Wednesday, July 23 – an early goodbye

After not very much sleep, I went to get breakfast and learned that we would be evacuating that day. This plan gave us no time at all to get used to the idea. We met for what was supposed to be a discussion of the literature but instead needed to be a giant figure-out-all-the-plans session. Lori was trying to work the phones and coordinate flights in accordance with the destinations we each required; meanwhile, we fidgeted and joked and laughed and cried and played a few games of hangman. At one point an impromptu aerobics dance workout broke out. 

There was a strange, surreal kind of tension that none of us quite new what to do with. We personally knew we were safe. We’d seen rockets intercepted above our heads, we’d read headlines of attacks, we’d heard sirens and run for cover. And yet we knew by that Wednesday morning that thanks to the Iron Dome, no harm was going to befall us. But this was beyond our need for a sense of security or lack of such a need. Flights to Tel Aviv were beginning to be cancelled by many major American and European airlines, and Northeastern understandably panicked in the face of such a high stress situation and decided not to take risks with the lives of 16 students and a professor. So home we would go. 

Once the flights were finally sorted, we were given time to pack and say goodbye to Israel before we were to leave. Jon and Alex and I went to the beach, where Jon collected seashells and I stood in the waves and got my dress wet. It certainly is a beautiful beach.

On the way to the airport, Elan suggested that we each say a few words to try to bring some sort of closure to this very intense experience. It was nice hearing what everyone had to say; everyone was sad to leave, but it was obvious from each speech that we’d had a great three weeks while we were here and that we each deeply respect and like each other in a way that is rare with such a large and diverse group. For my part, I feel extremely lucky to have gotten a chance to get to know each of the characters in this experience and I look forward to seeing them back in Boston. 

The line at Ben Gurion airport was extreme – it seemed a lot of people were trying to get out while the opportunity was still there. We flew to London and were put up in a hotel for the night, then the next morning most of the group headed back to the States while two of us stayed over on the European part of the world. I’m certainly going to miss all the people.

- Maggie Clark

July 22nd: The Beginning of the End

This morning began with a delicious Israeli breakfast spread, courtesy of the Ruth Daniel Residence. Before class began Anna, Maggie, Fran, and I had a chance to talk with Professor Friedman about the effects of the conflict between Israel and Gaza on his family. He shared with us that his wife works Ashdod, a city very close to Gaza that faces heavy rocket fire. He also told us that his young son’s daycare was moved to a bomb shelter. When we asked him about his views on the massive civilian casualties in Gaza due to the Israeli incursion, he responded that it’s a great moral dilemma because Hamas stores missiles in places that are heavily populated by civilians, like UN schools and hospitals. Hamas knows that it can’t win this conflict militarily, but it can win with regard to public opinion. Each time Israel bombs a civilian area of Gaza, the international community loses a great deal of respect for the IDF and the country as a whole. We also discussed how Hamas is completely isolated right now in the world. Hamas used to have the backing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but after the 2013 coup that removed President Mohamed Morsi from power, this support was lost. The current President of Egypt, General Sisi, has zero tolerance for Hamas, rendering the organization isolated and ally-less. Professor Friedman suggested that perhaps Hamas is making noise now in order to regain a foothold in Egypt.

After this enlightening discussion, it was time for class. The topics of today’s lecture were majority-minority relations and the relationship between religion and state in Israel. The breakdown of Jewish and Arab Israelis respectively is 75% and 20%. The Israeli majority is quite affluent due to the fact that Israel is an ethnic democracy. The country is a Jewish state, meaning that there is a core ethnic nation within the state. The state is ruled by members of that core ethnic group (Jews), and non-core groups are accorded incomplete individual and collective rights. There’s no argument that Arabs are discriminated against in this country, and this built-in discrimination can be seen in the form of the lack of resources invested in Arab communities within Israel. Israeli Arabs also feel ignored by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which does not support them because they live in Israel-proper. 

Toward the end of class, the air raid siren sounded and we hurried to the secure room inside the hostel. After waiting for a few minutes and hearing the telltale boom of the Iron Dome intercepting a missile, we returned to class and finished up our lesson. From here we piled into taxis for a field trip to Independence Hall. There we learned all about the creation of the state of Israel. As we sat in the room where Israel was declared a state, we listened to a recording of David Ben-Gurion speak and heard another recording of the Israeli national anthem being played for the first time. For a moment, we were transported back to a fateful day in history. Once the recording ended, we snapped back to present-day, and our enthusiastic guide Zohar informed us that we were currently sitting in a bomb shelter. (It was only noon and we were already in our second bomb shelter of the day. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.) Why was the state of Israel declared in a bomb shelter? I’ll let you have three guesses. Anyway, I guess not much has changed in the near 60 years that followed the declaration; the rockets are still flying, and the shelters are still very much necessary.

The rest of our afternoon was spent in the company of Elan, who gave us a tour of historic Tel Aviv. We saw a mosaic depicting the four developmental stages of the city. The first panel represents the old city, the second shows the fresh start of beginning a new city, the third depicts the arrival of the British and immigrants and the building of a city and culture, and the fourth shows Tel Aviv becoming a buzzing metropolitan area.

Elan teaching us about the mosaic depicting Tel Aviv's history

Elan teaching us about the mosaic depicting Tel Aviv’s history

We had the evening off, so I went for dinner on Jerusalem Boulevard with Anna, Maggie, Gabrielle, Stephanie, and Tedi to a restaurant called BBQ. We had a great meal and then returned to the hostel, where the rest of the night was spent talking with friends and catching up on blogs. At around 1:30 AM I was taking a shower. I had just put conditioner in my hair when my roommate Tedi knocked on the door and yelled into the bathroom, “Um, Jaclyn? We’re getting evacuated. Get your passport and come downstairs.” I interpreted this to mean that we were leaving right then and there, perhaps being airlifted to Jordan. The hostel could have been under siege for all I knew. I jumped out of the shower without rinsing the conditioner out of my hair, threw on the first dress I saw, and hurried downstairs with my passport. What I found when I arrived to the lobby surprised me: about half of our group was sitting there, sleepily chatting in a circle. “Aren’t we leaving?” I asked, only mildly befuddled. “Yes, probably not tomorrow, but maybe the next day once the suspension on flights to and from Israel is lifted,” Lori answered me. As the situation became clearer, my heart rate returned to normal and I ran my hand through my sticky, albeit quite well conditioned, hair. Then came the question of why we were being evacuated. Had the situation worsened? Lori explained that because of the rocket that exploded a mile from the Tel Aviv airport and the FAA’s ban on flights to and from Israel, Northeastern was nervous. The university feared that we would get stranded in the country, and they wanted to get us out before that could become a reality. So basically, we’re leaving because it’s currently impossible for us to leave. Logic. I hope that airlines start flying out of Israel again soon, because I’m going to feel pretty guilty if Joseph Aoun loses one more night of sleep over us. We all took photos of our passports and emailed them to a Northeastern official who would buy us plane tickets to…somewhere outside of Israel. The whole “where” part was still pretty much up in the air. There was talk of flying to Jordan, or maybe Amsterdam, or we could take a boat to Greece and spend a week there. I, personally, was pulling for the third option. Hello, sandy white beaches, nice to meet ya! It became clear that nothing was going to be resolved before the morning, so at around 2:00 AM we were dismissed and returned to our rooms to get a few hours of sleep before our 9:00 literature class in the morning.

Nothing like a nice head massage during an evacuation meeting, am I right?

Nothing like a nice head massage during an evacuation meeting, am I right?

- Jaclyn Roache

July 21, 2014

Like the contrast between old and new, here in Israel the ideological contrasts between community and isolation are ever present. We started off the day in Mitzpe Ramon, a small town built around a ‘makhtesh’, which almost translates to crater. Through millions of years of geological weathering, what were once layers of sediment beneath the surface of a lake is now a naturally induced crater-like phenomenon. Talya, our tour guide, discussed to us both how the crater came to be, and how this exemplifies one of the many beauties that exist in Israel. She explained the fact that you can go to the south of a country and witness the marvels in the Negev desert, then you can travel to the north and arrive at a ski resort. Such a range of climates in such a small country had me thinking about the shift we had just made travelling from Jerusalem to the Negev, and the distinction between the cultures and the people. We left this small village and travelled to the burial place of Ben Gurion, where met Guti to talk with us about his community, the Hatzerim kibbutz.

Talya and Tali at the Mekhtesh in Mitzpe Ramon

 

Among other things, Guti spoke of the ideology of the kibbutz, which dignifies the importance of egalitarianism. After visiting the development town of Yeroham yesterday, this idea of collectivity was fresh in our minds. Both the kibbutzim and the development towns initiated the settlement of the Negev, and their founding ideologies starkly contrast one another. On one hand, at the core of the kibbutzim is the idea of communalism and total equality. While the initial members of the development town of Yeroham were essentially coerced into settling there rather than in Jerusalem or in Tel Aviv. Additionally the first settlers of Yeroham were mostly of Sephardi origins, which also highlighted questions of racial inequality.

hatzerim

Kibbutz Hatzerim during its early years around 1946

 

Although their ideologies blatantly differ from one another, the new has been able to distinguish itself from the old, in both the kibbutzim and in Yeroham. The kibbutzim, once very popular have been forced to shift in several ways since their formation because of modern complexities. However, some kibbutzim like Hatzerim continue to thrive, both socially and economically. Yeroham has been able to shed itself of its rough start, developing tremendously in recent decades in part because of increased communal effort from the students’ community service work to the donation of the independent science center. Both receive little to no help from the central government of Israel but continue to flourish with good management and communal determination. During our travels in the Negev, transitions between old and new were made apparent, as was an overall appreciation for community.    

Hannah Lifshutz

From the Lowest Point in the World to Sea Level – July 20, 2014

Today was one of the most picturesque days we’ve had since we’ve been here. Jerusalem was beautiful and we loved walking around the old city, but as we traveled to the Negev into the desert, we saw a different side of Israel we haven’t seen since we arrived.  When we arrived to the bottom of Masada, we watched a really comical video of the history of Masada, then it was time to take the cable car up to the top of the mountain.

The view before we took the went to the top of Masada in the cable car.

The view before we took the went to the top of Masada in the cable car.

When we arrived at the top, our tour guide informed us that, where we were was below sea level near the dead sea, and being at the top of this mountain was now sea level. As we listened to Tayla, our tour guide, with the beautiful vastness of the desert  as our backdrop, we learned about how King Herod built his fortress and how people were able to survive in the desert. There was even a miniature model of Masada that helped Tayla demonstrate how water was brought to the desert!

A miniature model of Masada.

A miniature model of Masada.

CAM00651

Our lovely tour guide Talya!

 

The view at the top of Masada!

The view at the top of Masada!

CAM00657After learning about the history of Masada and it’s role as a part of Israel’s history, it was time to make a crucial decision. To walk down Masada or take the cable car down. For me personally, I was hesitant because it looked like a long way down and the sun was beaming down directly on us. But when it came time to make that faithful decision, I along with about half our group decided to walk down the Snake Path!

Brave souls in our group took the snake path down Masada.

Brave souls in our group took the snake path down Masada.

You can see the lines for the cable car above, but what better way to experience Masada then by taking it on by foot!

You can see the lines for the cable car above, but what better way to experience Masada then by taking it on by foot!

The walk down was actually very demanding. There were very few clouds in the sky and Tayla gave us tips all the way down the mountain and how to step in certain places when the railing disappeared but we made it and in the end we were greatly rewarded when we got to float in the Dead Sea!

Floating in the Dead Sea!

Floating in the Dead Sea!

Our day went from high to low, the lowest of depths, but in the greatest way! As we floated in the warm salt water, our professor jokingly told us not to float away to Jordan because the country is actually across the sea! It was a physically exhausting day, but it was a great one.

- Steph Apollon

Thursday July 17, 2014 Wrap up of Jerusalem

Today was probably the day that I’ve learned the most being in Israel. As the last day of classes in Jerusalem wrapped up, we were given a wealth of information about the current state of affairs by Linda Gradstein, a world-renowned journalist mostly known for her work at NPR. After that discussion, we had class with Lori where we discussed a short story, “Flood Tide” by A.B. Yehoshua. Finally, we went on a beautiful hike up to Ein Kerem to finish up our time in Jerusalem. We still have two more days in this city but I feel as if I’ve lived here for years after all of the things we were able to do in about two and a half weeks. I have definitely fallen in love with this city and I hope to come back in the near future for another visit.

I am no expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but today, we received a dose of reality on this issue that I haven’t heard yet in Jerusalem. Linda Gradstein is a very intelligent, interesting, and well-spoken journalist who has devoted her life to exposing the truth of what occurs in the Middle East. She now works for The Media Line, a nonprofit American news agency which strives to provide equal content from both sides of the conflict with as little bias as possible. They also gravitate toward deeper analysis stories, not just the big headlines that most other news outlets provide. Linda is well-connected to both the Israeli as well as the Palestinian community, which allows her to create a well-rounded story that features people from different backgrounds. The Media Line is responsible for reporting on the news and they provide those reports to various news outlets throughout the world, in hopes of putting more truth and less bias into the minds of those who are not experiencing this conflict firsthand.

Linda had an absolute wealth of information, and there were a few points that stick out in my mind. Ever since the origins of this conflict, there has been talk of a two-state solution that would likely be impossible now. Linda disagrees with this and she thinks that a two-state solution is the best idea as of right now. Her reasoning is that the Israelis have three main objectives: to have a Jewish state, to be a democracy, and to have some type of control over the West Bank. These are definitely lofty goals but it is clear that the Palestinians living in Israel and the West Bank will not settle for those living conditions. Palestinians are not willing to give up their own ideals of living so that Israelis can have a Jewish state. Israelis will not budge until they receive all that they want. This leaves a two-state option as the only way to alleviate both parties, however land will always be disputed. It seems as if we get past one hurdle only to encounter many more, and there seems to be no end in sight.

Getting back to Linda’s role, she is responsible for reporting the truth, however difficult that may be to find. I asked her about the people that she interviews and she gave me a very interesting answer. She said that she interviewed the mother of the Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khedair, and it took about an hour for her to really open up. Linda did not want to interview his father, as many news outlets were attempting to do, but she wanted to hear from a mother’s perspective. At the end of the interview, Linda told the woman that she also has children and she could not imagine the pain that is being endured by the whole family. The fact that Linda can turn ordinary events into heart wrenching and empathetic stories is what makes her an extremely talented journalist.

After our talk with Linda, we had class with Lori, where we had a discussion about a very interesting short story called “Flood Tide.” This story at first seems very much like a biblical allegory, but when you peel back the layers, there are a multitude of directions that it could go in. The main character struggles with this so-called “test” because he must leave the prisoners in their cells to drown while he sails away in his boat. This is a test to see if his humanity will allow him to just leave them to suffer a brutal death. We compared this test to the test of Abraham who must sacrifice his son Isaac for his faith. However this test does not only reference religion, but also the human instincts of being able to kill someone. We find out in the end that the main character fails his test and he is unable to walk away; instead the prisoners lock him up and escape. This then brings up the point that he may have wanted to die. He may be the good sacrifice and the sinners have been left to go out into the world. There are many possibilities for the true meaning of this story but in my opinion, it is simply a matter of good versus evil, which is taught throughout the bible and it is also inherent in humanity. Unfortunately class was up before we finished out discussion on this story but we will continue to compare it to other stories we have read in the next few classes.

For the last part of the day, we went on a hike through Ein Kerem. It was a great experience and I truly feel like I can navigate through western Jerusalem now. I love hiking and I think everyone enjoyed the scenery that we took in. We toured a monastery as well, which was very different from most of the activities we have been doing. We finished up at the Hadassah Medical Center which is an incredibly massive complex.

Jerusalem has been an amazing experience and I very much look forward to the rest of this trip exploring Israel. I have learned so much about my culture and religion that will help guide me through life. There is something about coming to this place that just transforms a person and I cannot put my finger on it. I am so very grateful for this experience and I cannot wait to see the rest of this beautiful country.

-Tedi Rosenstein

Wednesday, July 16

Today’s course with Professor Dov Shinar was a continuation of our previous discussions on media coverage during times of conflict or war. In the communications field, there seems to be nostalgia for the days of radio news. With television reports, information is often disseminated through the biased lens of the reporter. Instead of allowing the public the opportunity to digest facts, experts are brought in to explain the meaning of events.

1st

The media has the ability to spread alarm. In the two weeks that I have been in Israel, I have noticed that my classmates are glued to their phone screens. Every few minutes, I’ll hear a beep or buzz and someone will notify me of the number of rockets fired. Before the more violent side of the conflict kicked up, no one was really updating me on the continued peace process between Hamas and Israel. Now, I can’t turn around without new stats on the casualties or trivia questions on the Iron Dome.

The media also has the power to shape reality and perception. Carol Daniel Kasbari’s Ted Talk, “Israel-Palestine: Going Beyond the Dialogue of Words,” outlines both negative and positive outcomes in living in a world dominated by screen-filtered appearances. Kasbari is now a conflict transformation specialist. However, years ago, she was just a young Palestinian girl living in Nazareth. She held Israeli citizenship, unlike her future husband Osama Kasbari. The couple was working on obtaining Osama’s permanent residency up until 2003 when the government pasted the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. The order denied residency or citizenship by way of marriage to any Palestinian living in hostile areas.

As a conflict transformation specialist, Carol Kasbari works to change the Israeli-Palestinian narrative. She provides four tips: engage in open dialogue of words and action; invite media professionals to see personal perspectives; bring the unconvinced into the circle; and build up a supportive community. Kasbari admits that as a young girl she was heavily influenced by the stories told from her parents and the television. Of the Arabs living in occupied territories, she only knew to be afraid. Kasbari realized that her perspective was inaccurate once she entered college in Bethlehem. Since then she has been working to invite others to engage in open dialogue.

Although television had a part in shaping Carol Kasbari’s incomplete perception of Arabs living in occupied territories, the specialist does not discount the media’s positive influence. After class, we were taken to a highly respected news station, the Voice of Israel. There we spoke with employees at the station, including a colonel tasked with broadcasting safety procedures to Israeli citizens.

Colonel

Our tour guide explained that the reports mostly remain neutral and does not lean right or left. This is extremely commendable. However, I was disappointed that there did not seem to be a strong Palestinian narrative present at the station. I wholeheartedly agree with Carol Kasbari’s assessment that in order to transform the conflict there needs to be open dialogue between both sides. The media has the power to facilitate the sharing of narratives.

Rep

Professor Shinar’s class and the trip to the Voice of Israel was a good ending to our Politics and Communication course in Jerusalem. Hopefully the course picks up the same momentum once we enter Tel Aviv. As a wrap up to the first half of our dialogue, the students were treated to a group dinner. Before dinner ended, we went around to share highlights from our time in Jerusalem. Several people commented on the Israeli resilience during and after bomb shelter pit stops. Others were glad to be privy to the sense of friendliness and community. Yet still were the students who appreciated the conversations amongst peers about the various religious groups represented in the program. Proving once again that open dialogue bridges gaps and brings people on opposite ends of the spectrum closer together.

Francisca Fils-Aime

The Role of the Media in War and Peace

July 14, 2014

 

“The conflict.” It’s usually one of the first things we talk about on a given day; most nights it’s the last thing we talk about before we sleep. Whether it’s a red alert notification seen on a phone or an idea that resurfaces from conversations passed, it always comes up. Finally, I asked Tal, an Israeli student at Hebrew University, “Do you ever get sick of talking about ‘the conflict’?”

 

He smirked, “All the time.”

 

Nevertheless, discussion of the conflict continues. Today in our political science course we discussed the relationship between the media and government in Israeli politics. Professor Shinar outlined the development of media sources in Israel, from printed press, to radio broadcasts, to cable networks. Though public broadcasting in Israel had existed since 1932, the establishment of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in 1948 encouraged the government to decide how it would handle the media. In a concept not so foreign to Americans, we learned of the heavy influence politicians have on media sources, particularly due to the fact that roughly 10% of Knesset members are former journalists. As a result, politicians are able to use relationships with journalists as well as legislative work in order to persuade voters.

 

In relation to the current situation of Israel and Palestine, we discussed the ways in which the media fuels the conflict. Media sources, both foreign and domestic, draw attention to the reactionary acts of violence and aggression occurring between the two sides. However, being that this is a political science course, we would be in remiss to accept such a superficial analysis. The root of the conflict lies not in the difference in of Arab/Islamic and Israeli/Jewish ideologies; rather, it is a conflict of cultures that results from the exclusivity expressed by each side in their general refusal to accept the other. The asymmetric nature of the conflict further complicates the situation, as it causes motives to stray from nation vs. nation to nation vs. movement.

 

The media’s ability to exacerbate issues by highlighting the actions of extremist parties on both sides rather than providing coverage on peace processes is congruent with the reporting philosophy “if it bleeds, it leads.” In relation to the conflict of reciprocated attacks between Israel and Hamas, news organizations have recently chosen to report primarily on Israel’s decision to continue firing towards Gaza in response to their rejection of the proposed ceasefire. While there are claims by Hamas that they were not consulted in the process, many news organizations have only briefly mentioned such an issue, choosing headlines that revolve around continued violence, “As cease-fire with Hamas fails to take shape, Netanyahu says, ‘Our answer is fire,’” (The Washington Post) and, “Israel Resumes Strikes on Gaza After Hamas Rejects Cease-Fire,” (Newsweek). For the purpose of holding an audience, news outlets neglect to follow end-of-conflict models that would promote and spread ideas of reconciliation. As a result, the media often strays from the ideological concepts that carry the possibility to transform a conflict, holding the public’s attention to violence rather than rationality.

 

Anna Bagley