Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Two weeks to Change my Life

As some of you know, I spent the last two weeks of my break from studies in Palestine. I was working on a peace farm, Tent of Nations, outside of Bethlehem. The farm offers a variety of programs for the local Palestinian community, including a summer camp for children and training and workshops for the women of the local Palestinian village, that offer alternatives to the violent occupation. I learned so much there about myself and the greater Palestinian/ Israeli conflict. I would like to share some of what I learned with you, reader.

I should begin by saying I met so many wonderful people, both Israeli and Palestinian. Also, Palestine is not recognized as a state. I was technically in the West Bank, known internationally as disputed territory. Israel no longer controls the region, and the Palestinian government is having major problems establishing order and generating infrastructure. Although Palestine is a beautiful country the cities there are modified slums. They lack proper plumbing and trash collection. There is limited access to water in the region.

My first lesson was in regards to the Israeli government, and it was a lesson I learned over and over again on my trip. The Israeli government has a complete disregard for human rights (Please note the distinction between government and citizens). Upon leaving London I was strip searched by El Al, the Israeli airline. From Jerusalem to Bethlehem I passed through a check point. Because I had an American passport the Israeli soldiers didn't even check my passport, whereas I passed Palestinians who would be in line for hours just to get to work.

One day I visited Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. Before entering the camp we toured the wall around the camp. Israel is actually building a three story wall across the country to separate Israel and Palestine. It is an incredible feat and really unbelievable to see. The year I was born the Berlin wall fell, people said "Never Again." When I was fifteen another wall began being constructed. The wall is effectually turning the West Bank into a cage.

At Aida camp I was fortunate enough to visit with one of the residents. Her family has been in the camp since 1948 when it was founded. For their first ten years there they lived in tents until huts could be constructed. Today she lives in a flat with plumbing. She told unbelievable stories. From her I learned the only justice allowed to Palestinians is a military court. In these courts there is no jury and one judge makes a ruling. The judge can site evidence that is not privy to the lawyers or the defendant. Often thirteen year old boys are sentenced in these courts for "throwing stones". A Palestinian child can be sentenced to up to twenty years in an adult prison for allegedly "throwing stones". I asked my host why these children were put in prison with adults. She told me that, internationally, it would be illegal to establish prisons for children, so they are placed in penitentiaries with adults.

The situation in the West Bank is dire. People have grand misconceptions of the war waging there now. Palestine is not a physically dangerous place to be. Bombs do not fall and police maintain some semblance of order. The war waging there is a psychological war. The sixty-second anniversary of the Israeli state was celebrated April twentieth. For sixty-two years Palestinians have been abused physically and psychologically by the Israeli government. I don't know how much longer a people can take that kind of mental battering. It's beyond an occupation; the West Bank is essentially a cage.

As noted above, Palestine is a really beautiful country. In my last days there I was fortunate enough to hike the Wadi Qalt. It is a beautiful river system running from Ramallah to Jericho. The farm itself sits a top a hill with a view to the Mediterranean. Two weeks that changed my life.

Saturday, 3 April 2010


For the past three weeks I have been out of the country, and I don't just mean the US of A. I've been jetting around Europe. Friday March 10th I met one of my dearest friends in Germany! She is working there for a year. We explored southern Germany. One of the highlights was Heidelberg. There was so much to do there! My favorites were the Schloss, or castle, and Philosopher's Way. Luckily for us the Schloss and Philosopher's Way were on opposite hills. We did a lot of hiking in Heidelberg. Pictured first is Philosopher's Way.

Mid-way through the week I departed Germany for Italy! I met my cousins in Bologna. They were wonderful hosts, taking me all around the city. The food was also UNBELIEVABLE. Between my cousins cooking and a wonderful evening out at an awesome restaurant my stomach grew a lot. Which was good, because I was soon off to Lanciano to spend time with my Grandfather's brother and his children. We ate and ate and ate, and when we weren't eating we were planning on what to eat next. You can understand why my stomach needed the extra space. It was glorious. I also managed to hike around the village where my Grandfather was raised; you can see it pictured second. Being there is just like being home.

I came back to Oxford just two days before I set off for Barcelona. Barcelona was beautiful. The Spanish culture is really wonderful. I was there with a friend, and we decided to take a bike tour the first day... best idea ever. It really helped us get oriented and learn about the city. One of my favorite parts of that trip was Park Guell. It's a park designed by the famous architect Gaudi. The last picture is a view of the park. We also had a wonderful dinner at Les Quinze Mity. Since all of the chefs there are in training it was gourmet quailty food on the cheap.

Wednesday I'm jetting off again for two weeks. In the mean time my friends and I (the few still in Oxford) are having a little Easter dinner. It's a potluck event, and I volunteered lasagna. What ever you are doing tomorrow I hope you have a safe and happy Easter. I'm sure the bunny will be good to all of us this year. Sending all my love from the 'shire.