We have had an intense first four days, with many emotionally and intellectually challenging experiences, meetings with more than a dozen people and groups, and tours of East Jerusalem and the environs. Particularly for this first part of our trip, we met with Israelis who are committed to ending the occupation. Many are young; all are passionate about building a country -- or countries -- where justice and democracy flourish.
There is no such thing here as a "simple" description of what we are seeing and hearing; everything is layered with levels of meaning, history, identity and emotion. As we continually get more information, the way we interpret things is changing day by day and sometimes, moment by moment. Trying to reflect and distill the many conversations we are having with those we meet, and with each other, is going to take some time. All of us are struggling in some way with feelings of anger, fear, shame, betrayal, hope, and/or despair. Our conversations move from the realities we are seeing to discussions about nonviolence, identity, and the similarities we find between what we see here and what we have seen -- and still see -- in our own country.
I hope delegates will begin to post some of their own writing here. Meantime, to give you some idea of what we have been doing, here is an overview of our itinerary so far:
Friday morning, our first full day here, Ruth Edmonds, a 26-year-old activist working with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demotions(ICAHD), took us on a tour of East Jerusalem showing us both Palestinian and Jewish settlements. Ruth also gave us our first view of the Separation Wall, and talked extensively about the increasing number of separation (apartheid) policies that differentially affect where Palestinians can live, own land, travel, study abroad without losing status, etc.
That afternoon, we met with Irene Nasser, a Palestinian activist working for JustVision (the media company that produced the film Budrus); Sahar Vardi, a young Israeli Jewish activist now working for the American Friends Service Committee in Israel; and Suhad Baba'a, a Palestinian-Korean-American activist and the outreach coordinator for Just Vision in Washington, D.C. In a session called "Living the Conflict, they talked about their lives, identities, activism, struggles and hopes for the future.
On Saturday morning, our guide, Said, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem took us on a tour of the Old City. He had begun to story the landscape around us on our ride from the airport in Tel Aviv to our hotel in Jerusalem. Now, beginning at Damascus Gate, only a few blocks from our hotel, we walked through the Muslim Quarter, down Via De La Rosa (the 14 Stations of the Cross) to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Saturday afternoon, Kobi Snitz, an activist connected to Anarchists Against the Wall and Boycott from Within, and two other young activists, Ariel Bendanir and Nomi Mark spoke with us about the international and Israeli allies who stand in solidarity with Palestinians at the nonviolent demonstrations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Saturday evening, Dahlia Landau, an Israeli Jewish woman featured in the book, the Lemon Tree and a co-founder of Open House, and two other Israelis talked with us about their lives, hopes and fears for their society.
Sunday morning, a portion of the delegation went to the East Jerusalem Baptist and had the opportunity to hear an inspiring talk by Sami Awad, head of the Holy LandTrust in Bethlehem and a member of a leading Palestine family in the nonviolent resistance movement. This was the first Sunday in years he had been able to get a permit to travel from the West Bank into Jerusalem.
Sunday afternoon, we made the one hour drive back to Tel Aviv. We met first with Annalien Kisch, a Dutch Israeli immigrant and one of the founders of New Profile and her colleague, Shahaf, a young Israeli. Through New Profile, they work to educate people about the dangers of the militarization of Israeli society, as well as to assist young Israelis to obtain exemptions from compulsory military service.
We then heard from Noam Yachot and Noa Sheizaf, writers and editors at the +972 bloggers. Both are experienced young journalists committed to using media to share accurate portrayals and analysis about the occupation.