I don't know where to even begin telling you all about the last week. I guess I will just start at the beginning and go through the week. This is going to be a very long post.
Our class trip started Sunday with a hike in Mizpe Ramon, around a crater. It was a pretty good hike, but it had some of those narrow, steep, declines that I hate. Don't worry, there will be pictures.
After the hike, we had some lectures, which were pretty interesting, but I have to question who thought we'd be able to sit through two hours of lecturing after getting up before 5 and then hiking for two and a half hours. It was tough. But I especially appreciated the Environmental Yeshiva presentation, which was in Hebrew. I wouldn't have been able to understand the whole lecture without Uri's translations, but I was glad to be exposed to Hebrew for an extended period of time (you'd think it wouldn't be so hard in Israel, but everyone just wants to talk to us in English), and I was able to understand a fair amount of what he was saying.
After lunch, we had a visit a a Single Family Farm. What this is, is large areas of land in the Negev are being given to Jewish Israelis to develop and lay claim to "unused" land, most of which is actually largely Bedouin lands. Furthermore, the lands are used for agriculture. This farm we went to had thousands of olive trees. The desert is not really made for agriculture. These plants do not grow naturally there. They require a lot of irrigation, and water is already a huge issue here. The woman who spoke to us, the owner of the farm, did not want us there but in the end allowed us to come for a short while, probably because promoting tourism is part of the deal in getting this land from the government. She said some really inflammatory things about Arabs, particularly Bedouins. But I'm not sure how much she meant any of what she said, including her personal Zionism. It was all just a lot of rhetoric. I think she really just wanted the land and the reclusion that the single family farm provides. She was very concerned about the surface of things, that much was apparent.
Monday and Tuesday was mostly dedicated to Bedouin villages and environmental racism. There are seven "Townships" - Bedouin villages that have been recognized and are treated like regular Israeli towns (for the most part). The recognized village we went had a medicinal herb garden and a really inspirational woman who ran it. She made her own holistic medicine and cosmetics line out of the tradition Bedouin herbs she grows. She has her own small business, but she has big dreams for it. She's a pretty traditional Bedouin woman, but she's strong. She decided that marriage wasn't a top priority, this business was. I wonder is this level of modern gender equality would have been so possible at an unrecognized village or in a traditional semi-nomadic Bedouin community. In addition to this township, there are dozens more villages that are unrecognized, though some are in the process of gaining recognition, but they are all in pretty bad shape. The villages are poor, many have no running water or electricity. We visited one village that is unreognized and thus its residents have no claim over their own land. So the Israeli government decided it could build an electrical power plant there right over it, and there's also an industrial park nearby. So people are dying of cancer, which is being linked to the various industry pollutants, but of course the industries are denying that they could possibly be responsible, and meanwhile this village sitting under a power plant isn't actually connected to power lines. It was all so frustrating! After all the Bedouin-visiting, and some more lectures from the industrial park representative and the regional council (neither of which I found to be very informative), we were done with the Negev and off to East Jerusalem, where we had a wild dance party in our hotel.
Wednesday was the Peace Conference at Al-Quds University. The first panel was a lot of hot air and I was bored and frustrated and fidgety. My personal notes during this part, "What counts as success for this conference [the wish for a "successful conference was brought up a lot]? To find a solution here, now? To start a political and social revolution of two states, which will inevitably affect the entire world, here in this college lecture hall? Sure the important players are here, but there are maybe 300 people here, and we're talking about the futures of approximately 10 million people. I've travelled across the world for a hands-on education, and yet, sitting in this room in East Jerusalem, I feel further away from Peace than ever. But then, I suppose, 'if you will it, it is no dream' [Theodor Herzl]. We will peace. A two state solution. Coexistence. The crisis will be over if we believe we can end it."
The second two panels were more engaging. People had some ideas of how we can actually start the peace process, now that both sides have agreed that peace is the ideal. A lot of dependence was place on politicians, including Barack Obama (who has a lot on his plate for his own country) and Tzipi Livni (who hasn't even been elected yet). Other than that, though, it was good. I almost even have hope.
Wednesday night, we had "Thanksgiving" dinner at Tareq's house (a professor at the institute). It was the first time in 9 years I had turkey on thanksgiving, and it only took me to go across the world to do it. It wasn't kosher, but it was halal(the Muslim version of Kosher; the rules are pretty similar) and free-range, and was cooked in the village oven. So I thought that was pretty awesome. And instead of pumpkin pie, desert was fresh made baklawa. Which I love. I tried to teach my classmates "Let There be Peace on Earth," but we only made it through the chorus and it just wasn't the same. I missed home a lot.
Thursday was the last day of our trip and it was pretty easy going. We gardened with a small community in Jerusalem, and we met with the newly elected vice mayor of Jerusalem. She's a sweet woman. A little too naive for politics, I thought, but maybe that's a fresh start. So that was the end of our trip. Officially.
Many of us went directly to a protest in East Jerusalem once we were let loose. There was a Palestinian family that was forcefully evicted from their home so that Jewish settlers can live there. So the family is currently living in a tent in a privately owned vacant lot in at the bottom of the hill their neighborhood sits on. Now, it was a lot warmer in Jerusalem than I was expecting it to be, at least in the day time. But I would not want to be living outside up there this time of year. We went to get the facts and show our support for the family, but then we decided to go check out the neighborhood up the hill. The Palestinian home is now a synagogue. It's infuriating. I was trying to decide what parshat the Orthodox Jews in there could have been studying that would have made it even more ironic. The best I could come up with is maybe when Jacob stole his brother's birthright. Maybe when Hagar and baby Ishmael was cast out of Abraham's home. I don't know. All I know, is that according to my interpretation of the Torah, stealing is wrong, and so is standing idly by the pain of your neighbor. So I'm really at a loss for how they could possibly justify studying Talmud in a building they really have no rightful claim to, while people shiver in the cold (the patriarch of this Palestinian family actually had just died, about a week ago, from a massive attack in his sleep. His health had started to deteriorate dramatically after the eviction, and he was in and out of the hospital a few times before he died). The Israeli security guard felt threatened by the small group of college peaceniks, and threatened to call the police, so we left. I didn't get a chance to really cause trouble, as I wanted to, by walking into the synagogue and announcing to the traditional religious men that I wanted to study with them. Hannah pointed out I wouldn't be received well because I'm a woman. I pointed out they'd probably throw rocks at me because I'm a woman wearing a kippah.
After all the drama and intense emotions of world saving all week, I went to Haifa for Thursday and Tzefat for Friday and Saturday. Both were really nice. Thursday, I met up with a friend I had met in Tel Aviv and the two of us tagged along with two girls from my program to a family friend's house. Evie and Uri were really welcoming to Ittaj and I, even though they were not expecting us, and honestly we weren't expecting anything from them. I asked Anna to ask her "aunt" if she could suggest a hostel or something, and she just invited us along instead. It was really sweet. The four of us went to the Baha'i Gardens and wandered about the city a bit on Friday. Then Anna and Sarit went back to Evie and Uri's house, and Ittaj and I went on to Tzefat. Tzefat is like Kabbalist city. Its very religious, but more spiritual than Jerusalem. I'd really like to go back when more things are open and explore more. But it was a beautiful Shabbat. We got there too late for Friday night services, but we went to a Chabad house for dinner, and the rabbi let me sit on the men's side because it was just me and Ittaj, and my Hebrew is still not so good to have a conversation with strange old religious ladies. It was pretty neat. I think playing Haredi dress up helped. Instead of my kippah, I wore Michael Flynn's denim cap that Mary Lou gave me a few years back. With my hair tucked into the hat, along with a long skirt and long shirt and boots, I look like a Hasidic little wife. There are no pictures, because I was also playing Shomer Shabbos and not taking any photos on Shabbat, but I'm sure I'll play Haredi dress up again and get picture to send you.
All in all it was a great week. But now I'm exhausted and behind in my homework.