam Hussein firing a gun upon the front, and the Iraqi coat of arms going down the side. Not what I was expecting to see, but that is how life goes here. Speaking of which, the other point worth mentioning was that we passed by a Palestinian furniture store being raided by 10 or more IDF soldiers, but it seemed fairly calm – perhaps a “routine” check or some such? I will never know, but it was another reminder of where we were.

We had to get out of one van and into another at a certain checkpoint, and traveled the rest of the way to our final destination. We arrived in the outskirts of Nablus near the Jacob’s Well church, and walked towards the Balata camp entrance. One of my friends, Zehra, is a student who spent a summer volunteering with the people of the camp to try and alleviate the suffering of the 6,000 children there through enabling them to plan, set up, and then film short movies about whatever subject they can think of. As such, many people in the camp knew Zehra and we were treated as esteem guests. We went in and already saw the signs of problems – many of the buildings were very old already, and the first several signs of the UN looked rusty enough to be the original signs from 1950.

We got into the Cultural Center (read more about it in the next paragraph), and got a minor introduction to the state of affairs in the camp. Everyone who currently lives there is either still a refugee from the 1948 Israeli declaration of statehood, or has inherited the status from being born into the camp. Unfortunately, the presence of 26,000 people in such a small community which is only residential means that many of them are unemployed. We were told (and the following is merely reporting what we were told, not personal opinions on my behalf) that the IDF makes it their practice to invade the streets of the camp at night and either kill or make warrantless arrests of individuals from the camp. This was awful to hear, but it is also important to remember the other side of the story: Nablus and Balata have been hotbeds of active and violent resistance to the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank, spawning such groups as the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade (see the photographs – I got within 10 feet of their Martyr’s Shrine with their distinctive yellow flag flying above it, which is slightly concerning in retrospect). I cannot pass an easy moral judgment on the situation, and for good reason: this entire conflict is one huge exercise in “who can you actually blame for the original wrong committed?” Is it the fault of poor and frustrated Palestinian refugees raised in an environment free of hope and opportunities? Is it the fault of Israel for continuing the occupation? Is it the fault of the British Mandate for not doing a better job at ceding their control of this area? Is it the fault of Abraham for favoring Isaac (according to the to Jewish tradition) over Ishmael (who is the favored son in the Muslim tradition)? These are only partially rhetorical, as both sides have done all sorts of things wrong. Perhaps the situation would benefit from 1) both sides being able to admit that they have done wrong and thus contributed to the situation and 2) after apologizing to the other side, working with them towards a one-state solution (a two-state solution, I am sorry to report from personal experience, is an awful idea that cannot work-more on this opinion in a future post).

Amidst all of the difficulties, there exists at least one island of calm and healing. This organization is known as the Yafa Cultural Center (YCC), and their name refers to the Arabic city of Yafa/Jaffo, which since the 1950’s expanded and grew into Tel Aviv. They named it this because many of the residents of the camp are from the city of Jaffo, and they feel the need to educate the younger generations about their culture that they were forced to leave behind, and also provide creative and constructive outlets for the rage and sensation of being powerless shared by most of the children in the camp. In addition to being staffed entirely by people who were born and grew up in the camp, the staff plans daily activities of all sorts to keep the kids busy and focused on something other than the problems. As one of our guides explained, they will fight tooth and nail to ensure that this current generation of kids grows up understanding what “hope for the future” means, as the previous generation did not. Although much of what we encountered that day was terrible and saddening and hopeless, there was a humorous detail amidst the hope of this cultural center. Apparently, using a donated computer lab, many of the children of the camp all take turns playing daily rounds of Counterstrike. I am not kidding – they spend a lot of time playing rounds of a computer game famous for placing terrorists against counter-terrorists, and the kids do this to reduce internal senses of aggression and violence that can and do arise from their situation. Having spoken with some of the kids, I can tell you that they had intense positive gains from this virtual method of letting out anger; I am intrigued by the possibility of doing some sort of study there, although the reality is that I would be not entirely safe (given the consistent IDF-resistance clashes that take place there).

I don’t know how to impart all of what I saw and hear and experienced for most of that Saturday in Balata. I have attempted to impart some of what the experience is like, but I think the only way I can even come close to truly conveying the experience is to have a conversation with interested parties in person; face-to-face. That is an offer, by the way, to whomever is so interested on my return home.

The photographs I have chosen to include offer a good mix of the positive and negative aspects of life in the Balata Camp; I just want to try and show what life is like for those 26,000 people visually.

In the middle of our tour of Sderot with Jacob, he offered to take us up to the best observation point overlooking the Gaza Strip, to which we readily agreed. We drove over towards the Israeli side of the border, passing next to a kibbutz on our way.

Arriving at a gate, Jacob told us we had to get out of the car and walk up to the parking lot. It was a large gravel parking lot with several interesting features immediately around it. First of all, there was an iteration of the ubiquitous IDF watchtower on the edge of the lot, but with more fortifications around it than usual. It was part of a line of widely-spaced towers, giving us a clear idea of the Israeli side of the line, but not where the border line was exactly. There was a public IDF memorial to a Druze general who had fallen in battle. The middle of the parking lot was some sort of electronics/radio tower. Finally, on the edge of the parking lot was a civilian observation tower on the side of a small hill, with an artistic rendition of a map of the Gaza Strip in front of it.

We immediately walked towards the tower, and Jacob started giving some orientation and facts about the Strip. He pointed out the power station at Ashkelon, the location of Gaza City, the huge bare land in the middle of Gaza where the Israeli government bulldozed Jewish settlements and then forced the settlers to leave, and so forth. He pointed out something terrible to see – in the midst of 3-story buildings of the Strip as far as the eye could see, there were 7 or 8 huge, brand-new-looking skyscrapers. He explained to us that those are condominium-style apartments, built by Yasser Arafat with misused international aid money for use by his cronies. I don’t know if that is entirely true, but those buildings were too out of character to just accept them as they were.

We continued to listen to what he had to say, but three major facts really stood out to me. First of all, even from the distance of 1 kilometer, I could tell that major parts of the Strip were simply piles of rubble, left over from the recent Operation Cast Lead. As construction materials are illegal to bring into Gaza at present (see my previous blog post for the reasons given for this), people simply have not been able to rebuild much of anything. Second, Jacob expressed all sorts of excitement at going up to the lookout point as it was so obviously a clear and bright day. Once we got there, I was surprised that Gaza seemed so cloudy and foggy. It was explained to me that there is simply that much pollution coming off of Gaza, so as to make it look like it was cloudy only over that part of the land. That is deeply distressing, in and of itself.

Finally, the sort of “**GASP** Gaza” sentiments that we kind of had before getting there were at least partially dispelled by our time spent at the observation point. It was refreshing to see that although people inside the Strip do fire rockets, and Hamas does indeed mistreat its own people very much so, and all of the other known (and unknown, un-mourned) tragedies that occur; it is also just a piece of land with people on it, many of whom just want to live in peace and let their kids get an education and be successful. Just the same as most other places in the world, so it is intensely saddening for me that the peaceful people therein are punished alongside and because of the actions of those evil people located there. As Jacob’s explanations confirmed further, and my own personal experiences have highlighted, there is an aspect to this conflict that is not often-discussed by anyone. While the Israelis are unfortunately attacked and hurt and damaged by some Palestinian people who resort to violence, the majority of the Palestinian people are victims to both some Israelis (settlers, and sometimes members of the IDF, unfortunately), as well as every single Palestinian political force/government which has yet been formed. They have either been rife with corruption (Fatah), or they have been completely undemocratic and fairly extremist in their actions (the PLO, Hamas). I hope and pray for the day when the Palestinian people have a representative political group which has the best interests of individual Palestinians in mind in place of personal political concerns, or any of the other number of issues that currently exist.

Here are the photographs I ended up taking of the area (they are as clear as I could focus them, considering the large amount of pollution emanating from the Strip):

This past Wednesday, I organized a trip for myself and a few friends to go visit the Israeli town of Sderot. Located a mere kilometer from the border with Gaza, the town has unfortunately been shelled by rockets and mortar fire for 8 consecutive years at this point. I wanted to go experience it personally, and my friends wanted to go with me. As such, I contacted the Sderot Media Center, as I had heard of the tours they offer of the situation there to anyone and everyone who is interested. I spoke with a guy named Jacob, and he explained to me what to do (rent a car, and drive down there), and so the trip was set up…

…all except for unexpected difficulties in dealing with the Avis car rental people. Théo had reserved the car for 1 day for a price of 70 euros, which we all agreed was a fair deal. We got there, and the Israeli woman working the desk was absolutely unwilling to deal with us or even allow us to take the car we had reserved. After arguing with her, as well as the manager, we actually eventually ended up getting the car for 2 days instead of 1, and for a mere 56 euros. Not sure how that worked out, as the bulk of the arguing had to be done by Théo, as he is 25 and thus old enough (24 or older) to rent a car in Israel. We eventually got the keys and car itself, and thus were on our way. I am glad that Théo was both required and willing to drive, as drivers in both Israel and Palestine are incredibly unsafe in their habits.

We drove along the beautiful route and had the requisite conversations making fun of the various nationalities present in the car (all in good fun, as I am indeed a horse-riding cowboy who only eats hamburgers and drinks Coca Cola 🙂 ). We were surprised that we got there so fast (it was only about an hour’s drive), and so I called Jacob. After a bit of phone tag, we eventually figured out that he was in a car two behind us, so we followed him into the center of town and the Media Center.

Getting out of the car and introducing ourselves, we went inside and already got to see one Qassam rocket. We met some of the other people there, many of whom have lived in the United States/were previously citizens there (Jacob is from Silver Springs Maryland, as a matter of fact). We first went and visited the police station of Sderot, which is always on the tours offered by the Center. We went inside and out to their back yard, and got to look at the stacks of Qassam rocket bodies and other rocket remnants. Jacob explained that these were only a sampling of the rockets which have fallen, as the police take them away. Every rocket is marked with paint showing the time and date of when it fell, and there are other immediate details. First of all, the rockets are predominantly constructed from metal irrigation piping for the body, and then carved-up street signs for the fins. This is already worse than merely rockets being fired, as all the innocent people in Gaza are consistently regarded as complicit in the construction and launching of those rockets, and thus are also punished by the bans on irrigation materials, construction equipment/materials, and many types of foods (they cannot get spaghetti noodles, as apparently they can be melted down into some sort of fuel substitute). The rockets are filled with ball bearings and bolts and the like, in order to create more shrapnel. Nasty stuff.

We left the police station and went to the newly fortified playground in the middle of a residential area. This playground has two brand-new cement caterpillars, but they are different than anything else of similar appearance in the world. These two are 7-inch thick reinforced tubes of cement (one big difference) which are painted joyfully and colorfully on the outside, but have an additional feature on the inside. They have orange rings painted, so that the kids know how far back into the tube they need to get during alarms in order to avoid getting killed/wounded by shrapnel from the rockets. That is in and of itself disgusting, awful, terrible, and the reality for these children. Beyond the obvious, additional details from the tour later highlighted one of my fears as being true: the majority of the kids in Sderot grow up with the rockets and hearing about the Gazan source of those rockets, so they will probably be unable to easily consider any sort of peaceful resolution to the situation as a result. I am also sorry to report that beyond being obviously inclined to support the citizens of Sderot with what he had to say, Jacob voiced a fair number of fairly racist sentiments, such as correcting us, his guests, every time we said “Palestinians” – he insisted that we say “Arabs,” as he felt that all of them are the same (evil) people. Highly unfortunate, especially since we walked away from the playground and noticed a house getting a bomb shelter built as an addition. The laborers on top were Palestinian, and although I captured a shot of the entire situation without seeing them at first, they protested to other people taking any photos – Jacob told us to take photographs anyways, as (and I quote directly) “they have no power here.” I wish I could report otherwise.

We departed for a street which had been hit hard by the rockets, and Jacob continued his explanation of events in Sderot. We saw partially destroyed houses awaiting repairs, and we also saw fully demolished homes which have no chance of being repaired and simply need to be knocked down the rest of the way. He showed us a synagogue and told us a chilling story: a few years ago, there was a 450-person event in the synagogue at some point in the afternoon. The majority of the people departed for their homes, save for one family who stayed behind to help clean up from the festival. Her children were playing out in the street (thank God), and the father was in the back part of the synagogue doing some work. The mother of the family finished cleaning the front room, and locked the doors to it so she could finish closing down the synagogue for the day. Mere minutes later, a rocket fell directly into that same front room, utterly demolishing it. No one was killed or hurt, but this should illustrate just how precarious life can be in Sderot, with destruction happening at any moment and essentially without warning (15 seconds worth of alarm, when it goes off [only part of the time due to weather conditions]). We ended our time on that street by examining the damage that the smaller Qassams cause to the pavement, which is no longer cost-effective to repair.

We departed that street and visited two more places within the city of Sderot. First, we went to one of the schools and saw something I never imagined happened in real life. One can read in history books about buildings being fortified, but I saw something entirely different. The schools in and around Sderot all have a dome constructed over of them, of 2-meter thick steel armor. This is way beyond sandbags or the usual in terms of fortifying a building, but for good reason; a school was once randomly hit by a rocket on Shabbat, but if it would have hit during classes, many kids would have died or been severely wounded (based on how the damage occurred).

After our visit to the lookout point over the Gaza Strip (see the next post), we got to visit the outside of something which has been featured in some news sources as of recently. The Jewish National Fund (JNF) has funded and planned the construction of a massive fortified indoor playground for the kids of Sderot. Built within an abandoned warehouse in the industrial neighborhood of Sderot, the JNF has spent a bit over USD $5 million to partially rebuild it, then fortify it and fill it with playground equipment and a computer lab. We were unfortunately told to leave by a stern Israeli man who spoke no English, so we only got to see the outside (as you can see in the photographs).

In summary then, our trip to Sderot was a difficult but necessary experience. I am glad that I got to personally witness one of the many ways in which humanity can stoop so low and devalue human life, as it served as another major experientially-motivated reason as to why international religious aid work is my vocational calling in this life.

Beginning of the Trip
Early this past Sunday (for me, waking up at 4:50 AM, ugh…), my ‘Middle East: Coexistence and Rapproachement’ class had a field trip to the Golan Heights in the north of Israel. Our Professor, Dr. Meron Medzini, is quite the genius and therefore we knew we had a great day ahead of us. We gathered outside of the Student Village, and while everyone was clearly tired from getting up so early, Scott and I were still DESTROYED from our previous endeavors at the Tent of Nations the preceding two days. We all got onto the chartered bus, and started off for the north.

Taking Route 6, which hugs the coast of the Mediterranean and also next to the western edge of the West Bank, we drove onwards for quite a long time, and stopped once for breakfast and fuel. Eventually, we reached our first stop: an abandoned, bullet-ridden fortress built by the British Mandate police, and contested by the British, the Jews, and the Arabs at various times (check out the couple of pictures). From where we were, we could see one of the Jordanian watch towers marking the border, and we drove over the north-most crossing between the…

Israeli-Jordanian Border
We arrived at what is known as “the Island of Peace,” somewhat paradoxically at this point. Located right near the border, it used to be a constant area for Israeli school trips, at least until a group of children was fired upon by a deranged Jordanian border guard (see the photos for the full story there). We examined the extremely tight security of the border, with the multiple barbed wire-lined fences, electronic fence monitoring systems, smooth dirt walkways examined daily for footprints, large concrete walls, watchtowers, and castle-style emergency drawbridge doors. It seems as though they are slightly interested in keeping people on their respective sides of the border at points that aren’t official crossings.

We drove part of the way up the side of the mountains which make up the edge of the Heights, and stopped so we could examine the Jordan Rift Valley and the security measurements therein from a different angle. This is where the attached photographs of a Syrian bunker and abandoned Syrian customs house come from. We departed up the extraordinarily steep mountainside, thus arriving at…

The Golan Heights
The plateau or mesa that makes up the area known as the Golan Heights is actually some of the most arable, fertile land I have yet seen in Israel. There are fields of grain and wheat, and large vineyards, and everyone’s yard is green and has flowers and other plants in front of them, which is unlike a lot of other parts of Israel. The Heights are also home to another common sight: large, fenced-off areas that warn visitors that there are land mines in those areas – all of those presents are little gifts left by the retreating Syrians in 1967, and have not yet been dealt with by the Israeli government as of present. As additional garnish for the Heights, one can also find things like blown-out Syrian bunkers, ruined Syrian staging areas, exploded Syrian tank hulks, and the occasional Israeli war memorial (sometimes built on top one of the other areas, as it turns out). Beyond those lovely sites, there is an entirely different side to the Heights: the winery, enjoyable scenery facet that the local tourism industry tries to highlight like none other. One of the stops on our trip was to a Golan tourist depot of sorts, where they had a movie and then topographical map with a voice-over tour. The “movie” ended up being a multiple projector immersion experience, with windy parts of the movie turning on the fans mounted on the ceiling, and the waterfalls/rainfall portions of their exhibition of the Golan involved sprinklers on the ceiling opening momentarily to mist all over us, the unwilling audience. It was an extraordinarily optimistic video, which for all intents and purposes portrayed the Golan as the Garden of Eden, simply glossing over details like the acres and acres of land mine fields or the constant state of possible war with nearby Syria and Lebanon over the most fertile lands in the area. Afterwards, we went to the topographic room and checked out the light show plus voice-over… which was also very one-sided in its presentation. My favorite was either the spinning Israeli flag out of blue lights, or perhaps the David and Goliath portrayal of Israeli vs. Syrian tanks (each of these things being in the photograph section).

I am deeply pleased to report that we had lunch at COFFEE ANAN, which is a great story. Basically, it was an overpriced cafe on one of the hills on the Golan Heights, and operated by a nearby kibbutz. They made the odd choice of having a partially-English, partially-Hebrew name, hence “Coffee Anan,” which translates to “Coffee in the Clouds.” In its bilingual state, though, it seems to be the ideal dining location for nerdy International Relations students like us, as nothing spells “Good Lunch” like eating at Kofi Anan’s cafe. We checked out the views and surrounding areas, and then departed to get nice and close to the…

Israeli-Syrian Border
We arrived at a memorial to the IDF tank crews lost in the area, known as the “Valley of Tears” due to the heavy loss of life during the 1973 October/Yom Kippur War. The memorial is displayed in the photo section, but it is important to note how tense the nearby border really was. On the Israeli side, where we were, we could see an IDF tank dug into a hillside and watching the Syrian side, as well as multiple fortifications dug out and prepared to be manned by any number of nearby reservists. Similarly, there is a UN base of 1200 soldiers in the middle of the two nations, as well as a massive anti-tank ditch to prevent any attempted blitzkrieg by either side.

Here is the only video I took, due to the fact that it was such a windy and overcast day for most of our wonderful trip to the Golan Heights. The area you will see is known as the Valley of Tears, as some of the most fierce fighting between the Israelis and Syrians took place here during the 1973 October/Yom Kippur War. The voice-over you hear is from an informational kiosk on the site of the Israeli Tank Crew Memorial we were visiting. The ruined tank in this footage is a Soviet-built T-56 Main Battle Tank, given to the Syrians and one of the hundreds which participated in the fighting.

Israeli-Lebanese Border
After the visit to the Israeli Tank Crew memorial on the Israeli-Syrian border, we departed for a long drive up to the northern tip of Israel, and the fortified kibbutz near the tip. Unlike the border with Syria or Jordan, the Lebanese border only seemed to be made up of series of parallel fences and then a huge stack of electronic watch-stations all over the place. Similarly, there wasn’t quite as much of a separation of citizens: there were multiple Lebanese villages all quite close to the Israeli kibbutz. As a matter of fact, we were informed that the #1 entry location for dope and other illegal narcotics into Israel is through a city that they share joint custody with the Lebanese government. Check out the photos, each of which have the appropriate caption to explain the situation in a very clear way.

Having shared the amazing series of experiences we had on Sunday, enjoy the photographs I took all day:

After getting back into Jerusalem from our weekend at the Tent of Nations (see the preceding post), Scott and I decided on some delicious Arabic-style chicken and rice. In the Palestinian shuk outside of Damascus Gate, there is a restaurant with amazingly cheap and tasty food.

We sat down and were in the midst of devouring our food when something happened nearby. That sounds really imprecise, but then reread the preceding while keeping in mind that I am in Jerusalem, the most sought-after piece of real estate for most of history, thus “happened” refers to a BIG problem arose. There were, as per usual, something like 7 Palestinian folks who illegally parked their cars in front of the restaurant, and were visiting people in the shuk (for example, one of them was the uncle of the guy who was our waiter in the cafe). This time, some Israeli police officers decided to ticket them as they were impeding pedestrian traffic and were in violation of the law.

What happened next was very quick, and quite frightening actually. The shorter of the two cops started antagonizing one of the car owners while starting to write the ticket, and the gentleman shoved the cop, really hard. Instantly, three Palestinian men held the cop back, and four Palestinians held the car owner back, preventing any sort of fight (that’s correct, Palestinian men actively protected the safety of an Israeli police officer who was hassling one of their countrymen – this is an impossibility if you believe the reports of the mainstream media, but when was the last time they presented anything accurately?). At the same moment, the taller cop bolted from the scene, with his shoved- and shorter- compatriot running soon thereafter. They wanted to avoid causing a fight, it seemed…

…at least for 3 minutes, which is about how long it took for a police van with 6 IDF soldiers to arrive and assemble near the cars and Palestinians. The cops came over and started to argue with the Palestinian drivers, who were with maybe 10 of their friends. Something then happened, which I can honestly tell you signals the first time I have felt genuine fear while I have been in Israel. That small group of Palestinians (lets put them at 20 originally) was INSTANTLY a a crowd of 60 or more Palestinian men, arrayed against 6 IDF soldiers and the original 2 police officers joined by 2 more cops who were nearby. I have seen this sort of thing happen in movies, where it is shot so that a crowd seems to come from nowhere, but my seat at the table was oriented towards the altercation, and I honestly don’t understand where those people came from. It was a quiet evening and the shuk was starting to close, and suddenly, Palestinian guys came from a place I don’t fully understand (the crowd literally materialized before my eyes, without any clear point of origin for individuals joining the crowd). They seemed to be peaceful, but showing their support for the drivers (getting a ticket is a bit stressful, so when 6 fully-armed Israeli soldiers have drawn weapons, I can imagine that support is desirable). I wasn’t afraid of the crowd for myself (many Palestinian people are very nice folks, just like many people in Israel and everywhere else), but for the Israelis and Palestinians involved. I would have photographs of this, but Scott correctly advised me against it – this sort of situation is one that is guaranteed to end with the police confiscating any cameras they saw, and I don’t have the money to purchase a new one.

Thank God that cooler heads prevailed, and the Palestinian drivers admitted that they were in the wrong and thus accepted the tickets (although from the looks of it, several of them got ticketed for failing to cooperate with the police as well). I just wanted to post this anecdote as a reminder to everyone that as great as Israel/Palestine can be, there is an undercurrent of resentment on both sides, which can easily find an outlet in the most seemingly mundane situations (people get ticketed every day, as it turns out).