Category Archives: Israel

Images of the West Bank – A SmugMug Journal

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A photo journal of images of the West Bank

I have selected a variety of photos from the West Bank and put them into a album to illustrate the diversity and similarities of the West Bank.  I did not visit the entire West Bank, and thus have no photos from the north, in places like Nablus, but these photos capture Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah,  Jericho, and the roads in between.  Many of the photos were taken from inside the buses I was riding in.  Some are of higher quality than others, but all in all, this provides a nice perspective on the differing landscapes.   Click on  any of the photos to enter the gallery.


 

Bethlehem: A Story in Photos

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This is the first of several posts in which I will expand on what I wrote while I was in Israel, and make better use of the thousands of photos I took, to tell the stories I learned.  In many ways this is curriculum development, but it is also a way to more fully explore Israel.

Bethlehem and “the Wall”

I visited Bethlehem on February 21, 2015. It was the first stop on a day-long drive through the West Bank.   The first stop in Bethlehem was what is known as either the Separation barrier, Security fence,  the Occupation Wall, or the Apartheid Wall.  It depends on the perspective that one has.  The “wall” went up between 2003 and 2006, and is attributed with dramatically decreasing the number of terrorist attacks in Israel.  That said, the Wall is very controversial.  It isolated Palestinians, and only 20% of it is actually on the “Green Line” or 1949 cease-fire borders established by the United Nations.   Palestinians claim it increased Israeli control over areas of the West Bank, while Israel claims the wall’s location is to maximize security. Both claims have merit.

While described as a “wall,” only about 5 percent of it is an actual concrete wall -the majority of it is a multi-layered fencing system, with barbed wire. It is the “wall” which is most recognizable to outsiders.

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The security barrier was designed by an architect named Danny Tirza.   The photo-journalist Branden Harvey recently interviewed Tirza, and this is what he had to say:

From the beginning, Danny says his final goal was peace. He built a barrier across 451 miles and didn’t destroy or evacuate even one Palestinian home. He routed the wall to be sensitive to its effect on communities, even building special gates for farmers or people visiting certain religious sites and special roads for Palestinians and Jews who need to reach certain communities.

He met with local Palestinian officials, Israeli officials and foreign officials, seeking as much wisdom as possible. Danny was so intent on drawing the lines in the right spots (or least worst spots) that once when he struggled to figure out exactly where to draw the line around a number of Palestinian Christian communities, he flew out to the Vatican to work toward a solution with top officials and bishops.  

Again and again, Danny would reiterate that he didn’t build these walls to stay up forever. He built them to create and encourage peace. And when peace is here, he want to be the first one to start breaking down the walls. In fact, in every segment of the wall, there is a hole in the top. This is so that “it will be easy to remove the wall when the time comes for peace.” Peace is Danny’s final goal.


Whether Tirza’s personal beliefs represent that of the government, of course, are two different things, but it is one perspective.   Another one occurs on a board outside Manger Square in Bethlehem, called “The Tourist Guide to the Occupation.” A part of this sign describes the wall quite differently.

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I present both sides of the argument — “peace wall” vs. “apartheid wall” to illustrate the power of narrative, but also to point out that while the barrier may have saved lives, it is the single most visible sign of “occupation.”   I would hope that Danny Tirza’s dreams will come true, but I have to say, I don’t see it happening easily.

This photo shows an Israeli guard tower at the wall, next to a closed gate, where on the other side is “Rachel’s Tomb”  – a religious site completely isolated from Palestinian Bethlehem.  Indeed, I was hoping we would get to visit it, but it was on the other side of the wall, and completely inaccessible.

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The wall also has a significant amount of graffiti on it.  Graffiti in the form of political propaganda.  Here is one piece, which quotes the Hebrew Prophet Amos, “Until Justice Rolls Like Water, And Righteousness Like a Mighty Stream.”  The same words were used by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery in 1955 at the start of the civil rights movement in America.  That spoke volumes to me.

Danny Tirza spoke about the graffiti in his interview with Branden Harvey, where he said:

“We had all this bad graffiti on the wall. Mostly just bad art. It’s funny. I don’t know why all the graffiti is in English. We don’t have much graffiti in Arabic or Hebrew.

At first, we tried everything to get rid of the graffiti. But when we painted over it, people would just put up something worse the next day.  We began trying everything to keep these walls clean. I even had some friends in New York who told me they have this special paint for the subways that graffiti doesn’t work with.

So I went to New York, brought back this paint and painted the wall with it. I bought Palestinian spray paint and tested it out on the wall. It turns out Palestinian spray paint is especially good and still works on the walls.

The more things we tried, the more I realized what living in a democratic country means. In a democratic country we let people share their opinions. Even with spray paint and graffiti. In Israel there is no law against it. And I’m glad there isn’t. I think it is better that people let out their anger against Israel through graffiti.”

 

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A Political City

Bethlehem is the most visited city in the West Bank, given its proximity to Jerusalem, and more importantly, its role in early Christianity, as the site of Jesus’ birth as described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Yet, it is definitely a very political city, and there are numerous signs of the conflict – if in little more than political messaging.  Some of this is in the form of art-work, like the mural on a wall, near the Separation Barrier, depicting a little girl frisking a soldier. Think about the message of that.   Change the girl to an African American youth, the solider to a police officer, and it would tell a story many in America would relate to.

Here is another example — an explicit call for the boycott of Israel  (this is the ONLY time I saw anything encouraging the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement while on the West Bank).

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Here is a different sign of occupation.  When walking in downtown Bethlehem, this banner was hanging from a post.  The faces on the banner depicted Palestinians being held prisoner by Israel.  Are they terrorists? I have no idea, but our guide said they are political prisoners.

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Other political elements of the city are less obvious.  Look at this photo.  It appears to be just another part of the city – and quite honestly looks like pretty much every West Bank town or village, complete with the tower of a mosque.

 

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What you are looking at is actually the “Aida Refugee Camp,” built in 1950, to house Palestinian refugees who were displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948, and who abandoned their villages during the Israeli War of Independence / Palestinian Nakba.  I was kind of surprised when I saw it, because when I think refugee camps, I think tents in the desert.  Perhaps that is how it was in the 1950s, but today it looks like an Arab village.  There are 3,000 refugees living there, although I would guess that for the vast majority, Aida has been their home their entire lives.   The Aida “camp” is adjacent to the old Jacir Hotel, which is now the 4 star Intercontinental Hotel.

There are other signs of the conflict in Bethlehem, right in the city’s most popular tourist attraction, “Manger Square”  While walking outside of the Church of the Nativity, there was a big sign which I shared part of above, the “Tourist Guide to the Occupation.” This presents the Palestinian narrative, and utilizes some of the imagery (witness the maps), that are routinely used by the BDS Movement.

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This is right next to the Bethlehem Peace Center, and the Church of the Nativity.

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Some other scenes of the city



A perspective on the separation wall, from the man who built it

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Branden Harvey is a photographer and story-teller, currently traveling in Israel and the West Bank. He is posting photos and stories on instagram, as he journeys, and I have found much value in his posts. Tonight he posted a photo of Danny Tirza, the architect who planned and built the separation wall (also referred to as the Occupation Wall) separating the West Bank from Israel.

I was taken by what he wrote, and received Branden’s permission to share the post on my blog.   Take a read.   Here is the actual instagram post.  I have copied the text below, so it is a bit more readable.

Note: there is a second follow-up post below.

 

Danny Tirza is the architect that planned and built the hugely controversial separation barrier between Israel and West Bank. It wasn’t his idea, but he was the person called upon to implement everything. In his own words he says, “I was the bad guy that had to be on the ground, figure out where to draw the line and build the fence very quickly.”

I got to spend a morning with Danny visiting key parts of the barrier (made up of 95% fence & 5% wall), listening to him talk about what went into each decision he had to make. Honestly, I was really surprised to learn about the amount of care that went into the construction of the barrier. From the beginning, Danny says his final goal was peace. He built a barrier across 451 miles and didn’t destroy or evacuate even one Palestinian home. He routed the wall to be sensitive to its effect on communities, even building special gates for farmers or people visiting certain religious sites and special roads for Palestinians and Jews who need to reach certain communities. He met with local Palestinian officials, Israeli officials and foreign officials, seeking as much wisdom as possible. Danny was so intent on drawing the lines in the right spots (or least worst spots) that once when he struggled to figure out exactly where to draw the line around a number of Palestinian Christian communities, he flew out to the Vatican to work toward a solution with top officials and bishops. Again and again, Danny would reiterate that he didn’t build these walls to stay up forever. He built them to create and encourage peace. And when peace is here, he want to be the first one to start breaking down the walls. In fact, in every segment of the wall, there is a hole in the top. This is so that “it will be easy to remove the wall when the time comes for peace.” Peace is Danny’s final goal. #DannyTirzaStory 1/2 ////////// Yes, I know this is SUPER controversial. I’m not sharing this because I think this wall is right or wrong. I’m sharing this because I see a glimpse of humanity in the way Danny carried out a very difficult job. //////////// I’ll be responding to comments all day. I’d love to dialogue with you.

A photo posted by Branden Harvey (@brandenharvey) on

  Here is the full text of what Branden posted: “Danny Tirza is the architect that planned and built the hugely controversial separation barrier between Israel and West Bank. It wasn’t his idea, but he was the person called upon to implement everything. In his own words he says, “I was the bad guy that had to be on the ground, figure out where to draw the line and build the fence very quickly.”

I got to spend a morning with Danny visiting key parts of the barrier (made up of 95% fence & 5% wall), listening to him talk about what went into each decision he had to make. Honestly, I was really surprised to learn about the amount of care that went into the construction of the barrier.

 

From the beginning, Danny says his final goal was peace. He built a barrier across 451 miles and didn’t destroy or evacuate even one Palestinian home. He routed the wall to be sensitive to its effect on communities, even building special gates for farmers or people visiting certain religious sites and special roads for Palestinians and Jews who need to reach certain communities.

 

He met with local Palestinian officials, Israeli officials and foreign officials, seeking as much wisdom as possible. Danny was so intent on drawing the lines in the right spots (or least worst spots) that once when he struggled to figure out exactly where to draw the line around a number of Palestinian Christian communities, he flew out to the Vatican to work toward a solution with top officials and bishops.

 

Again and again, Danny would reiterate that he didn’t build these walls to stay up forever. He built them to create and encourage peace. And when peace is here, he want to be the first one to start breaking down the walls. In fact, in every segment of the wall, there is a hole in the top. This is so that “it will be easy to remove the wall when the time comes for peace.” Peace is Danny’s final goal.

 

#DannyTirzaStory 1/2 ////////// Yes, I know this is SUPER controversial. I’m not sharing this because I think this wall is right or wrong. I’m sharing this because I see a glimpse of humanity in the way Danny carried out a very difficult job. //////////// I’ll be responding to comments all day. I’d love to dialogue with you.”

 

Here is part 2 of this series:

“We had all this bad graffiti on the wall. Mostly just bad art. It’s funny. I don’t know why all the graffiti is in English. We don’t have much graffiti in Arabic or Hebrew. At first, we tried everything to get rid of the graffiti. But when we painted over it, people would just put up something worse the next day. We began trying everything to keep these walls clean. I even had some friends in New York who told me they have this special paint for the subways that graffiti doesn’t work with. So I went to New York, brought back this paint and painted the wall with it. I bought Palestinian spray paint and tested it out on the wall. It turns out Palestinian spray paint is especially good and still works on the walls. The more things we tried, the more I realized what living in a democratic country means. In a democratic country we let people share their opinions. Even with spray paint and graffiti. In Israel there is no law against it. And I’m glad there isn’t. I think it is better that people let out their anger against Israel through graffiti.”i —Danny Tirza, architect responsible for planning and building the wall between Israel and West Bank #DannyTirzaStory 2/2 

Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) – an example of coexistence

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I never was able to visit this remarkable community which takes the idea of the Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arabic Education to a different level.  Wahat Al Salam – Neve Shalon or “Oasis of Peace”, is a village in central Israel (half-way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), where Jews and Arabs live together in a shared community, an intentional oasis of peace.  The community has been in existence since the late 1970s.
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The video illustrates that they do not live in a utopia, and there are real challenges, but like what I learned at Hand in Hand, they work together to create a new narrative, respective of both the the Jewish and Palestinian perspectives. The video describes it better than I could, and illustrates one of the challenges that are faced at Hand in Hand, and in Friends Forever.  For the kids, when they graduate from high school, the Jewish students have mandatory military service, while the Arabs do not.   This creates tensions that they have to work through.   Yet the community persists, and there is a five year waiting list to move in to it (some of that is tied to restrictive land use laws).

The video is 16 minutes long, but it is very worthwhile, and provides a glimpse into some of the good things happening, in a world where all we hear is the opposite.

Not sure why the video says “minutes from the Gaza Strip” – well, I know why the producers claimed that, but it is 45 minutes from Tel Aviv, an hour from Jerusalem, and about an hour to Gaza.

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For more information:

Wahat al Salam Neve Shalom

North American Friends of Wahat al Salaam Neve Shalom

Change the lens and get a different perspective

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Yesterday I posted my reflection blog to a Presbyterian page on Facebook.  I wanted to share it, but I knew how contentious the Israel-Palestine issues are among Presbyterian activists.    Yet, I felt it was important to share.   A few hours later, after several likes, I was asked “could I clarify how my trip was funded?”   I responded that the University paid for my trip.   There was an immediate concern that I might have been funded by a biased source (i.e., a Jewish source) and thus everything I had written and observed was to be suspect.   I was bothered, but not surprised.

Then  I was asked why in my post, I never used the words “Israeli occupation,” and how alarming that was. My response is the subject of this post.  Here is what I said.

I spent four paragraphs talking about the West Bank. I may not have used the word that defines your narrative but I certainly spent a lot of time thinking and exploring those issues. My goal is not to convince any one of a particular narrative which I think you want me to take, but to insist that we view the issue with as wide of an angle lens as possible. In a camera metaphor we can’t just use a 300mm zoom, we need to pull out a 10-18mm wide angle to look at the bigger picture. And then switch to mid-range and zoom lenses (say the 28-105mm one I used) and occasionally shift to a macro one. When we limit ourselves to one focal point we miss a larger picture.

The more I think about this, I think the camera metaphor is a good one.  When we look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we do so through our own eyes, but almost always have a lens through which provides focus to how we view the issue.  In my reflection I said we had to take off the “pair of rose-colored vuarnets” and get a different perspective (and yes, I dated myself to the 1980s with that analogy).  But let’s use the camera perspective a bit more.  As an amateur photographer, I am always trying to frame a shot, and figure out how to get the best picture.  This involves sorting out light and aperture (how big the sensor opening is), shutter speed (how long the sensor is open), film speed (how much digital noise to put up with in order to get a shot in less than optimal conditions), and what the focal point should be.

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Israel through new eyes – a reflection

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I have been home from Israel for almost three days. In that time I have spent a lot of time looking at and sorting through the more than 5,000 photos I took on my Canon DSLR, iPhone 6, and handy-little powershot S100.   So many things jumped out at me. This was a trip unlike anything I have ever done. Ever. I have been trying to figure out how to summarize it.  This is my first take at it.

Going to Israel was way outside of my comfort zone. I am talking thousands of miles outside of it. Forget the fact that I do not like flying (a miserable experience in the 14 years since 2001), this was going to a country in one of the biggest hot spots of the world, where just seven months ago a war was going on.  So, Israel was way out of my comfort zone, yet going there somehow resulted in considerably expanding my comfort zone. There was not a single moment when I was in Israel or on the West Bank when I felt unsafe. I never had a panic attack, I was totally comfortable with my inability to understand more than a handful of words in either Hebrew or Arabic. It simply did not matter.

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The last post from Jerusalem

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Today marks my last day in Israel.   I had a very important meeting scheduled with the Shalom Hartman Institute, that we had to makeup from a cancellation due to the snow storm.   Sadly this meant I could not get to the Hadassah En Kerem Hospital to learn about how they provide treatment for children and people from all over the world, but I think I have a good sense of what they do, so I am good with it.

I took advantage of warm weather and blue sky for the first time in about a week to do an early walk to the Old City one last time. I went first to the Western Wall. There is just something about that place which draws me back, again and again. I went to the Archeological Park, adjacent to it, where they have excavated the corner of the second temple, and even excavated a first century Jerusalem street that was adjacent to the Temple Mount wall, and other ruins that date back to the first temple era.   I’ve said it before; I love ancient rocks.   When I finished that I noticed the line for the Temple Mount was short, so I went back up to see the Dome on the Rock again, this time with sunshine and blue sky. I made for some nice photos. I exited out the north gate, and headed east to the Lions Gate. From there I went back to the Garden of Gethsemane, and was going to go up the hill of the Mount of Olives to the Church of Mary Magdalene, but my feet told me this was not a good idea. I made it back through the Old City, which was bustling unlike at any other time in my trip, and grabbed a snack, and then walked about a mile or so to the Shalom Hartman Institute.

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A Visit to Masada, The Dead Sea, and more conversations

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Today was the one day I had planned as nothing but a tourist.  From the time I was a kid, I have wanted to see Masada.  I was so taken by the mini-series that aired in the late 1970s, I ended up buying the book it was based on, and have always been fascinated by that story.  Today, I was able to visit it.

I took an organized tour to Masada and the Dead Sea.   The tour was kind of frustrating, primarily because the guide never shut up.  Blah, blah, blah…    From the moment he got on the bus.  It took 25 minutes to get from Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley, descending from 800m to -300m. As has been par on this trip, the weather was ok, but there was a good haze.  We got half-way down the dead sea and he announced a bathroom stop.   It was at a Kibbutz, that really was a big store for one of the major Dead Sea Salts companies.  It was very clear this was intentional, and master marketing.  We went inside, and the first thing was watching a movie on the production of products from the dead sea.   Come on already, lets get to Masada.

 

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The smallest of worlds… and a story of good work coming from the Holy Land

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Tonight I had the opportunity to experience a different effort aimed at reconciliation in Israel, one which contradicts common images.   For all its security, the Israelis have a long tradition of providing medical care to children in need, regardless of where they are from.  Borders don’t matter.   In Tel Aviv, there is a hospital, called Save a Child’s Heart, that is world famous for its congenital heart care.   In Jerusalem, there is a christian organization called Shevet Achim, that provides a shelter for families with children needing care at Save a Child’s Heart.   They began by working in Gaza, and the West Bank, but now provide a place for families from Syria, Jordan, and Iraq (maybe others).   The organization is kind of like a Ronald McDonald’s House, but on a global scale.   What makes the group unique, is that it is a group of staff and volunteers who live together in community.   They share a home on “Street of the Prophets” (Ha Nevim Street), and have a few apartments down the road from it.  It is a small old building.   People come and work for a week, or a few days, or a few months, or longer.   Tonight there were people from Scotland, Denmark, Germany, the US, and elsewhere.   There was also a father of one of the children, a Kurd, from Northern Iraq at dinner at the end.

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They start each day with worship together.  They are non-denominational, and seek to build christian community in the purest sense.  They don’t fight or argue about doctrine, and when someone comes who wants to argue about theology, they usually don’t stay.  They actually spend 2 hours each morning in worship and scripture study, then go do the work of the day.  They eat their meals together (although some of them are off-site), and eat dinner in community.

 

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