We met a group of young Israeli students and recent graduates, who told us about their backgrounds and about the question of military service in Israel. Some of them refused to serve and were even jailed.
The next day, we were guided by Jaffa historian and community leader Sami Abu Shahadeh. We explored the story of a Palestinian city that was transformed in 1948 by the birth of Israel. In Jaffa’s old town we met Arab residents who can still remember the events of the mid-20th century.
We had a 2 ½ -hour drive into the Negev desert, where we meet our Bedouin hosts. We did volunteer work with our Bedouin hosts to restore traditional mud-brick buildings, which will be used as community centers – spaces for the women and children to meet, for health education, for computer lessons, for women’s groups, etc.
Furthering our cultural exploration, we visited a kibbutz in the Negev and talked with its residents. We were accompanied by Israeli teacher and activist Yeela Raanan. We got a better understanding of what is a kibbutz is, what it meant to the founders of the Israeli state, and why the desert was important to the first generation of Israelis.
The next day, our cultural exploration took us to an Israeli community called Har Amasa, which is a way station along Abraham’s Path in the Negev. We met David and Tal Benshabat and talked with them about their environmental work and their advocacy for justice and peace.
JERUSALEM – ONE CITY, THREE FAITHS
Starting at the Dome of the Rock, we explored the main sacred sites of Jerusalem, and some of the Old City’s secret unknown places. We also visited the Yad Vashem Museum. For Jews, the creation of Israel was about redemption and return. For Palestinians, it marked the beginning of al Nakba – the catastrophe. We visited the Palestinian village of Lifta. Our guide told us about his experiences as a child in 1948, when he and his family were forced to flee their village.
We were taken to TAYBEH, where we visited the Byzantine ruins of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. We had lunch with a local Christian Palestinian family. We spent the night in the rural village of KUFR MALEK where we had conversations with our Palestinian host families, and learned more about their daily lives and challenges.
On the 19th of June, we hiked to WADI JAHIR, one of the most remote and beautiful valleys in the West Bank. We had lunch and rested at the AUJA Eco-Center.
We swam in the DEAD SEA, and later visited JERICHO – the oldest city in the world.
On the 21st of June, we visited the TENT OF NATIONS, near Bethlehem, where we did volunteer work on a farm.
Back in Bethlehem, we explored the Separation Wall with its famous graffiti, and talked with refugees from the Dheisha Camp.
The next day, we visited Battir, as part of our cultural exploration. Battir is a Palestinian village that was caught in the fighting of 1948 and ended up right on the Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank. We walked the valley and explored the story of this village with a local guide.
On the 23rd, we drove south to Hebron, the city at the heart of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. We explored the old town, saw the Ibrahimi Mosque / Tomb of the Patriarchs, and through a local NGO, we learned about the partition of the town.