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2 weeks back…

  April 14th, 2009

We returned two weeks ago, and I’m still digesting everything I experienced in the Middle East. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to completely comprehend everything we saw and did while over there; but definitely some things will always be on my mind. Parts of this trip moved me much more than I could have ever expected; in fact, I’m not even sure I expected to be ‘moved’ at all.

How could I have ever known what it would be like to become instant friends with students who seem to be just the same as we are, but who just don’t have the same freedom we do. It’s not even that the Palestinians live in some kind of communist regime, or under some specific dictator –but how it would feel like a dictatorship when your ‘country’ is completely controlled inside and out by some other regime.

Going into this area, we knew we were entering an occupied territory, we knew we were going into a place where hardship is a part of everyday life for everyone, without any feeling of control over their life as a human being. Before going to the Middle East, I was very ignorant to the Arab-Israeli conflict’s details, and quite honestly, I think as many Americans and westerners do- I didn’t want to learn about it because I didn’t see how it could ever get resolved, and also it didn’t apply to me. At the risk of sounding completely selfish and as the stereotypical ignorant American, I feel like I have to admit to that very blind mind-set.

Without going too far into the topic of peace in the Middle East (or lack thereof), I just want to say how thankful I am to have experienced a part of Palestine that I don’t think many outsiders ever get to see. I love our friends in the West Bank, and I am very glad to now understand at least part of the story, which makes me care more about the future of that area. I will never forget our time in the West Bank. My heart goes out to our friends at Al-Quds University.


Being a budding geologist, I have had somewhat of an inner struggle as to what I feel about God, Christ and my feelings about religion over the past few years. Late in high school until about a year ago, I hadn’t really been going to church; I was raised in a protestant family with roots in Catholicism only a generation away — we always went to church when I was growing up.

About a year ago, I started going to church in Corvallis (another reason I hadn’t been going to church was because I’ve been going to the same church since I was born.) No matter what happened, through any hard times or doubts I had about God or Jesus, I still went to church, and still felt something inside me that made me want to continue, and knew that I could never quit and never give up on God.

I though that perhaps by going to “the Holy Land” I might have a re-ignition of the fire within that might help bring me closer to God again and give me the tiny push I felt I needed to continue to believe in Jesus Christ — to take my beliefs more seriously.

From the start, I have looked forward to walking where Jesus walked, and to see actual places actual people from the Bible went or did things. Most of the time, when I was in the area of a place where we knew some story from the Bible had taken place, I did get that feeling where I knew something inside, but couldn’t quite point out what it was in me I was feeling. So, on that respect it was a good Christian/Biblical experience for me.

What was not cohesive to my unsure ideals about what I would feel by seeing the sight of the last supper, the site of the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb, the site of the Nativity, etc., was this overwhelming anti-climactic feeling. There is no doubt in my mind that such events did take place, and probably in the general area they are sited for tourists and pilgrims alike to visit. The thing that was most off-putting to me was knowing all the conflicts that take place and have taken place for so many years (like… 2000 years) over who (church) owns and is responsible for what room, site, staircase, etc… even down to the last limestone block making up the flooring and walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is pretty much disgusting to me that ‘holy’ people, church officials, have all-out fought over such things — putting aside the entire idea behind religion and following God and Christ. Such sites which were mostly pin-pointed by Constantine’s Mother Helen (300 A.D.) make it hard to believe someone when they say ‘this’ is the spot where Jesus was crucified, here is where Jesus was born — honestly pointed out by Helen.

I’m sure these sights, to believers, are in the general area where such events took place, which was a good feeling — I actually enjoyed walking part of Via Dolorosa the most — that was where I felt the most. Seeing all these Christian Pilgrims wiping their hands and faces on the stone of anointment, made me upset as a Christian. To me, they were nearly worshiping the stone itself – well that’s just like the story in the Bible where God gets upset because people were praising a golden calf- it’s not about the exact place, or the thing Jesus touched, it’s about the feeling and the belief behind it. To nearly worship a stone makes me feel like these pilgrims have somehow lost the idea behind believing in God and accepting the story of Christ — have they been mislead somehow? Upon my return to the U.S., I felt unhappy, and I am not sure- but have a feeling that had to do with my experiences in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

I am happy to have been able to be one of few American Christians to experience what I got to experience, feel, see and touch in these ancient cities. Although my experience while visiting such “Holy” sites which were full of pushy tourists and ‘pilgrims’ was very anticlimactic- the memories of the feelings I felt have sustained my hunger for more. I can say that because I know I don’t need to touch or see something, I don’t need proof, to believe — and all in all, that is far greater than any sight could have brought to my soul.


PS- I am guilty of kissing the ‘site’ of the Nativity. Oh well. 🙂

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  April 8th, 2009

Now home, I know that what I have most taken from this trip is the realization that for all of our attempts to be informed, to understand from afar the Arab-Israeli conflict and the potential for peace in the Middle East, the true complexity is only apparent upon witnessing it.  To reduce the interaction of people, land, water, and history that occurs there to a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, or Israelis and Arabs, is to simplify by a thousand times.  Within this tiny country, one tenth the size of Oregon, there are hundreds of variations on religion, hundreds of perspectives on politics, on resources, on ownership and responsibility, and hundreds of eye-witness interpretations of a history that can be traced back more than 50 times longer than the history of the U.S.
Even the geography of the region is shaped by thousands of years of human history, and the country is rippled with hills that are not natural geographic features, but rather hills made by the building of one civilization upon the ruins of another, in turn built on the ruins of another, and so on for 10 thousand years.
Suddenly we are so small, at the foot of human history that has truly made mountains.  And the only action that seems to have the potential for any impact at all, is to put aside everything that we have ever known, and simply listen.

Our trip was full, but these are the activities that are most present in my memory as I tell stories about it now:

Sitting cross-legged on the colorful mats of a Bedouin household, speaking with a Bedouin woman, Salima, and her husband, Juma, as he served us tea, and each spoke of being inside and outside of their community, inside and outside of the Israel and Palestine.

Standing beside the border between Israel and Lebanon at sunset on our second day in country; watching the red sky behind the barbed wire and the swept dirt road that seems always vigilant of Israel’s safety.  How tiny this country is!

The headwaters of the Jordan river; in this small and contested area, water in abundance.

Riding the bus across the West Bank with students from Al Quds University – them, singing and clapping, telling us what they’d like to do when they graduate.  On the same bus ride, being turned around at the checkpoint as we travelled from one point in the West Bank to another, for no reason, simply to make us struggle to get to our destination.

Walking through wadis, canyons that only contain water for a few days a year, cut by water that gathers during flash floods.  In the lifetime of the earth, these canyons have held water only for seconds, but they are massive.  Their depth seems a testament to time and force.

Buying from the bakeries and marketplaces.  People everywhere are kind.
And, spending time with the others in our own group; we too are kind.


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just a thought!

  April 5th, 2009

What is happening inside of me after Israel and Palestine?

I’m trying to put into words all the things that I experienced (saw, felt) but almost a week after is still hard to describe…. But what I can say is that something inside of me changed.

I feel different, because discovered that the walls don’t have to be made out of cement to be as powerful, the most powerful ones are made out of ideology and feelings.

I feel different because discovered that no matter language, nationality, religion or age, we all want the same; feel alive and be recognized as such.

I feel different because I sensed the taste of hope, and saw that small things; such as singing, smiling, cooking and do everything with a smile are the bricks that build hope, and hope is the material of life.

If I was choosing just one thing to say about this amazing experience I would say; I tasted hope, I saw it, it has a form, a face, a name, a day, a tradition and knows how to forget….. if we are lucky enough to feed that hope, we can do whatever!

Ana Lu=)

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Jerusalem, Day 1 (and Bethlehem)

  March 28th, 2009

We met up this morning with a graduate student, Masha,  from Hebrew University who is studying historical geography. She gave us a tour of the old city, including the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter and the Christian quarter. We were able to see so many historical sites, and with our tour guide we were able to get the (brief…the tour only lasted 3 hours) history of each. We entered t’hrought the Jaffa gate and then went to the Jewish quarter where we were able to see the original city wall (named the “Broad Wall”), the Ruins which is a synagogue that has been destroyed  and is currently being re-built. Then we made our way over to the Western Wall; since it was the Sabbath there were restrictions on taking pictures, smoking, and writing (as in writing notes to put in the Western Wall). The Western Wall is split into two sections, one for women and one for men; at frist glance this looks quite sexist as the womens ‘part’ of the wall is much smaller, but as Masha explained, Jewish men a obligated to pray whereas women are not and therefore not as many women pray as men do. Before we went down to the Western Wall we were standing in a place where we had a view of the Mount of Olives, the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock…a really great view! From here we walked through the Muslim quarter where we were able to see some amazing Mamaluke architecture. Afterwards we went towards the Christian quarter where we were able to walk down Via Dolorosa until we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is split between Greek Orthodox, Catholics, and a few others. We first walked through the Ethiopian sanctuary, which is just adjacent to the Holy Sepulchre. Once we got inside the Holy Sepulchre (which was crammed full of people…I can’t imagine what it would be like during Passover and Easter!) we saw the stone Jesus was laid upon when he died, the place where Jesus was crucified, his tomb and the place of his resurection; in addition we saw the burrial place of Adam. There was plenty of gorgeous mosaics and other regigous icons and artwork to look at as we walked around.  After this, the group split up with some people going to the Israel Museam (home of the Dead Sea scrolls), some (including us) went to Bethlehem and some staying in the Old City to explore on their own.

We went to Bethlehem for a few hours which was really awesome…only 5 of us went (us, Ana, Paris and Steph).  Bethlehem is within the West Bank, so we had to go through a check point. Paris and Steph met up with friends while we were there while the rest of us went to the Church of the Nativity and the walked around. The Church of the Nativity was suprisingly empty (compared to the Old City, at least!)…Ana and Sara were able to touch the spot where Jesus was born. We then walked around the markets and quickly realized that we were close to the only tourists in the area…it was awesome. We stopped in this one shop where we spent quite some time becuase the owner was very hospitable, he gave us tea and wanted to talk about why we were her, what we had seen, and where we were from (he also gave us some great deals on pashmina scarves). This seems to be a theme we have been experiencing while in the West Bank, everyone is so friendly and hospitable it is just amazing!

After dinner back at our hostel, some of us walked out into town in the New City and we able to do some more shopping, as the Sabbath ended around 730pm and then the stores all bein to open; it was pretty cool because when we got down there most stores were still closed and watching them open up one by one and then watching the streets start to fill with people again.

Tomorrow we start our day before sunrise and will go all day until we get on the bus one last time to head to the airport at midnight. We will return to the states Monday a little before noon.


-Tiffany and Sara A.

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Et cetera Pictures

  March 27th, 2009

I’ve uploaded other pictures to past posts, so go check them out! These are the pictures that don’t have a place yet…it’s getting late, otherwise I would post about them as well.


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Visting the home of Ben-Gurion in the Negev

  March 27th, 2009

Yesterday, a couple of us had the opportunity to visit the kibbutz in Sde Boker which David Ben-Gurion started when he retired from his office as the first Prime Minister to Israel. Having little knowledge about the history of the state of Israel and the Jewish people in general before diving head-first into preparation for this trip – I’ve had (and possibly even more than half of us have had) a real crash-course in getting to know the history of the area… which is a huuuuuuge amount of history… as the oldest continually inhabited cities are here.

Anyways, back to Ben-Gurion; he was a man of simple means who meant so much to the Jewish people and those who wanted to start the country of Israel after the 1948 statehood to this country. He was the first prime minister- you could liken the American ideas of our founding fathers (Washington, Jefferson, Adams…) to those ideas of the Jews of Israel. He left the post as Prime Minister to start the Kibbutz in Sde Boker because he felt the Negev Desert was the best place for the Jewish in Israel to make their home—he felt there would always be too much conflict in the northern region of the country- and that they would have less persecution and/or conflict from other groups as long as they populated the very difficult-to-live-in southern desert.

The home was very simple, but built of concrete from the outside. All of the windows were high enough that you could only see out from your head-up (meaning, they were at about shoulder height). This was so that he could be protected from any attack that could happen upon him, considering his high-profile political status. There was a small living room with trinkets and gifts from other countries’ governments, political and social groups whose lives he touched. His house had a tiny kitchen, two small single bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms – just like any other standard small, simple house. But, there were a couple of things that really stood out to me in the home; he had a small library/office room at the back of the house (actually it was bigger than the living room) and the library had over 4,000 books! It was wonderful. There were pictures of Ben-Gurion sitting at his desk, newspapers floor-to-ceiling, and I could see that all of the books were more-or-less in the same place there were before he died. By the way- Ben-Gurion specifically willed his home to the Kibbutz so that it would become a museum for people to be able to experience (like myselfJ). He also had a HUGE globe in the living room which I thought was very cool (I mean, 3 feet in diameter!). While in the house, a young Israeli Soldier struck up a conversation with me and started to tell us about Ben-Gurion’s thirst for more knowledge—his house in Tel Aviv actually has 22,000 books! And I believe the soldier said Ben-Gurion was self-taught in some nine languages. What a fascinating man; I hope to learn more of him when we return to the states.

As I write all of this, I keep thinking of more and more I could include just about that one simple home I visited – which really only spanned an hour of my time in just one day on this whirl-wind of a trip. I’m so thankful to have gotten the opportunity to visit Israel and the West Bank. Any person who just came over here on a trip of their own would not have gotten to do all the things we’ve done, see all the things we’ve seen. I am sooooooo eager to be able to share my pictures with family and friends when we return in a couple of days. This trip has been amazing every single day!

Shabat Shalom from Jerusalem!


-PS: A few of us are going to Bethlehem tomorrow, which will be an adventure slightly because we have to take an Israeli taxi to the border (10 minutes drive), then switch to a taxi that is allowed into the West Bank (Bethlehem is in WB)… and then do the same on the way back. I’m excited to visit the Church of the Nativity.

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Nomads of the Nagev

  March 27th, 2009

We spent the morning speaking with a Bedouin couple, Juma and Salima, who live in an “un-official” village out side of Mitzpa Ramon. Our visit was facilitated by Amir, a PhD student at Hebrew University who also acted as a guide and translator. Salima represents a very small but emerging population of progressive Bedouin women. She is a mother to 6 kids by day (including a set of triplets) and attends university in the evenings. She has also managed to open up a guest house to earn a flexible income. Her academic and entrepreneurial pursuits are all totally uncommon for a woman in a community where most are discouraged from completing more than an elementary education. It was amazing to hear first-hand the experience of a woman fighting against the constraints of her strongly patriarchal society and the closer judgment of the community and neighbors. Her educational pursuits are motivated simply by a desire to learn and study linguistics and literature.
From the outside, the guest house we were ushered into looked like a structurally dubious tin shanty, but the inside was covered in colorful mats and rugs giving it a clean, comfortable palatial feeling. Juma (Salima’s husband) served us all several cups of tea and furnished us with seating cushions. We had over half of an hour to exchange questions and translated conversation. By far one of the major highlights of the trip…

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  March 24th, 2009

Our first day in Palestine brought us to Al-Quds University in Abu Dis. The university is only a few yards from the 8 meter tall cement security wall built by Israel. The wall is very controversial for several reasons. Palestinians are already frustrated with the occupation and have expressed to us that the wall not only represents a physical obstacle to peace, but also a psychological one. What we have been told is that he construction of the wall also falls inside an agreed upon territorial line, so the perception of some Palestinians is the impression of continued encroachment upon their territory. It has also been expressed to us that the occupation makes transportation difficult. Fortified checkpoints and travel restrictions act to cut off student access to their homes and families and also seems to hamper potential for commerce within Palestine. The issue of water availability in Palestine is particularly complicated and delicate. What we have heard here is that Palestinians feel that their access to water is severely and unjustly restricted. Israel controls the well permitting system and therefore determines if and where water sources can be established. Israel controls the withdrawal of water from aquifers that extend beneath Palestine and uses the majority share from these shared sources. Adding to the contention is the increasing rate of Jewish settlements inside the West Bank. The settlements are provided water by Israel, which has led to stark contrasts that are visible in the landscape. One way it was described to us is that children with very limited access to water play on the other side of the fence of lush green lawns and swimming pools. The settlements seem to be altogether unwelcomed by Palestinians and serve to further insult deteriorate faith in cooperation and peace.   

 We attended a day of lectures at Al-Quds on water, geology and politics. The importance of our security was clear. We were escorted by students and guards anywhere we went on campus. The university houses highly regarded medical and legal programs and even a small on-campus museum. The museum is dedicated to imprisoned Palestinians who have been involved in efforts against the occupation since 1948.  Artwork, poetry, letters of correspondence, and even graphic photos of prison conditions are on display. I found the exhibit on torture hard to understand. In fact, the whole concept of the museum was initially hard to accept. I finally came to the understanding that the display is a complex combination of efforts that attempt to show respect for those who have fought and suffered for a cause of national and cultural pride, and that it’s meant to be a way of displaying history in a way that, I’m told, may help ensure that it’s not repeated. The exhibits and our conversations about them revealed just how raw these issues are in their hearts and minds and this museum acts as a way to legitimate and display a voice of pain and struggle that is so clearly felt and expressed here.


Several of the students have come to stay at the hostel with us. It has been incredible to watch our two groups mold into one. Our hosts are incredibly gracious and have made every effort to make us feel welcome. There’s a strong and genuine interest in getting to know one another- our individual interests and motivations for our visit. The group is super lively and diverse. There’s constant singing on the bus as we travel throughout the day and at night there’s dancing, hooka, and post-dinner soccer and Frisbee games.


Our time in Jericho has been spent exploring the excavation of the old city, hiking through the Wadi Al Quilt to a Greek Orthodox monastery built into the canyon wall, exploring the ruins of King Herod’s palace, and visiting a refugee camp. The glass box housing the well-preserved and fully clothed remains of a monk and 50 monk skulls were a morbid highlight of the monastery visit.  The hike through the wadi took us passed huddled groups of neatly cloaked nuns and Bedouin men escorting visitors by hired donkey. Impressive and impossibly constructed caves dug into high cliffs if the deep canyon walls of the wadi were visible from the trail. These cliff dwellings were home to ascetic monks who spent months and years living as hermits. The last night of our stay was highlighted by a traditional dance performance by local children and a speech from the Governor of Jericho. He spoke about the state of politics in the region and called for the aid and understanding of compassionate allies.


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My time in Ein Gev

  March 24th, 2009

Hello from En Gedi! We have been gone for a few days because we traveled to the West Bank and had no internet access at our hostel. I had an amazing time there, interacting with the kids we met up with from Al-Quds University, and seeing the sights! But before we got to the WB, Erin and I got the chance to stay with my friend Josh, who previously went to OSU, on the kibbutz where he has been living for about a year and a half now. He lives on Kibbutz Ein Gev, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was absolutely gorgeous there, and it was really cool to see where he has been living and the friends he has met. All kibbutz are different, but at Ein Gev they have around 30 volunteers who work either at a restaurant (there is a fish restaurant and a meat restaurant, because they keep kosher), or they fish, which Josh does (yeah…he fishes on the Sea of Galilee, pretty cool).  Then there are the members, who have to be voted into membership by current members…this is a long process to get through however. For example, Josh’s girlfriend was born and raised in Ein Gev, both her parents are members but she (at 20-something years old) isn’t a member yet. Children move out of their parent’s houses into their own room around 16-18 years old so they have their own space (also done because the houses are simple with not too much room for a whole family). All Israeli citizens have to serve in the army here (men for 3 years, women for 2) right after high school; on the kibbutz the kids enjoy having their own space when they come home on the weekends from the army (they get a weekend off every few weeks or so). Being able to interact with the kids there was awesome….that night we meet kids from Israel, Australia, New Zealand and the US. The atmosphere there was amazing…so laid back, but how can you not be with a view and weather like they have! All-in-all it was an amazing 24 hours, and only wish it could have been longer (I hear Aaron, after watching us reunite when Josh picked Erin and I up, thought we would never come back!) Hope all is well in the States!


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Not in Kansas Anymore

  March 24th, 2009

I feel angry today. Occupation is ugly.

I feel angry that Israel is building a wall.

I feel angry about the little things that one group of people will do to chip away the dignity of another group.

I feel angry that the language of the Palestinians was filled with hate and blame.

I feel angry that over and over I heard people compare Israel’s occupation to the tragic plight of the Native Americans.  What happened to the Native Americans is not comparable.

I feel angry that fresh clean water is a privilege not a right.

I feel shocked that I met students who would leave their house to go to class and not know if they will make it past all the checkpoints.

I feel shocked to meet PhD scientists and their students who were not allowed to cross political borders to study the natural borders of the environment. The geology of the mountains and valleys, the waves of the ocean, or the rivers and groundwater that are mere kilometers away.

I feel afraid that there is no hope for a peaceful solution to the Israel – Palestine situation.

I feel afraid that things are getting worse.

I feel afraid that I cannot make a difference.

I feel afraid that security is a justification for violence.

I feel afraid to be Jewish.

I feel sad that the deep history of this area is filled with tragedy that seems to continually snake it’s way into the present day,

I feel sad that Israeli citizens are not allowed to meet the people and visit the occupied areas of the West Bank.

I feel sad that the Jordan River is NOT deep and wide.

I feel sad that there is tragedy on a multiplicity of sides and levels that is overwhelming to comprehend.

I feel sad that I met people who can see the Mediterranean Sea, but cannot go to the beach and let the cool waves rush through their toes.

Again we were delayed, at a checkpoint, a young man, in an Israel uniform, walked by our bus. I sat next to a beautiful young man, a student of Environmental Science at the university. Next to me, whispered in confidence, he said to me: “I hate him.”   I wanted to wrap him in my arms and fill his heart with love. But how? How to teach love to someone who has lived his whole life under occupation, and watch a wall being built? I felt my heart split open.

I feel sad as we unloaded the bus of our bags, hugging, saying our goodbyes and then dragging our bags across the checkpoint and waving goodbye to our new brothers and sisters on the other side.

I feel happy that the American students and the Palestine students felt only a moment of awkwardness at our first cookies and bottled water welcoming reception. Then it was like we were children on a playground we made our best friend in one afternoon.

I feel happy the food I was given was the best food I have had on the entire trip!

I feel happy that I got to paint a Mandala with two Palestine men and two Palestine women. That is five people doing one painting. Talk about being able to share space!

I was happy that the students from the University were happy and joyous. That they sang songs, danced, smoked hooka, and played cards with us.

I feel happy that I met beautiful, intelligent women. Women with hopes, dreams, and open hearts.

I feel happy that I met handsome intelligent men. Kind, helpful, and gracious.

I feel happy that I have been to the other side of the wall.

I feel happy that I saw the archeological dig in Jericho where the walls of Jericho stood thousands of years ago.

I feel grateful to Ahmer and Aaron for having the vision and courage to bring us together.

I feel grateful to everyone who is helping me to walk through tremulous canyons, and helping me carry my video camera.

I feel grateful when someone takes my video camera and wants to give it a try.

I feel grateful that this is just the beginning of my learning.

I feel grateful to be here.

I hope and I hope and I hope.

-Sarah S.

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