As some of you know, Jessie Light (one of our summer interns in 2013, and who is working with us throughout this academic year) is currently in Israel working with Presbyterians Peace Fellowship. She sent an update via email and we wanted to share that with you. Jessie also wrote a blog entry (which she mentions in this letter) on the blog, Dispatches from the Holy Land. You can read her entry here. Without further ado, here’s Jess…
Hello from East Jerusalem! I hope that this email finds you well.
It’s only been 48 hours since our delegation landed at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, and I can already feel my life changing. Before I update you, I want to say that I hope that you will take the time to read my thoughts in the upcoming week and a half, but I also want to challenge all of you to begin your own educational experience by reading and learning about the current situation in Israel-Palestine. I’ll try my best to point you toward resources that will help you learn more, but feel free to reply with questions, clarifications, etc.
In two days, I’ve experienced more than I could ever begin to tell you. On the night of our arrival, a group of us went for a wander around the Old City of Jerusalem- a beautiful walled city with old stone walls and cobblestone streets. We made our way to the Wailing Wall, where I had the opportunity to pray and reflect on the weeks to come in our journey. Being in a place so ancient and so filled with history is a really profound experience that is hard to put into words.
This holy experience was directly contradicted the very next day, during our comprehensive tour of Jerusalem, which was led by a representative of the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions. We stopped many places along the tour to view ancient sites but also modern tragedies and catastrophes. For example, this tour included stops at illegal Jewish settlements (such as Ma’ale Adumim – Google it!), which are being built with the protection of the Israeli government on seized Palestinian land, and at the site of a demolished Palestinian home, where Caterpillar bulldozers crushed a family’s dwelling place. To get from place to place in Jerusalem, our bus drove on a “sterile road” (this is the actual name given by the Israeli government), meaning a highway that Palestinians do not have access to. A point of clarification for those of you who may not be up to date on the situation here: the West Bank (Palestine) is an occupied territory. Israel is in violation of international law by occupying (i.e. building on) parts of the West Bank that it does not have official jurisdiction to. Additionally, in the name of “security”, Israel has nearly completed construction on a 430+ mile wall that surrounds the West Bank, runs through and segments many Palestinian villages, and gives Israel full military control of territory that is not theirs. (For more information on the wall, see my blog post here). To be brief, the conditions I have been exposed to in Jerusalem constitute modern-day Apartheid, where Israel plays the role of the oppressor, and the Palestinians are being oppressed.
- Omar Bareghouti, the founder of the Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) nonviolent resistance movement
- The Coalition for Jerusalem, a group working to help Palestinians who have lost their Permanent Residency Status in Jerusalem
- Representatives from the Bereaved Families Forum – a grassroots organization that promotes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians
The most moving conversation I’ve been able to witness so far was between Rami El Hanan, an Israeli Jew, and Bassam Aramim, an Arab Muslim. These two men call each other “brother”, and were first brought together by the Bereaved Families Forum. in 1997, Rami lost his 14-year-old daughter to a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. In 2007, Israeli police shot and killed Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter. These two men have chosen forgiveness rather than hatred, and have joined together to publicly plead for peace and an end to the violence. Rami and Bassam, who are the best of friends, speak in over 1,000 high schools in Israel and Palestine every year; many of the students they speak to have never seen an Israeli and a Palestinian interact in a way that exudes anything but hatred or disgust. As Rami said, “our blood is exactly the same color, our pain is the same pain, and our tears are just as bitter”. More than anything else we’ve experienced in the last two days, this was humanizing, and a powerful message of hope.