Friday, May 28, 2010


We apologize to those who had been following our blog. We grew very busy, and though we had many experiences to share, it grew increasingly difficult for us to keep up with our writing. Since returning to the United States, we have been speaking to various audiences of diverse backgrounds. If you would be interested in speaking with us or having us speak to an audience, feel free to contact either of us at or leave a comment on this post detailing your request.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Walk On The Block

A walk to Bethlehem City from Aida Camp should take no more than twenty-five minutes. But now a walk to Bethlehem can take multiple hours. And unlike many may think, this is not a delay caused by checkpoints.

It's the inescapable block that lies where Beit Jala and Aida Refugee Camp meet. It's a row of shops to which we know just about everyone: the resturant workers, the supermarket employees, the fruit seller, the mechanics, and the teens hanging out on the street corner.

We walk by the street corner, where the usual's are sitting. Though we see them every day, we have yet to memorize their names. They yell out the only words they know: "Hello Josh and Michael! 50 Cent! Rap! Is good!" We smile, exchange greetings, and continue on our way.

Unlike American resturants, prices are always drastically changing at Matam Al-Hasan, (or Al-Hasan resturant), the shop nearest to the street corner. We're regulars there, and we freely walk around, often stepping in to the back kitchen and snatching some falafel. Neither Muhammad nor Abood speak much English, though Muhammad loves the word "delicious," and therefore repeats it approximately 50 times in one visit. Both are determined to learn, as they eagerly ask us the names of different vegetables in the shop.

While in the resturant, the fruitseller two shops down usually comes in to say hello. Abu Ali does not speak a word of English, and our form of communication revolves around hand shakes in which he tries to squeeze our hands as tight as possible until we yelp in pain. Around this time, George often steps in. George speaks perfect English, and he's quite a well-spoken man. He's a Christian, and continually emphasizes the fact that Muslims and Christians are brothers here. He's somewhat guru-like, always offerring wise and peaceful statements. He's an artist and quite an amazing woodworker.

Nextdoor to the restaurant is Abood's father's supermarket. Osama, who is quite the entrapenuer, owns the kindergarten in Aida Camp, the supermarket, the resturant nextdoor, and a farm in Beit Jala. We go to his home each night at 7:00 to help him and his wife improve their English. Quite frequently Osama will come and join the social-gathering that takes place in the restaurant next door. At some point, someone will crack an Arabic sexual joke, which becomes lost in translation when spoken in English, and ends up sounding rather perverted and strange.

After sitting and socializing in the restaurant, we continue on up the block, until we arrive outside the mechanic's shop. Here, although stuffed, we are called into the black grease-filled room, to partake in a meal of hummus and pita. Although we might try to explain that we have already eaten and can eat no more, we are commanded to sit down and eat. This kind of uber-hospitality is the norm here in Palestine-- at the end of the day, if a Palestinian wants to serve you food or drink, you will take it, regardless of your hunger or thirst.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Building Bridges through Dialogue

Written by Josh:

I felt so confused; the rapid switch from an Islamic-dominated community to the most zealous Jewish one. I stood there, wading in a sea of streimels (fur hats), long beards and black trench coats. And despite the fact that many would say these are "my people," others who hold and practice the same religion I was raised practicing, I felt like a foreigner.

Mea Shearim is well known for the religious vigor that is so present there. On the Jewish Sabbath, most of the streets are blocked off to restrict access to cars, and it is well known that if one attempts to drive through, their car will fall victim to angry shouts and perhaps even rocks pelted from angry Jewish youth.

We walk in the middle of the street, as do most individuals on Shabbat. Although we sport yarmulkas and button-down shirts, we fail to blend in with the ultra-Orthodox garb. We stick out like a sore thumb.

Naturally, some Yeshiva boys approach us, and commence a friendly conversation. We're from Baltimore, Maryland and they are from Brooklyn, New York. When asked "What do you think of Brooklyn?," one of the teenagers replies "Brooklyn is good and bad; it has a huge Jewish community, but it's also full of ni****s."

Woah. I'm taken aback. In the community I was raised in, the use of racist terminology is quite frowned upon. But all too often, in tightly knit and secluded communities such as this one, I find that racism and misunderstandings are the norm.

The bus back to Bethlehem gives me a lot of time for introspection. What is the cause and root that all this misunderstanding stems from?

Examine most of these isolated communities- be it in Israel or Palestine, in America or anywhere else in the world. People tend to isolate themselves with their own kind- Arabs with Arabs, Jews with Jews, whites with whites and blacks with blacks. There is hardly any interaction between different communities, and this I believe is one of the main reason for such misunderstandings.

Dialogue is so incredibly vital to create and maintain peaceful living between individuals who hold many differences. I'm glad to see that some people are now beginning to take the initiative to talk out differences with others.

We were recently contacted by a Palestinian Hebron-based organization named "Tashbeek" (Connection).
We enter a room filled with 25 Palestinian university age students. The course is free and fully voluntary, and to participate students are required to have adequate English skills. We discuss public speaking, and useful tips on speaking to Westerners. Knowing that we are Jewish, the organizers of Tashbeek stress that it is unacceptable to use the words "Jew" and "Israeli" interchangeably. This makes way for us to talk about our background.

Most of the students are surprised to find out that we are Jewish, as they have never had any interaction with Jews other than Israeli soldiers or Hebron's settlers. And yet, they are incredibly respectful towards us. We bring up the idea of a dialogue with American Jews, and we pass around a sheet for interested persons to write down their e-mails. Every single person sitting in the room writes down their information.
Within the next week or so, we hope to set up a dialogue between students in Hebron and students back home in America. And hopefully, we can do our share in building bridges, as opposed to erecting walls.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Battling in Bil'in

written by Michael:

Bil'in and several nearby villages have long made news headlines for their determination to hold strong to their land. Last friday, Josh and I witnessed their passion firsthand, as we watched unarmed Palestinians march towards military personnels firing stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets, teargas cannisters, and dressed in riot-gear.

Bil'in has held strong in condemning the separation barrier for nearly five years. The fence was first proposed to cut through the village's center, but after a long legal-battle, it was agreed that there was no clear reason for the fence's route to cut through the village. Instead, the fence was erected on the outskirts of the village, thereby cutting off 60% of Bil'in's farming land.

Every week, the villagers, joined by dozens of internationals, march towards the fence in hopes of [symbolically] dismantling it. And each week, they are met with the same response: rubber bullets, stun grenades, teargas, batons and sometimes even live ammunition. I read of the injuries nearly every week on Palestinian news. People have even been killed at these protests. Just a few months ago, American activist Triston Anderson was badly wounded and put in a coma after having been struck in the head by a teargas canister in a nearby village, Nil'in. In the first three months of protesting alone, over 130 people were seriously injured. More than a half kilometer away from the protest site in the village's center, the stench of teargas burned my nostrils even after the protest had concluded. Oftentimes, just after the protest, the military enters the village and fires stun grenades in hopes of scaring the locals indoors.

In a way, Bil'in seems symbolic to me of what should be happening all around Palestine. On one hand, Bil'in has suffered equally as much as most other Palestinian cities. Similar to Bethlehem, most of the population has been cut off from their farmland. Similar to Bethlehem, Israel conducts nightly raids and arrests local activists. And whereas those living in Bethlehem have simply lost hope and turned towards complaining as their sole form of resistance, those in Bil'in have taken up a steadfast battle against their oppressor. Unlike much of Palestine, where Hamas vs. Fatah debates halt any constructive progress, the people of Bil'in are united for a liberated Palestine and a better future.

It has taken me several days to actually post this blog. Fortunately, progress has been made in Bil'in since I initially wrote this, proof of the positive effect of their determination, unity, and non-violent resistance. After five years of protest, they have finally won their battle against the wall.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Colonization of Palestine

Written by Josh:

Daoud Nasser understands the dilemma of settlements all too well. Residing on a hill engulfed from every direction by Israeli settlements, he knows first hand how complex life can get. For twenty years, Nasser explained to us, the Israeli government has been trying every possible method to expel him from the land his family has thrived on since 1914 in order to expand the nearby settlement Newe Daniel. Initially, Israel commenced a lengthy legal battle against Nasser, claiming that his ownership of the land is not documented. One would think that living for nearly a hundred years on the specified land would be enough to sway this matter, but all too frequently Palestinians discover that this does not in fact hold up in court.

Luckily, Nasser's family is one of few that still owns the land deed, written up during the Ottoman rule. Since Israel could not legally remove his family, a series of restrictions have been placed on them, so as to "force them off." They are forbidden to have running water. They are forbidden to have electricity. They are forbidden to drive their car off of their property. They are forbidden to even build permanent structures, such as a home, and thus are forced to live in tents and caves.

His family has remained steadfast in lieu of these restrictions, but far too frequently Palestinians succumb to Israel's desires and resettle elsewhere.

One thing I have yet to understand is how and why Westerners continue to defend settlements. For one, they are ILLEGAL according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. I'm not as surprised by Israel's blatant disregard for International Law, as history proves that when Israel has an agenda, in this case, the expansion of the Jewish state, they are not the type of country to be deterred by something as menial as International Law.

Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank are the reason for the Israeli-only roads, the reason why this year Palestinians were restricted from building on 44% of their lands, the reason for the separation wall, and one of the main reasons for the ongoing occupation of Palestine. Settlements are also a huge stumbling block to the idea of a two-state solution; how could an independent Palestine exist when there are hundred's of thousands of settlers living there: settlers who follow Israeli law and refuse to recognize Palestine.

Fortunately, many Israeli's understand exactly how much of a problem these illegal "colonies" are. At a "Combatants for Peace" demonstration in Walaji, another area that Israel has been attempting to pave to expand nearby settlements, both Israelis and Palestinians were represented, old and young, meeting under the banner of peace. This was also our first encounter with the Israeli left. We met a lot of great and interesting people. Out of chance, we ran into a journalist from our home town of Baltimore, another Jewish individual who has long been studying and reporting ( on the conflict.

We also met an individual in his 80's, who after escaping from Nazi Germany as a child, came to settle in what was then Palestine, and who has been living in the country for most of his life. His shirt and hat, displaying both Israeli and Palestinian flags, clearly express his views on the conflict. We even met a young man who had been drafted into the Israeli military, yet when Israel launched the Gaza offensive. On moral grounds, he refused to serve, thus joining in with the "Shministim."

Seeing so many individuals from such different background gives me much more hope that a solution and end to the conflict can be achieved.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Teaching in Palestine

Written by Josh:

We're told to stand in the front of the room. Having just woken up fifteen minutes before, I yawn, attempting to release some of the fatigue that still clouds my mind. "Hello class!," I yell loudly and so enthusiastically that it sounds terribly sarcastic.

And despite my attempt at engaging the room of four and five year olds, the kindergartners stare blankly back at us; a few laugh.

This is by far the most treacherous and nerve-racking endeavor we've experienced here in Palestine yet. Our mission is to teach English to Palestinian kindergartners; children who don't understand a word of English and who are in the early stages of learning their own native language. It is indeed difficult.

"Ok..," I start. "Hello, My name is Josh!" "And my name is Michael!," Michael continues. Still we recieve confused stares. We attempt to circle the room, having each child introduce themselves. Still, the children have no clue what we are doing.

Oy. We were not expecting this to be so difficult. We hadn't thought of many ideas or activities for our first day of teaching, and I think that our lack of preparation really shows.

The teachers seated in the back of the room watch on in confusion: Could these volunteers really have come to their first class completely unprepared to teach this class of 25? One of the teachers approaches us, and suggests, "You can act out a puppet show, and I'll translate!"

Oh no... my heart begins to beat fast. Maybe this isn't the right job for us... The teachers bring forth some finger puppets, and we're forced to perform an improvisational puppet show for the children.

Now the kids are excited. They watch on with wide grins. We begin: "Hello! My name is Frank!," Michael says, donning a deep voice and holding up his finger-rabbit. "What's your name?," he asks me.

"My name is Sunshine!" I squeak in a voice that sounds a lot like Mickey Mouse, and shaking my giraffe. What next...? I quickly try to recall the short stories I learned in my youth, but I draw a blank. So I continue in the same annoying voice, "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor!" Michael goes, "I dream to go to the moon!" Here we go!-- an opportunity for engagement- "What do you all dream to be?"

A few children raise their hands, and tell the Arabic speaking teacher what they dream to be one day- a doctor, a teacher, a motorcycle rider. After these few responses, we are at a standstill, with no clue what to do, so we decide to wrap-up our lesson: ", I think that's all for today." We promise the teachers to come more prepared the following day with activities and songs.

I wrote this about two weeks ago, after our first class, and since then, our classes have been far better. We ourselves are learning as much if not more from the children than they take away from us.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hebron Round Two: The Old City

We decided to re-visit Hebron, having not had the opportunity to see much during our last visit. Our Japanese co-volunteer introduced us to a Palestinian woman who showed us around the religiously significant and old city Hebron. We're told that the Old City of Hebron was once a flourishing city full of markets and shops. But most of those shops are now empty with doors barred shut. The once flourishing market has now been confiscated by the settlers and the entrance blocked to Palestinians.

Jewish settlers began immigrating to the city in the early 1980s. At first, they were but a small band of Jews coming to worship in this Holy City. But overtime, as Hebron became a more desireable location for Jewish immigration, and as the Israeli Government made way for settlement expansion, the Jewish presence in Hebron became synonymous with Palestinian restrictions.

Israeli soldiers not much older than ourselves watch the every move of Palestinian residents. Watchtowers peer over the city, checkpoints lie at every corner, and bands of soldiers roam the streets. Living literally in the upper-level of Palestinian homes, settlers have turned the streets into trashdumps, as they toss their garbage on Palestinian residents living and walking below. Netting has been hung above Palestinian walkways to prevent concrete blocks dropped by settlers from hitting Palestinians below. Entire rows of shops have been shut down to accomodate the Yeshiva, military bases and settler compounds.

We were taken to the roof of a Palestinian home right next to the Yeshiva. A soldier peering from a parallel rooftop less than thirty feet away watched our every move. A room on the top floor remains charred and blackened; the result of a molotov cocktail thrown in by a Yeshiva student. On the roof, there are multiple water-storage devices filled with settler-fired bullet holes and emptied of their water. It's hard to believe that those filled with such zest of their religion could commit such heinous crimes against their neighbors.

We commonly hear that Palestinian hatred is a result of propaganda present in nearly every segment of their society. But in Hebron, it's clear that the real reason for this hatred is the actions perpetrated by settlers. The settlers have drawn a correlation between their actions and Judaism by spraypainting Jewish stars on Palestinian homes and businesses along with violent and racist Hebrew slogans: as if to 'mark their territory.'

It's often said in the West that Muslims must stand up against the extremism existant in certain sectors of their communities. Maybe it's time that the worldwide Jewry takes action against those who distort the name of their religion as well.

Note: The Jewish settlement movement within the West Bank started in 1968, when Moshe Levinger brought a group of Jews to a hotel in Hebron during Passover. They refused to leave, and they were moved to an army base. They began to build up the base, and it eventually became what is now Kiryat Arbah. (Thanks to Howard for the info!)