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Reports from IFPB's 36th Delegation (May 21 - June 3,2011):

Delegation 36 Announcement
Report 1: The Journey Begins
Report 2: Willing Ourselves to See
Report 3: Continuing Struggle
Report 4: Like No Other Place

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports

Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.  As such, reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Trip reports to not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.


Tomorrow I embark on a trip like no other I have ever taken before!  I will be traveling to Israel/Palestine with a delegation for Interfaith Peace Builders (www.ifpb.org).  We will be touring parts of Israel and the occupied West Bank, meeting people of many different faiths and views, and seeing as much as possible and meeting as many people as possible in the short time of two weeks.  I'm anticipating this trip with excitement and nervousness!  Preparing for it mentally and emotionally has already been demanding and tiring, and now I can only imagine what the actual experience will be!

It's been a little bit difficult talking to people about this trip.  I don't always know how to explain why I'm going, and that has made it tricky to deal with people's varied responses.  One of the most interesting responses came a few days ago was from a doctor, whose reaction was, "It's like they are in one big family feud over there.  It just keeps going on and on and they don't even remember why it started."  I feel this is probably a pretty common view, at least in the United States.  In fact, it might be a pretty middle of the road assessment of the conflict.  While doing my own research these past couple weeks I admit the words "family feud" have crossed my thoughts.  But part of what I've learned through my research so far is just how little I know. Middle East History was not required study in high school, and was usually glossed over due to the overwhelming amounts of European history one had to learn.  

The very vague memories I have of the Middle East even being mentioned mostly include the founding of Israel in 1948, and maybe some fuzzy memories about WWI!  But in between the beginning of time, WWI, WWII, and 2011 a whole lot of stuff has happened that I had never even heard about about (or had heard about but not had enough background knowledge to understand)!  Keeping all this new information straight in my head has been quite a task!  Nevermind the fact that history is largely subjective, so events can be interpreted completely differently when recounted from alternate perspectives.  I think that's part of the conflict here.  Two groups of people have two very different perspectives on history, and unfortunately it has all led them here, into this "family feud."  Personally I'm not really so concerned with the politics of it all.  I can memorize the dates, learn the details of who punched who first, who has wronged who and how many times, but I'm much more interested in questions.  There are questions swimming around in my mind that I want to find my own answers to - things like...

Who are these people?
Are they like us?  Are they different from us?
How do they see themselves and the world around them?
Do their children laugh and play like ours do?
How does it affect a child to grow up with a wall and soldiers with guns always nearby?
What do their eyes look like?
How like a family feud is this conflict?
Is the conflict black and white or are there shades of grey?  If so, how grey are those grey shades?  What sort of grey?
How many people are dwelling in the black and white and how many are venturing into the grey?  Are there any?
Are there 'Romeo and Juliet' stories that happen there?  How do these stories end?

These are just some very basic questions I'm hoping to answer for myself.  I know I will only be dipping the tip of my toe into a vast ocean, but I hope to be observing and taking things in with as open a mind and heart as I can.  I will be using this blog to report some of what I see, hear, learn, and experience.  I am going to try to do so in as truthful and open a way as I can, and I hope that if you continue to read you keep the aforementioned questions in mind.  Perhaps I will be able to unfold some answers for us as the two weeks progress!

--Lisa Barksdale
Original post here:  http://thepurposeofthemoon.blogspot.com/

We arrived two nights ago at our hotel in East Jerusalem, walking into the courtyard to the sounds of prayers reverberating throughout the city.  It was surreal to be standing next to the Bab-al-Amud, a gate of the Old City, hearing the gentle chanting.  Three of us had arrived much later, taking a taxi from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, because Anna was held by Israeli security at the airport for a little over 4 hours.
We were lucky that Anna only found herself waiting four hours, since there are many stories of people held for up to twelve hours and some even being sent back and refused entry.  Some are activists working for an end to the occupation but many more are Palestinians or folks of Arab descent or eastern European descent.  Israeli society has incredible racism, which is played out in the airport by racial profiling. Anna met a young Palestinian-American who was being held for no apparent reason and was coming to visit a friend who is suffering of from cancer.  She was frantic to get on her way so she would be able to make visiting hours at the hospital.  Anna relayed that the Palestinian-American woman was frustrated with Israeli security, she was good humored with those in the waiting room, offering cheese and fruit and telling everyone, “This happens every time, all the questioning.  They want to make coming here so unpleasant that I will stop coming back, but I never will let them discourage me from coming to my homeland.”
Anna was finally pulled into the questioning room and asked about various solidarity activities, most of which were vague and none too focused on Anna’s specific work.  Her phones were confiscated briefly and then she was finally released after all of her items were returned.
We then sought out a taxi to take us to East Jerusalem since the bus had gone ahead.  Most of the taxi drivers refused to take us into East Jerusalem (the Palestinian side of Jerusalem), so we went through five or six before we found one who said he would take us, although not understanding clearly where we wanted to go.  It quickly became clear though when we reached Jerusalem that he did not intend to take us where we wanted to go, repeatedly saying he was going to take us to Jaffa gate, (which is the entrance to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is about that is about 5 minutes by car from the gate we needed to go to).  At one point, he became insistent saying, “NO, NO, Arab.  NO.”  We did finally convince him, but his anxiety was palpable.  And it was only because Anna gently challenged him and refused to create a space that allowed his racism.
Later that evening, as I was sharing the story with one of the young women, a Palestinian-American, on our delegation, she said, “If it was a Palestinian saying, ‘NO, NO, Jewish’, they would be labeled as anti-Semitic”.  A good observation that she has already witnessed with less than 24 hours in the country, is that Israeli racism is totally acceptable and in fact, perpetuated with the separation that creates a culture of fear and distrust.

--Coleen Kelly
Original post here:  www.pscinpalestine.blogspot.com

There was so much to take in, that my head was spinning by the time the day was over. Although I have been to Jerusalem a number of times before, I saw with new eyes. We were almost always in Palestinian environments, a relatively new experience for me.

Our guide, Said R., is Palestinian and gave us a full history as we traipsed through the Old City. There were stories told of how, little by little, the Palestinians have been dis-enfranchised, marginalized and emasculated. Stories of how no one according to Jerusalem law can build without a permit since 1967 and permits are almost impossible to get for Palestinians. So, having no option, Palestinians build without a permit, which means that they build illegally. Thus, the Israeli authorities can come and bulldoze their home at any time with little to no warning. As we walked through the four quarters of the Old City, we saw Israeli settlers living in what were Palestinian homes, (Israeli flags draped over balconies) homes that were purchased illegally from the renters of those homes. The owners of these homes, time and again would go to court to explain that the purchase was made illegally and ultimately, after a number of years may get a court order in their favour, but then have no means of implementing the court's decision and so the process is a useless and an untenable situation. There are presently seventy illegal Israeli settlements in the Old City.

I ache with sadness as I try to find a way to integrate this in some way so that I can make sense of it and I can't. Ironically, I had just finished spending 12 days with family in Haifa who have no knowledge or understanding of the situation as it really is. They have not seen and do not know what has been and continues to be done in the name of security. Bridging this ignorance, would, I believe, engage the heart in many. This is an important path to peace and reconciliation.

--Sara Traub

We traveled to the Old City today and I saw my first settlement.  Even after having seen countless settlements on videos and pictures, I was still not prepared for what I saw.

A little enclave surrounded by people whose land it really belongs to. Surrounded by concertina wire, a guard post and many security guards, and naturally flying the Israeli flag high and proud, as to make sure all know, this is Israeli territory.

I was surprised to see how many Israeli settlements there were in The Old City.  It didn’t matter that they weren’t the posh settlements (as I later saw in the day); as long as it could now be claimed as Israeli was all that seemed to matter. Even Ariel Sharon got in the act of buying a little piece to claim for himself and Israel, it didn’t matter that he never lived there, that was besides the point, it was now part of Israel.

Later we saw the Wall; just looking at it makes you really angry, it’s ugly and tall and made to separate people, and just keeps on going over hills and around people’s property.

I said to Anna I just wanted to run out, buy a can of spray paint and deface it, write something on it to show my support to tear this thing down. We saw some graffiti that said something about “Israel being an apartheid state” and another one that said: “The hands that build, can also tear down”. I hate it even more now. I’ll never forget it, it’s left a lasting impression.

Next were more settlements, these were the posh, opulent type with shopping malls and incredibly landscaped lawns with trees and even playgrounds for the children, but instead of the razor wire all around, they had fancy stone walls to separate and protect. Some of them even had beautiful far off views overlooking The Mount of Olives, but it didn’t matter, one could see surrounding them were the Palestinians.

--Robert Kuhlmann

We stood on the rim of the valley in East Jerusalem.  Just below us lay the first few buildings of Nof Zion, a new Israeli settlement, with modern buildings, children's playground, and wide road. Behind us stood the billboard advertising the development across the valley. We could just barely make out a house on the next hill. Our guide, Itamar Shapira, from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), held up a map to show us how this settlement's construction would combine with others in the works to hem in the Palestinian populace and cut the center of East Jerusalem off from one of the few remaining areas in which a Palestinian capital city could be built.

Shaking our heads, we got back on our bus.

--Linc Spaulding

Itamar, an Israeli man (probably in his mid-30’s of Jewish descent) gave us a tour of Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages in the Jerusalem area, including land that is outside of the green line and the official boundaries of Jerusalem. Jewish settlements have been built right outside of the official city of Jerusalem boundaries, and the Israeli government justified it by saying that they were simply expanding the municipality of Jerusalem. One of these settlements is East Talpiot, which is now a part of the city that many people consider to be just a neighborhood of Jerusalem, although it is technically outside of the green line and is on Palestinian land.  20,000 people live there (mostly Israeli). I remember visiting East Talpiot when I lived in Israel – I had no idea that this was essentially a settlement.

Itamar did an excellent job of explaining how the goal of maintaining a Jewish majority drives the government and private organizations (sometimes funded by US private groups) to encourage Jewish settlements and to discourage Palestinians from living on their own land. Jews are given subsidies to live in lovely homes in beautiful settlement neighborhoods (sometimes with large shopping malls etc) in order to ensure a  Jewish majority so that Israel can be a “Jewish state.”  All of the policies surrounding land are based on the goal of maintaining a Jewish majority – that is the key issue.

In the Jerusalem vicinity, plans are underway to build Jewish settlements on all of the undeveloped land outside of the green line to ensure this Jewish majority. The Wall was not built for security – it was built to establish borders for Israel. 10,000-40,000 Palestinians “illegally” cross the line everyday, so the wall isn’t doing a good job of keeping Palestinians out of Israel, and it’s questionable as to whether it’s responsible for the decrease in bombings in the last several years.

There are massive inequalities in the quality of life between Jews and Palestinians living in Jerusalem and the immediate vicinity. Palestinians communities are lacking basic infrastructure that is abundant in Jewish settlements. Palestinians pay 40% of their income in taxes to the government and only 8% of their tax money goes to infrastructure for their communities. Their living conditions are shockingly inferior to those of Israeli Jerusalemites because of the Israeli government’s lack of investment in infrastructure.  The Jerusalem Palestinians have little infrastructure to speak of – no sewage system. They use septic tanks instead, and sewage leaks into the ground water.  Moreover, they are lacking classrooms for 60,000 children. So, 60,000 children do not go to school. I found this fact to be particularly shocking. In addition, there are not enough homes in these communities to house the Palestinian inhabitants; however, Israeli bureaucracy makes it nearly impossible for them to get building permits. 

Some small settlements are built in Palestinian communities to try to make an Israeli presence. Some very small settlements are placed right in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. Other settlements (housing developments) are built in Palestinian communities. To ensure their security, the Israeli government pays private security forces to guard them. For the settlements in the Muslim quarter of the old City, money for the security is provided by U.S. foundations.  Funding for the establishment of some of these settlements in the Jerusalem area also comes from groups or wealthy individuals in the U.S.

If this is the cost of maintaining a Jewish majority, then it’s not worth it. One has to ask, is this arrangement really keeping Jews safe?

--Amy Damashek
Original Version here: http://www.amyspeacedelegation.blogspot.com/




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