Sunday, January 24, 2010

In Defense of Peace Parks

“What does planting trees have to do with peace?” asked one sardonic Economist reporter in response to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to South African activist, Wangaari Waathai.

Neutral territory between Jordan and Israel-- plans for creating a Peace Park are underway (

To those unaware of this growing international peace-building movement, the concept may seem a bit odd: sharing the responsibility of taking care of the natural environment in a border zone helps build a sense of transboundary community. Indeed, it sounds ideal in theory, but what about practice? Can we realistically expect people to put down their weapons, knock down their walls and start planting trees? Even the title "Peace Parks" elicits a mental rendering of a vague soft diplomacy tactic, at best (and at worst, some lovey-dovey hippies roaming around central park). But while it may seem a little counter-intuitive, especially considering the modern methods of dipomacy and so-called conflict resolution, I ask you to set aside your skepticism for a moment and try looking at things through a new lens.

What is the connection between protecting the environment and peacebuilding? If this land, for example, was filled with salted earth, no water and garbage, there would be no conflict-- there are no resources to fight over. The struggle to acquire land on the borders of Middle Eastern nations is not simply a power issue, but rather an issue of access to the region's most valuable resource. If you guessed oil, you're wrong. It's water. We are, above all things, in a desert. And it is only a matter of time before this water runs out. But as one environmental researcher told me yesterday, we shouldn't use water to ignite fires, but to put them out. We can use this so-called crisis as motivation to build bridges, instead of burning them.

A popular idea for building and maintaining peace between nations clashing over boundary lines is the concept of a peace park. Peace parks are neutral territories between nations, where the border becomes blurred. These parks emphasize people to people connections, attempting to buildtransboundary community a sense of mutual respect and appreciation for the land. Peace parks are instrumentally useful in resloving disputes even if the dispute is non-environmental. Sustaining peace between neighboring jurisdictions, it needs to show that the environment and ecosystem knows no political boundaries, and that there is a joint effort of cooperation for conservation on both sides of the border.

A great example of the success of one peace park initiative is on the border between Ecuador and Peru. This was a long standing conflict, and the border was such a point of contention that they had to bring in NASA to find a solution for a logical boundary that works with nature between the two regions. The US and Brazil initiated a peace declaration, but this didn't translate to the people on the ground. During peace talks, both countries recognized that the area should be conserved, and that things needed to change quickly because the military presence was causing damage to the environment. They came up with a joint conservation plan, and remains as such to this day-- as a jointly managed Peace Park. This resolution brought the sides together to think outside the box of the territorial conflict, and come up with a sustainable and pragmatic (not to mention financially profitable) way to attain grassroots peace between the two nations.

But it is not easily achieved. There are many challenges to overcome when creating a peace park. This creative challenge is currently being undertaken by grassroots peace and environmental researchers on the issue of the Golan Heights. Mainly, since the land itself-- including the border-- is disputed territory,it is imperative for both Israel and Syria to create a peace-treaty that involves the resolution of this land dispute before simply turning it into a Peace Park. As one Golan Heights resident and activist told me, "A peace park would be fine, but it should not be used as a condition for peace. It must be a result of a treaty, not a condition for peace."

This distinction may be difficult to understand, so I'm going to try to explain a little bit. The peace park as a condition of peace would look like the following: A treaty simply stating that the disputed land (now under Israel's political control) will become politically neutral-- allowing both Syrian citizens and Israeli citizens the ability to enjoy the natural landscape without the need for a visa or permit of entry. The problem with this method of creating a peace park would be (from Syria's point of view)that Syria will be officially losing the land, while Israel will be maintaining access to this land that they've occupied since 1967.* What would be preferable, is that a trade of some sort, perhaps involving access to water for access to land (as many diplomatic studies have suggested) would be in the official peace treaty, and any development of a peace park would be a subsequent result.

While attending a peace park conference at Tel Aviv University, the director of the University gave a rather depressing opening statement: "Peace with Syria is a pipe dream. Good luck with that." (yes, he actually said that to a room full of conflict analysts) Maybe he's got a point. Maybe we're just dreaming that people can put aside their narratives and do something beneficial for the greater good. Trees, not weapons. Water, not borders. People-to-people diplomacy. Transboundary responsibility. Maybe it is a dream. Yet, I've just got this strange feeling that won't dissipate: that people are able to evolve-- that if we have enough power and motivation to ruin something, we've got enough power and motivation to fix it. Maybe peace parks aren't the answer, but, in my humble researcher opinion, they're a good way to reframe how to deal with transboundary conflict.

* Obviously, I'm not Syrian, and I know only studied their perspective from a peripheral angle. I'm only assuming this would be one point of contention with the peace park plan, if it were to be presented as a condition for peace.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mo' solutions, mo' problems

Sorry for the delay in updating my posts. Things have been a little crazy lately.

Now that I've written about the environmental problems facing the sea of galilee, the jordan river and the dead sea, I'd like to turn now to some solutions that are being proposed for the region. The first of these solutions has been dubbed the "Red-Dead Conduit" and involves creating a pipeline of water from the red sea to the dead sea. This conduit would supply water to Jordan, and would involve a treaty signed on by Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

Sounds good, right? This option is highly attractive because of it's transnational cooperation aspect. The conduit would involve cooperation from all three nations, and would require all three to work together on ensuring its success. It is the first contract to be promoted by all three nations.

So what's the downside? The main downside of this conduit is environmentally based. Primarily, the chemical composition of the two waters may not be completely compatible. It's important to remember that the Dead Sea contains a unique chemical makeup, and that not all waters are filled by the same chemicals. Preliminary studies of combining the two waters show mixed results-- in some cases, successful, and in others, disastrous. According to some environmental researchers, the short term may prove successful, but the long term effects of mixing the waters could prove even more detrimental to the Dead Sea than the evaporation rate.

Furthermore, the red sea is home to many unique species of coral reefs. The building of the red-dead canal could impact the growth of these reefs as well as other unique native wildlife to the region.

There are also concerns that the conduit is being built over an active geological region. The area in the Arava valley (southern Israel/Jordan) is situated along an active fault line, and is at risk for earthquakes. Many researchers are concerned that if an earthquake were to occur, there would not be enough planning/foresight to prevent spillage and possible breakage of the conduit.

Finally, and perhaps the most obvious concern of all, what happens when the Dead Sea is filled up? Would this involve production to cease entirely? Or would the water be diverted elsewhere?

For an interesting analysis, check out:

A second solution is to increase the flow from the Jordan River into the Dead Sea. Now, I've previously covered why it is that the Jordan has been reduced to 10% it's natural flow rate (due to diversions and damming for Israel and Jordan's freshwater access)So, if the sea of galilee is shrinking, and the jordan river is dammed, how can we create a higher flow rate? The answer lies in international cooperation.

The beautiful thing about water is that it knows no geopolitical boundaries. It simply flows where it flows. Turkey, an ally of all the countries in this region affected by the water shortage, has offered to release a portion of its water (now dammed) and allow it all to flow naturally through the river/lake systems.

While this second option is an environmentalist's dream, it is a political nightmare, particularly for Israel. The problem with this option is that, consequentially, Israel would have to be relying on water passing through Syria. While efforts are underway to improve diplomatic relations between Syria and Israel, they've got a long way to go, and water is a particularly tense point between the two nations. It has been argued that one of the main strategic causes for the 1967 war was access to the Banias, a rivershed in Syria, as well as the sea of galilee. This is further exacerbated by Israel's continued occupation of the Golan Heights (a situation I will detail in my next post). Due to these political constraints, the possibility of cooperation between Israel and Syria seems tenuous at best.

Apologies if this post seems a bit depressing. The situation is complicated, and I've only covered the basics. There are a few other plans that are being proposed, each of which has its own merits and difficulties. For a review of the proposals, check out

I've said this before, and I'll reiterate it now, because I think it's a good point to remember: these problems are affecting everyone in the region. It is only a matter of time before the issue turns into a real crisis. The fact that politicians and environmentalists are acting now to address these concerns is actually a good move to help create not only an environmentally, but politically sustainable region.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Soldiers Story

They came in to the hotel, lead by a man who appeared very much as a rabbi, but with a handgun. They came in groups and all had guns. They couldn't have been more than 20 years old. Baby faced and exhausted, they marched up the stairs in drab olive uniforms. Boys, some girls. Their presence was daunting-- the sight of IDF soldiers in the arab-dominated East Jerusalem was jolting enough, their automatic weapons only added to the intimidation.

They sat around me, some still in uniform, others in plain white t-shirts, gym shorts and flip flops. They had family in America, most from New York. They asked what we were doing here, and why we were staying in an Arab neighborhood. I paused, slightly jarred by the phrasing of the question, and one of my peers answered. She told them the truth-- that we were studying geopolitical conflict, and I watched as they shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They wanted to know why we went to the West Bank, as if the mere attempt to reach out to the "other" was useless. I saw where this was going, and (somewhat abruptly, I'll admit) cut in. I told them all about Israel's water problem, and how it was influencing the region around them. I told them we've come to study what people are doing to influence policy, and examine the effects of current policy on the low-income population, which includes Palestinians. To this, I received a bunch of blank stares as a response. We have a water crisis? they asked. End of discussion.

The conversation quickly shifted to things i have little knowledge of (and quite frankly, little interest in). Guns, military strategy, training, branches of the army. As the conversation drew on, their rhetoric became more relaxed, and they began making comments about the neighborhood in which our hotel is situated, their opinions of Palestinians and their disregard for the arabic language. The comments were a bit too graphic to repeat, and I was extremely uncomfortable, not knowing what to do or say. Part of me wanted to fight them, knock them out and steal their guns. Part of me wanted to hold up a mirror, repeat the words back to them so maybe they could hear them more clearly and see their blind hatred. But I was frozen silent, not knowing how to proceed in the face of such indoctrinated hate.

After a while, I politely excused myself after a while and went to see my professor. They look like scared little boys with big guns, I told him, but they are heartless.  He said, I wish you could follow them tomorrow and see what they do.

We sat and talked a while about what I had heard. For a war that people so often point to as having religious motivation, there is no God here. There was no God in their words and deeds. They wore kippahs on their heads, silver stars around their necks and wouldn't look at a computer after midnight on a Friday. I could not balance the symbols of a beautiful peaceful religion with these words and instruments of hatred. This imbalance occurs on both directions of the conflict, and it never fails to catch me off guard.(That very morning, symbols of Islam- a religion I respect so much- juxtaposed with words of revenge jolted me into similar sadness). Earlier that day we had visited the Tomb of Abraham, and all I could think about is that we are fighting our brothers. Family is killing family. Perhaps when Jesus wept while over looking the city of Jerusalem, mere steps from where we were sitting, one of those tears was for the future of this land, for what he knew it would become.

There was a knock at the door. An IDF soldier I was talking to had figured out where I was, and wanted to talk some more. For fear he would attempt to enter the room where my professor and I were talking (thus making a very uncomfortable encounter between an IDF soldier and a Palestinian environmental/conflict researcher), I quickly shut the door and suggested we move to the lobby. As we walked to the lobby, he asked for more details about the water conflict. I referenced article 40 of the Oslo accords, told him about the Dead Sea crisis and the impending security problems a lack of water in this region could trigger. I continued for a while, hoping that if I kept talking he would become bored and decide to go elsewhere. The fact that our personal views on the conflict were at extreme odds did not help my nerves.

But then he did something that changed the game entirely. He interrupted my ramblings. He looked at me directly and said, slightly urgently "What can we do to fix the situation?" And he actually sounded concerned. Honestly, I don't know why this shocked me so much. I had merely assumed he wouldn't have an interest in the details. Why should he care anyway? It's affecting the Arab nations the most right now. The Palestinians are the ones who have no clean water (or water at all) right now. But there it was: The humanity. There he was, finally, not a soldier, not a Zionist, but just another kid. Just like some boy who could've grown up next door to me. In some messed up alternate universe, he could've been me. If it wasn't for the gun slung around his shoulder, I would've forgotten who I was talking to.

I told him about the options that are in the research stage right now. I explained the pros and cons of each proposal, and then laughed uncomfortably and said "I'm not here to solve this. Only your government can do that. I'm just an outsider." After a moment of silence, he said "You really care about this, don't you? " I nodded, looking away uncomfortably "I hope you come back and help us sort this out. We could use some help."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tea in Palestine

When we arrived, there were children playing pickup soccer in the back yard. Flowers hung from the garden on vines, and the sun was just setting beyond the city limits. There was laughter and a baby crying followed by adoring coos from the mother. We went around the porch, shaking hands with multiple women who looked at us smiling with curiosity. As we sat in the chairs, they brought us tea and coffee, and attempted to serve us-- which we promptly refused and began serving ourselves. As we settled in our chars, one woman began talking about her school in Hebron. She was the headmistress at the only government-funded coeducational school in H2, the section of the city of Hebron, which is under israeli security control.

With emphatic gestures and flawless english, she described the conditions under which palestinian children are educated in an occupied city. Text books being monitored, religious classes being cut, any reference to palestine or the palestinian narrative was strictly forbidden. It was frustrating, but she seemed to know how to handle it. She has written a paper on the censoring of national history and identity through curriculum monitoring in Israel. “It happens everywhere” she said, casually, “history always changes depending on who tells it.”

The current curriculum is taught in both english and arabic. Judging from all the sisters' flawless english, I could tell that education was something this family valued. Indeed, this was confirmed when she said “English to us is more than a second language. We have a saying in this house-- another language is like a weapon on your arm.”

“In the 3 years that I've been head mistress in that school, the student population has doubled. Most of our graduates go on to university about 70%. The majority of these graduates are women” she said proudly. I caught a glimpse of her mother sitting behind her, eyes twinkling with love, her sisters all smiled, and the daughters too. This was one powerful woman.

Her school is situated across the street from some Israeli Settlements within Hebron. “Before I got there, there were frequent attacks on the school. It was hard because we had no security. Palestinian Police cannot enter that section of Hebron and, well, the Israelis don't really care about us. So if something happened, we had no one to call. But that changed when I got there. I can say that within the three years I've taught there, I've only had to drive one person to the hospital-- our teacher. She was stoned by settlers during class hours.”

She credits this rapid decrease in attacks to both working with the israeli security forces and rearranging class schedule. “I brought each of the security into my office, got their personal contact information and gave them mine. And I told them that if something happens, I want them to do their job. Everyone should do what they're supposed to. I'll do mine and take care of the children, they do theirs and keep us safe. I also told them that I want a police escort to sit in front of the school every morning. And they come.”

She didn't really go into detail on the attacks on the school, but she explained that many of the attacks were due to clashes on the way to and from school between the israeli and palestinian children. The palestinians would get stoned or beaten by the settlers on their way to class. “I don't know what their parents are doing. Maybe they're encouraging it. Its terrible if they're using the children like that. But the attacks are by the children, who then are protected by the adults.” So she rearranged the class schedule to avoid overlap between the commuting time, starting and ending school half an hour earlier than the settlers.

“some people call it 'passive nonviolence' or something like that.” she said, handing me her business card and pointing out her email address. “I call it 'everyone do their job'. My main priority is the children, education and security. Security before education.”

I think I've just met my idol.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Dead Sea

Though a beloved tourist spot for Jordanians, Israelis, Europeans (and someday perhaps, Palestinians) The Dead Sea is, for lack of a better word, dying. Made up of water of high salinity, and, due to low altitude and high radiation, this water is susceptible to high amounts of radiation, thus causing a high evaporation rate. When the Dead Sea is healthy, water flows from the Galilee to the River Jordan (Upper and Lower) and into the Dead sea, where it evaporates, leaving a pool of water with high levels of salt, Many people claim the area to have great medicinal and spiritual value. Whatever its physical value, the government cannot deny its financial value to the tourist industry. Both Israel and Jordan have made massive amounts of financial gains through the use of the Dead Sea, its salt and mud based products, and the peat that is left behind after evaporation.

Man-made interference has, however, thrown off the ecological balance of the Jordan River Bioshed, and this includes the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is shrinking in surface area by about 1 m per year. Though this thought is scary enough for the tourist industry, many political players are wondering why they should care. The answer lies in the ripple effects-- more immediately, the sink holes. Essentially, what is happening is that, in its healthier days, the fresh water that flows down from the mountains under ground is balanced by the salt water that lies below it, creating a stable interface of water. The fresh water then evaporates, leaving a pool of salt and water mixture behind, But because the sea water is shifting and exposing these salt layers, the fresh water actually comes into contact with the salt layer, which then dissolves the salt. This creates a cavity under the soil, which, given the proper circumstances, creates a sink hole. These sink holes are appearing all along the shore of the Dead Sea, putting at risk the hotels, beaches, spas, kibbutz, and even highways.

The issue of sink holes is not an israeli-only issue. What happens on one bank of the dead sea occurs on the other bank as well. Although the jordanian side is marked by cliffs, so erosion and sink holes aren't as obvious, the depletion of the water's surface area has continued to a point where it is becoming noticeable. This is problematic for the Jordanians tourism industry, among other things, which, for a struggling economy is highly important and could cause severe repercussions.

So what is causing the sea water level to shift in the first place? If you go back to my previous post, I talk about how, due to the National Water Carrier and other man-made diversion sources for water, the Israelis have decided to dam the jordan river. The jordan river right now is at 10% of its natural flow rate. Since the jordan flows into the Dead sea, reducing its waterflow at such a extreme rate is putting the entire biosphere on a shift, resulting in the loss of water to the dead sea. The water of the dead sea continues to evaporate at the same rate it always did, but the water is not replenished by the Jordan.

Critics will say that the dead sea has decreased in size before, due to natural phenomenon. This is true. The Dead Sea is a naturally dynamic system-- it has always had ups and downs due to the natural course of things. But now it is obvious the reason it is dropping today is because of human interference. While the sea has seen such lows naturally in the past, the really disturbing aspect is the rate of decline-- the Dead Sea has never decreased in surface area so rapidly.

There's a secondary consequence to the rapidly shrinking dead sea that affects Israel's economy more than tourism-- industry. The peat industry relies on evaporation from the Dead Sea to provide it with potassium rich soil, which it then exports all over the world. In order to create the correct reaction to maintain this naturally occurring phenomenon, the industry artificially separates the Upper Dead Sea from the Lower Dead Sea, keeping the lower portion at a depth of 1 meter. Hotels have sprung up around this portion of the dead sea, but now are facing the opposite problem from the Northern part-- flooding. Due to the maintained amount of water and evaporation, peat production is booming, so much so that the industry is unable to keep up. So if the soil is growing larger and larger, and the water needs to be maintained at the same depth level, hotels are now dealing with flooding issue. This produces a secondary conflict between the chemical industry and the hotel/tourism industry.

When I asked an Israeli water/environmental researcher on if he thought there was hope for the Dead Sea to recover he said: “ let's put it this way: I don't think it gets any worse than where we're at. If the government doesn't get involved and change things, there's very little people like me can do. But I think once they see the economic impact, they'll want to change things.

The Dead Sea is a transboundary resource. It really could be an environmental phenomenon like ths one that shapes the future political climate. Each country is too small and too financially burdened to deal with this crisis on its own. As the researcher told me “we each have problems, but if we're creative we can see these problems as opportunities.”

On the Wall

“Personally, I'm against it. There are days when I look up and I see this massive terrible thing, and I think “my god, what have we done?" All over the world, they're tearing walls down-- the Berlin wall crumbled-- and here we are building one up. It's horrifying. But at the same time, there was... “ she paused briefly, considering her words carefully. “So many people have died. There was a cafe just around the corner from here, I mean, I live in Jerusalem, right down the street from here, actually. There was a cafe just around the corner that got bombed. And when I found out that my son in law was right outside when it happened. We're just scared. It's too terrifying to live like that. People wouldn't come out of their homes. We couldn't take it anymore. So I understand why we built it.”

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This Land Speaks

“You know, in Jewish tradition, when there is a conflict you go to the rabbi. The rabbis have to show wisdom sometimes to solve conflicts which are really look like unsolvable.” Dr Pinhas Alpert paused and looked up into the majority Israeli audience. They laughed politely in approval. “So, there is a Hasidic tale that deals with the very issue we are dealing with today. Once upon a time,” he continued “two men were fighting about a piece of land. Each claimed his ownership and brought proofs , you know, all the documents that showed ownership, but they couldn't reach an agreement. To resolve the differences, they agreed to bring the issue before the rabbi. The rabbi listened but couldn't come to a decision because both were right. They both had rightful ownership of the land, and both had convincing supporting evidence. Finally he said, “since I cannot decide to whom this land belongs, let us ask the land itself. “ So he put his ear to the ground. And after a moment he straightened up and said, “the land tells me that it belongs to neither of you, but that you both belong to the land.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sea of Galilee and Jordan River: Man v Nature

Greetings from East Jerusalem! Apologies about the lack of posts, things have been a little nuts here. I'm going to talk about the main water issue plaguing not only israel, but also Jordan, Syria, and the PA (Palestinian Authority-- aka west bank/gaza) It's a little complicated (read: mess!) but try to bear with me because it's also really interesting.

The Jordan river has been manipulated multiple times throughout history. There is a dam that regulates the flow of the river going from the sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.

There are a couple of issues that plague the sea of Galilee and the Jordan river. Primarily, the levels of the sea of Galilee keep depleting since it is the primary source of freshwater in the region. Typically, the sea of Galilee flows into the river Jordan, and then eventually flows into the dead sea, which has high levels of saltwater. But while the sea of Galilee is depleting, the flow of the Jordan is reversing back into the sea of Galilee .

Here's a nice shot of the Jordan River, in the spot where some say is near where Jesus was baptised:

But after talking to our guide for a bit, he admitted that the spot where Jesus was baptised was probably closer to Jericho, a city in the west bank. When I asked him why people didn't go there to see the actual spot, he said the river wasn't so nice there. That turned out to be the biggest understatement ever. After a certain point, the lower Jordan river begins to accumulate massive amounts of sewage, due to increased agriculture and settlements along the banks.

(It smelled worse than it looks... trust me)
So a second problem is the amount of pollution in the lower Jordan. Sewage from cities, kibbutz and towns along both sides of the border have been dumping sewage into the river Jordan.

This sewage accumulates as it flows through the lower river and into the Dead Sea. This is a problem because many people along the river rely on the water as a resource for both drinking water and agriculture. As the water flows south into the West Bank, where there is little access to clean drinking water, nor much infrastructure in place to purify the water for domestic use. There have been recent efforts to build sewage treatment plants along the Jordanian and Israeli banks of the river. Right now, the treated water is being devoted to agriculture. The environmentalists feel that if Israel continues to use the sea of Galilee as its main source of freshwater for agriculture, there is no need to use this treated water from the Jordan river, and that it should be returned back into the currents in order to restore equilibrium in the environment.

A third problem is that the sea of Galilee is slowly becoming more salinated. This, again, is due to the water level depleting Historically, there was a salt water ocean that circumvented  Galilee, Jordan and the dead sea. Some of the water has been preserved in the base of the mountains and underneath the Galilee sea in the form of salt springs. Normally, the pressure from the freshwater prevents the salt water from penetrating through the ground into the base of the sea, but when the freshwater levels are low, there is an imbalance of water pressure, and the salt water seeps in.

So these are the main problems that are threatening the ecosystem in this region. In my next few posts, I'll talk about the geopolitical aspects to these problems, which escalate the conflict further, and some of the proposed solutions. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who is native?

“If you look at the left side of the bus, you'll see a hill covered in green cactus”

Modern houses with bright walls line the side of the road, reminiscent of arizona-esque architecture. Beautifully manicured lawns, complete with lawn decorations, pools and large israeli flags hanging from the windows. We were only a few miles away from the cramped arab side of Nazareth, and yet it felt like a completely different country (namely, the united states). This was beautiful, a place I would want to call home. A place anyone would want to call home. And yet, behind this glamour, these beautiful mansions, this manifestation of perfection, lay the crumbling ghosts of a destroyed town.

“This town was previously inhabited by arabs. The cactus is a sign from the Israel National Fund. They want to cover up the memory.”

It's a sad narrative, but a narrative none the less. History is so important to both Israelis and Palestinians, and yet so often one wants to sweep the other under the rug. “Forget about the past, let's build a future” they say to one another. But no one really forgets.And so they tell these stories over and over, to themselves and whoever else will listen. These narratives are valid, legitimate and in most cases true. Both israelis and palestinians have them, and that's not the problem. The problem is that they both deny the existence of the other.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with an conservative american. I was talking about how the modern establishment of the united states is a constant assault on the culture of of the native american indians. His response: “Who is really native?” And while I think he's completely full of it regarding the native americans (they were there first, so they're native to the land-- duh), it brings up a good point about the mentality of some people when addressing issues of land rights.

To have a historic claim to land is a privilege that both these people-- palestinian and israeli-- are fighting over. Yet, perhaps the point is not so much whose land it was hundreds and hundreds of years ago, but whose land it is now. The land is Israel's now, and to ask them to move would only displace more people. I'm not sure what could be done, but I don't know if I'll ever forget what I saw. Those ghosts in that town-- they're not invisible. They're made of stone and still stand, daring you to deny them.

We drove a few kilometers to a Bedouin village. I know what you're thinking-- oxy-moron? Though traditional Bedouins are nomadic, the israeli government moved the Bedouin tribes into small towns. The land where the bedouins were previously inhabiting was valuable to the israelis. As a result, the bedouins have become restricted into small towns, losing most of their nomadic farm-based culture.

The town we drove through was well structured, and appeared to have some form of infrastructure such as running water and electricity. .And yet while everything appeared alright, a sense of loss hung in the air, reminiscent of driving through native american reservations in upstate new york. Everything looks alright-- but something is missing. Something does not fit here.

Many of the Bedouins are desperate for jobs, and many have been employed by the Israeli army. They separate the Bedouins and Druze (another ethnic minority in the region) and use them in the West Bank against the Palestinians, since most Druze and Bedouin do not identify as Palestinian Arab. Recently, however, there has been a movement to refuse these jobs, leaving the economic situation of the towns in a dire situation.

As we were driving through, we passed a young woman walking down on the street. She paused when she saw our van, and peered inside. With intense dark eyes she stared at me. I caught her gaze, and then quickly looked away. When I looked back, she was still focused on me, daring me to deny her. “Look at this” she seemed to insist. “Look at what has happened here.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

got some 'splaining to do

Looking over my past few blog posts, I feel like I should explain myself in case there are some who are misunderstanding me. This conflict, particularly the environmental dimension of it, is an asymmetrical conflict. Over the past few days I have been interviewing both Israeli environmental activists and Palestinians (who live in israel) environmental activists to understand what exactly we are dealing with in this dimension. It is very important for me to make a distinction between the Israeli state and policies and the Israeli people themselves. Everyone I have met here has been incredibly honest, generous and friendly, more than I had anticipated. I don't view anyone as being inherently evil, narrow minded, backwards or vengeful (regardless of the fact that many americans who have aligned themselves with people in this conflict often do portray the opposing side that way). In fact, there are some situations that I have encountered where I was surprised how level-headed and even-handed the activist's analysis of the situation has been. I have been trying very hard to reflect upon what I've learned with the same level-headedness and maintain an unbiased standpoint.

At the same time, please understand that it is generally accepted by both israeli and palestinian activists that this is an asymmetrical conflict (a conflict rooted in structural oppression against a minority) that cannot be viewed separately from its geopolitical origins. The right to own and occupy land is tied to the right to access water and waste infrastructure. All activists I have interviewed, including Palestinian and Druze, have acknowledged that the problem is not with the average Israeli citizen, but rather with the policies that are unequally distributed and applied to Jewish Israelis. Even the Jewish Israeli activists I have encountered and interviewed agree with this perspective. So I'm sorry if my field notes come off a little one-sided. It is not that I am supporting one side over another, it is that the consensus tends to be that there is a systemic problem of discrimination against the minority population within israel that directly impacts their access to natural resources, and ultimately creates a destructive natural environment for everyone in the region.

As far as the political climate here goes, I would like to make a note about the exaggeration of the conflict between israelis and the 1948 palestinians (those residing within israel). Yes, there are many tensions and I'm sure there are a many cases of discrimination and violence. But, unlike many americans and members of the diaspora or people, I would not go so far as to say the state itself is an apartheid state. Coming here, I had expected road blocks, constant israeli checkpoints whenever we travel in and out of arab neighborhoods and a restriction on speaking arabic on the streets. In the few days I have been here and observed the situation, this has not been the case. Granted, I understand that I am american and though I am staying in the Arab neighborhoods, I am not privvy to everything that goes on. But I can say that I have been walking down the street in Jewish cities alongside Hussein, who is almost constantly shouting into his cellphone in arabic, and no one has even looked twice. So while his speaking arabic may be making people uncomfortable, we haven't witnessed any direct discrimination because of it. Our bus driver, who only speaks arabic, has walked around with us freely, and to my knowledge has not encountered any acts of violence or explicit prejudice. There are separate schools, separate neighborhoods, have a harder time taking out loans, it is next to impossible for them to acquire any land, have a difficult time getting to some places in the country and they are, without a doubt, constantly suspect-citizens. But, just from talking to the 1948 palestinians about their rights as citizens, the policy seems to me less South Africa and more United States pre-1950s civil rights movement. Which isn't to say it's alright. It's not alright. It's appalling. But it's not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be.

Similarly, the anger and resentment on the part of the 1948 palestinians towards the israelis isn't nearly as radical as some would like to make it out to be. Many of the activists I have spoken to have openly acknowledged the Jewish Israeli narrative with exceptional understanding. In fact, I would go as far to say that it seems like the Palestinian activists have humanized the majority more than the majority has humanized them. This is, in a way, understandable. As a minority living within the nation, they have no choice but to understand the dominant narrative.

This, however, is coming from the palestinians living within israel, who are legally citizens of israel (although they will be quick to point out that didn't have a choice about that). The 1948 palestinians are in a radically different situation than the palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and those who are in refugee camps in the surrounding countries. I will not be going to Gaza, Jordan Lebanon nor Syria, so those perspectives I cannot speak for. But i will be going to the West Bank next week, and I will be sure to report back both what i see and what people tell me.

All this being said, I don't mean to say that everything is peachy in Israel for the 1948 Palestinians. There are some situations that are just astonishingly bad. The prejudice, particularly regarding the ability to acquire and maintain land and access to equal infrastructure is appalling. Judging from Haim's (the Israeli guide)reactions to these situations, I would venture to say that not many israelis-- even the environmental activists-- are not aware of how bad some of the towns and villages are. My trip to the Golan Heights was both depressing and eye opening-- even Haim, who is incredibly patriotic, said that he was ashamed of the situation there. Children should not have minefields as backyards, people should have access to water and medical facilities, people should not be forced to move from their homes or have their land sold without their permission and there should not be a military base in the middle of a town. These are very simple and obvious things that are being neglected. I simply am writing what I see, and if it is offensive to you, believe me, it is even more offensive to witness first hand.

When I see Haim's face when we are in these places, he gets a look that I am very familiar with. It is the realization that you, due random cards of fate, have been dealt an unfair amount of privilege. I know that feeling well. But guilt is not enough, nor is outrage nor simple awareness. It is we-- the ones who are the majority, the ones who have the power to affect change-- who are responsible to take the first steps towards correcting the injustice within the system. This is not just for the benefit of the minority-- it is imperative for the existence of a fair, free and equal society that we all dream of achieving.

So in short, I am going to continue to write what I see and hear. We are switching hotels and will be in East Jerusalem beginning tomorrow. Hopefully there will be internet there, and hopefully it will have a stronger connection so I can upload some of these pictures and video. I feel like if you get a chance to see it for yourself, maybe you'll understand what I'm talking about a little more.

Psychology of Peace

Today we stopped by the Center for Applied Research and examined the results of a recent study on racism in Israel. The purpose of the study was mainly for monitoring levels of explicit discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping, as well as negative overall attitudes towards palestinians living within israel. I will be examining these results in more detail in order to look for any hidden variables, but judging from the information I was presented with, it seems like a pretty solid study.

Perhaps most striking about the study is that it was a survey of explicit measures, meaning the researchers contacted a sample size of 500 israelis and asked them explicit questions on their feelings towards arabs living within israel. I should note here that the researchers who actually designed and conducted the study were Israeli research contractors-- the same people whom the government contacts to conduct their research-- which generally eliminates any researcher bias.

Questions ranged from “How comfortable would you feel living in the same apartment building as an arab israeli family” to “what emotions, if any, do you feel when you hear arabic” to “on a scale from 1 to 5, how much do you agree with the following statement:  it should be considered treason for an israeli woman to marry a palestinian man”

The results were striking. Typically with such explicit studies, the numbers tend to be lower, just because people tend to not like explicitly expressing any biased views. But in this study the numbers were unusually high, including a statistic that showed about 70% of the sample would refuse to live in the same building as palestinian family.

I would be interested in studying the level of implicit discrimination and prejudice held both by Israeli youth against palestinians, as well as the level of implicit prejudice palestinian youth have against themselves. My hunch is that, because they are educated under the Israeli educational system (though in separate institutions than Israeli Jews) with texts that often portray arabs in a negative light, as well as living within a community that views arabs as violent or evil, their reflexive attitudes will be negative. This phenomenon is seen with black americans, whose implicit attitudes towards their own racial group tend to be negative (due to the negative image of black americans in society).

I'd also like to study the palestinians implicit and explicit attitudes toward israelis, perhaps using the same survey that the center for applied research used for measuring israeli attitudes. In this way, it may be possible to use these measures to ascertain the level of readiness for peace. Indeed, people may explicitly say they want coexistence, but it is important to examine the level of readiness on a psychological level, and this would include having to be in close proximity to the other. I found out that the center that organized this study is currently frozen due to lack of funds, which is incredibly disappointing. The psychological well being of people in conflict and post conflict zones always seems to be less emphasized than the financial or economic well being of the state. But in reality, as I always say, peace comes from the people, not the institutions alone.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

little mutiny

“To understand, you must go back into history. It was decided to give the Israelis the land west of jordan river. Jewish population accepted it, Arab population was against. They rejected it and when the UN decided to suport the foundation of israel, the 7 armies invaded israel and tried to ruin the country from the beginning. So try to look at the situation from the israeli point of view and understand why we are afraid. We are afraid because, after the Holocaust, when the world gave us a piece of land to create a country for a broken nation, our neighbors attacked us. Before they attacked us-- 12 years before they attacked us, they rejected another decision by the British government and started military attacks against the British. I think that loosing friends family members causes us to have this feeling that everybody is attacking us from our surroundings we are just defending ourselves.”

Something was missing, and we all sensed it. It was a narrative that we were all familiar with, and all familiar with picking apart. While valid in its own right, it comes from only one perspective-- the perspective of the Arabs living on the land prior to the Balfour declaration, for example, was missing. The perspective of the displaced people was missing. We all knew it. The students sat quietly and uncomfortably in the bus, exchanging glances dotted with question marks. It was the first day on the road without Hussein, and the lectures that day had taken an obviously one-sided angle.

For the rest of the day, we sat in mostly silence, listening to the increasingly narrative-thick explanations of war after war, attack after attack, policy after policy. “Those people don't want peace” as they recounted personal anecdotes about a friend of a friend who was murdered by an Arab, of their service in the military, of how, time after time, the Arabs caused each conflict. The Arabs ruined the environment. The Arabs waste water.

It's not that I agree with them. But I understand why they say it.

But we had enough of it, and there was a little mutiny at lunch. Perhaps motivated by curiosity or aggravation (or maybe both), our quiet american conflict analysis group began questioning the narrative of the israeli guides, inciting a defensive back and forth between narratives. Was it productive? Not really. Interesting? Absolutely.

As we exited the bus, our typically silent bus driver tapped one arabic speaking student on the shoulder and whispered something to her. She nodded and approached a group of us.

“He says to tell us that these speakers are all liars and that the israeli's won't stop until they have taken everything.”

I looked up at the driver, who stared back at us with sad, solemn eyes.
It's not that I agree with him. But I understand why he said it.

Arab Minority within Israel Field notes

Although Israel is officially referred to as a “State for the Jewish People”, about 20% of the population is made up of Christian, Muslim and Druze Arabs, henceforth referred to as Palestinians living in Israel. There is a mutual rejection of israeli identity for this population, both on the part of the official israeli government and the Palestinian people themselves. The Palestinians living within israel came to live within israel's borders by default-- they did not flee the land during the 1948 war. While technically they are inhabitants of Israel, the issue of citizenship appears to be widely disputed. Palestinians living within israel can vote, but are restricted in ways that other Israelis are not Though many of these restrictions are explicit, the majority of them are implicit-- they are discriminatory practices held in place by fear and prejudice against the arab population. Palestinians living within israel cannot officially own whatever land they choose, nor are they able to move freely about the region. Their land can be arbitrarily taken away from them, as seen in many towns throughout the region-- most notably and recently  in East Jerusalem. They hold special identification cards, and attend separate schools from Israeli Jews. There have been implicit reports of systemic discrimination on the part of official israeli actors, including creating preventative measures to impede the palestinian population from acquiring permits to buy/maintain land and build water tanks, as well as a general refusal to accept the validity of the different culture as a part of the region.

In fairness, I should mention that all Israeli's are held to the law of acquiring permits before building, buying or maitaining land. A state cannot simply allow anyone to do whatever they want-- they must keep order somehow. The discrimination is not inherent in these laws themselves, but rather the implimentation of these laws. In plain english-- it is much easier for an Israeli Jew to acquire these permits than a member of the Palestinian minority. Though there are many examples of this happening, the one I can think of right now is in the Golan Heights-- since acess to water in the golan heights is quite expensive (as they must go through the israeli government), the townspeople decided to build water tanks in order to collect rain water. There was quite a contraversy over the building of these tanks, and many proposals in more recent years have been rejected by the government, and the use of the tanks for a long time was taxed. Just recently, the Israelis have finally overturned the law that requires the inhabitants of the Golan Heights to pay a tax on the rainwater that is collected through these tanks.

The idea of nation building is quite difficult. Although the nation of Jewish people has existed in the world, the transformation of this nation into an official state has been more difficult in practice than in theory. The Zionist dream of a democratic state for the Jewish people has proven problematic in practice. By definition Israel is a democratic state-- all of the population, including Palestinians living within israel, have an opportunity to vote in Knesset elections. The contradiction, however, occurs in the official naming of Israel as a state for the Jewish people. This problem in title reflects the prejudice that I have detailed in the previous paragraph. Since Israel is viewed as a state for the Jewish people, it does not, by definiition, include the 20% arab minority. So the question arises: is it possible to have a democracy that refuses to officially include 20% of it's population in its national identity?

I'd like to take a moment and talk a bit about national identity, and how the problem of an ethno-national identity can impact the psychology of the discriminated minority. We've seen this problem in the United States (although slightly different because we do not officially define ourselves as a nation of Anglos despite the fact that our policies seem to demonstrate this belief).  As odd (and horrible) as it sounds, it is only through studying this conflict that I have come to begin understanding this problem.

Walking around the Golan Heights (which I will detail in my field notes for that visit, since there is much to say), we met up with a community organizer who created a  community center for the townspeople. The community center is Arab only, and it includes a medical center (with some really impressive technology that puts some US institutions to shame, I might add), a community theater and performance troupe, fine art studios and supplies, and music lessons/practice rooms. When I heard this community center was for Arabs only, I felt a bit of satisfaction. My instinctive thought was “Good, they need a positive community space.”After years and years of exposure to a national identity narrative that is both destructive to the Arab ethnic identity, and exclusive to only the Jewish ethnic identity, Palestinians living in Israel and Syrians in Occupied Golan (I will explain the distinction in the next note section, since it's a little complex) could use a dose of positive self-esteem and community. Here is where I see the paralell between the minority population in Israel and the minority populations in the United States.

With the formation of any identity, but particularly a national identity relating to a nation in conflict, there is an inherent necessity to exclude others. This exclusion provides a sense of security for the ingroup-- by knowing who is not part of us, we know who we are. The more intense the requirements for the ingroup (ie religious and ethnic requirements), the thicker this psychological security barrier becomes. The mentality is something along the lines of “since we are of the same religion and ethnicity, we see things the same way. We can trace our connections back via bloodlines, and therefore we are genetically an ingroup as well as psychologically.” When in reality, as we've seen with scientific studies of both race and ethnicity: there are more similarities between groups than within groups. Yet, this myth of kinship is perpetauted during the creation of a group identity, and can (and often does, as with the Israel/Palestine conflict) cause violence during the creation of a state-based national identity.

The physical presence of the arab outgroup within the boundaries of the state of israel gives a sense of insecurity. Many people within Israel wish the Arab minority would assimilate their identity into the Israeli majority, because the presence of a different ethnicity provides a weak point within the Jewish State. Here lies the fundamental problem of the definition of Israel as a Jewish state-- the theory does not line up with the reality.

Furthermore, the sense of exclusion does not motivate the Palestinians living within Israel to assimilate their identity. The presence of this psychological barrier between the ethnic groups provides them with a default sense of unified identity-- since they are not part of the ingroup majority, they must be part of an outgroup minority.  The occurance of violence, prejudice and implicit discrimination only bolster these boundaries and categories.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Yeats in the morning

"I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core."
Haim paused.
"I think this is something the Jewish and Arab populations share. We both want to live in peace." the bus full of  sleepy american students nodded silently in approval. He flipped through his book of Yeats poetry, and then began reading aloud once more:

"I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.

Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
So this, this is the dream we share. It is a broken dream-- a broken
 dream we share. And so I think for both peoples, we need to stop 
thinking about the past and start focusing on the future."
To which I heard Hussein reply quietly "Inshallah." 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Perspective entrenchment

Carl Jung said people all over the world regard the same symbols in the same way. I would like to put in front of you two flags, one the Israeli flag, and the other is the Saudi Arabian flag. The Israeli flag is the shield of David. When we pray we cover ourselves with a cover of two lines, and the shield of David is in the middle. We are praying and protecting ourselves with the shield. The flag of Saudi Arabia “there is no god except god, and Mohammad is the prophet.” and to emphasize it there is a sword under it. So when we are speaking about symbols, one is having a shield, and one is using a sword. And this is a symbolic thing to think about”

There was  an awkward pause here, and I glanced over to Hussein, who had a strange look on his face.  Obviously, as an Arab, this story must've stung him a little, and he was trying to think of a polite rebuttal that would not embarass his friend. Finally, he said with a laugh:
"But you can also add, what does it mean of the blue color of the israeli flag? It is blue, which represents the occupation of all the land from the Mediterranean and the Indian oceans”

After touring through the Beit Natufa valley, we went to TAEQ, and met up with Raseem. Raseem, the professor of both Hussein and Haim, presented to us a lecture on the situation of the Arab population living within Israel A palestinian living in israel himself, he seemed to have an in depth knowledge of the policies of the government, and, with the exception of the occasional protest from Haim, he spoke to a silent audience. Towards the end of the presentation, Haim presented a rebuttal which set off a furious back and forth between professor and pupil. The other students in the program, all looking bewildered and slightly still jet lagged, simply sat and watched the display unfold. Later, many told me they were uncomfortable with the exchange, since the two men were life-long friends but still could not agree.

While I was uncomfortable to an extent, I was again, quite interested, to see how each party seemed to slip back into their roles and perpetuate their own narrative of the conflict. Much like an argument between a liberal and conservative in the US, their responses did not directly address the other, but rather seemed like a poorly written script where characters were not truly listening to what the other was saying. It was an interesting experience, and one that supports the idea that this conflict truly has become an identity conflict (as if there was any doubt before), since these two men are devoted to peaceful conflict resolution, yet are unable to remove themselves from the conflict. Perhaps most interesting to me was the way in which Hussein used humor in order to break up the conflict, often throwing in absurd stereotypes of both sides that make everyone laugh.

Beit Natufa Notes

The wind was bitingly cold as we stepped out of the van into the Beit Natufa valley. We sat on large white rocks overlooking the lush green valley, hoping to absorb whatever heat the sun would grant us whenever it poked its face from behind large puffy clouds.
Our guest speaker approached. He pulled up in a small car, blasting what I can only guess was Israeli pop music. With youthful grey eyes and and ageless smile, he introduced himself.
"I am Haim, I am an Israeli Jew and Hussein is one of my closest friends." (Hussein is our professor)"He is like a son to me, I swear, I almost adopted him. I even had a hand in introducing him to his wife."

The conflict in the Beit Natufa Valley has its roots in an asymmetrical infrastructure and conflict of economics. The land is privately owned by traditional Arab farmers, called "Falachin". The Beit Natufa Valley floods every four years during the winter, and as a result the spring and summer months prove difficult to plant and harvest due to oversaturated soil.

While the farmers of the Beit Natufa valley are traditional farmers, and have been there for many generations, they are suffering financially. Due to an asymetrical government subsidy program, they are unable to produce as much crops as the  israeli farms, which have regulated access to water and are not hindered by the flooding.

There is a proposal for a pipeline that would drain the valley, bringing the water into two reservoirs where it is purified and is then transported into the Israeli cities and settlements. Although this water is originally from Palestinian land, none of the water is returned to Palestinian farmers, nor would they be compensated for this water. Despite lack of a permit, construction of this pipeline was started by the ministry of agriculture, but plans were interrupted by the ministry of environment who protested the destruction of the landscape.

In theory this plan would benefit the Palestinian farmers, as it allows them more growing time. But it comes at a high cost. These farmers would have to give up 10% of their land, which would reduce their income to such an extent that many farmers may elect to sell their land for economic purposes. Furthermore, once they sell their land to larger israeli corporations, the corporate farms will begin to monocrop, thus destroying the native plants of the region. All these sacrifices would be for only two extra months of growing season, every couple of years.

The valley itself has  environmental, cultural and religious significance. The plants in the region are native to the area, and are immune to many pests, which could be valuable for heirloom farming. Furthermore, the Falachin are native to the area and are a part of Arab-Israeli culture. To encourage their removal due to lack of economic stability would prove detrimental to the historic culture of the region. Finally, it is said that Jesus would cross the Beit Natufa valley in order to visit Mary Magdalen. Haim, working with the ministry of environment, has proposed that they preserve the land and promote it as an eco-tourist, anthropological and religious-tourist destination. Though their plan has not yet been approved, Haim is confident that the profits from increased tourism to the area would motivate the farmers to remain in the valley.

(Will be posting pictures ASAP. Internet is not cooperating tonight)

Saturday, January 2, 2010


While sitting on the plane, an Israeli man approached us. He asked us where we were headed in Israel and what were we doing there. Despite the numerous warnings we had receieved about the gruff nature of israelis (a rumour I am increasingly believing to be false), he was extremely friendly and began telling us his narrative about israeli security.
“The IDF... they aren't so nice” he put gently. “But it all depends on how they're feeling that day. You have to understand-- Israel must protect itself”. He continued to explain the search procedures, emphasizing to tell the truth because they will know if you're lying, and then explained the separation barrier.
Actually, he called it a wall. This was surprising to me. The typical israeli narrative tends to step lightly near this issue of the barrier, since it's so contraversial to outsiders. For those of you that don't know, there is a barrier-- sometimes a fence, sometimes a wall, that separates Israel from the West Bank. This barrier is, to the israelis, a security feature-- one which they credit the recent decline inviolent attacks.
As the man continued his story, weaving in all sorts of features, I began to think about-- once again-- the importance of the words we use to describe our situations. The sheer multitude of ways to describe the same factors in the same situation:
fence-- wall-- security barrier
town-- settlement
village--refugee camp
The thing is-- the thing that I think we forget-- is that underneath all the politics, all the negative publicity, all the fear and anger-- this is not just a conflict zone. It is a home.The problem is, it seems, that it is a home for two nations of people who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the other. It is a fight which is painful to watch, but now that I'm here, it is becoming a little easier to understand.
We arrived in Tel Aviv and quickly toured around nearby Jaffa. Jaffa, a beautiful port side town, is a mixed city-- something our professor, an Arab living within Israel, pointed out quickly. This is one of the few cities within Israel where Arabs and Israeli Jews live side by side. There are many cities with "Jewish" neighborhoods and "Arab" neighborhoods, but Jaffa is one of those unique places where the cultures are integrated. The streets were filled with people out for a stroll (the shops were closed, as it was a saturday), speaking lilting Hebrew, but the buildings had soft whispers of Arab accents, hidden like pearls along side the arched alleyways, enclosed courtyards and narrow steps. 
"This used to be a main Palestinian port" said our professor, and I felt a pang of sadness. Things change. Time, people, wars change everything. But a big difference between the culture here and the culture in the US is that there is an essential separation between politics and everyday life. Especially so in places like Jaffa. In the end, it seems, people simply want a peaceful place to call home.
 As a side note, I apologize for the lack of content in this post, as I'm writing it with extreme jet-lag. We are going to Beit Natufa Valley tomorrow, which gets into the water conflict, so hopefully that post will be much more interesting (and with pictures!)