In the morning, we met with Mossi Raz, an Israeli Jew, who runs Radio All for Peace. He is also a former Knesset (Parliament) member. It was fascinating to hear all about the media here and what this radio station is working for and up against. He pointed out that we speak of 1 conflict but in actuality – based on the fact that people in East and West Jerusalem have entirely different media – there are two conflicts with disproportionate power. As a prior Knesset member, Mossi shared information about the state of the Israeli democracy. He point out how just that morning the Knesset had passed two new laws. The first allows all illegal immigrants to be sent to prison for up to 3 years without trial. The second forbids media to publish the name of arrestees for 48 hours after their arrest. These and many other laws, some blatant and some subtle, are threatening democracy here. At the close he was asked about solutions to the situation. He said that he no longer believes in negotiation – that this has only led further from a solution in the past 20 years. He believes that the American President should approach both parties and propose being their arbitrator. I thought this was a very interesting proposal.
We had a big chunk of free time after that since it was our last day in Jerusalem and most of us walked into the Old City stopping for lunch at a fantastic falafel shop just inside the Damascus Gate. After a bit of shopping in the souk, those who wanted to met at the bus. Our new guide, Liel (replacing Shira who had to go to her college classes), took us to the garden of Gethsemane. The Olive trees there probably do date back to Jesus’ time – they are huge! In their shade we stopped to read the account of the night before Jesus is betrayed. There is now an absolutely beautiful church on the rock Jesus prayed on. It’s Byzantine in design. Across the street there is a much older church (Liel thought it one of the oldest in the area) where tradition believes Mary was buried. The church is build over caves and so you enter down a very long flight of stairs.
In the afternoon, our other guide, Aziz, spoke with us about public narrative because he knows that many of us will give talks on our trip when we return to Boston. Then we drove 20 minutes west of Jerusalem to a village that is totally different – the residents are all Israeli citizens but they are intentionally 50% Jewish & 50% Palestinian. It’s call Neve Shalom – Wahat al Salaam (Oasis of Peace). There we had a talk from Elad Vazana, a Jewish man who shared his story with us (I’ll do a separate post about his story in the coming weeks). They had this little shop in the village with a large patio. In the corner there was a whole section arranged for cats – it was really sweet. Lots of semi-feral cats running about and waiting for dinner.
Then we drove to Bethlehem and to our host families for a home stay. I stayed in Dheheisheh with 5 others. We stayed with Mazin, who works with MEJDI and who is a refugee from Bethlehem. It was wonderful to spend time with him and his wife, May, and their daughters his wife May, and their two daughters, Zuhar (5 yrs) and Salma (3 yrs). They have created a very beautiful home despite their surroundings and their hospitality was as heartwarming as their stories were moving.