Meeting with Omar Barghouti & Addameer

On August 3, 2015 we met with two inspirational activists in Ramallah: Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer and Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in Palestine.

Addameer was founded over 21 years ago and covers issues about Palestinian prisoners. As per their website:

“ADDAMEER (Arabic for conscience) Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association is a Palestinian non-governmental, civil institution that works to support Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisons. Established in 1992 by a group of activists interested in human rights, the center offers free legal aid to political prisoners, advocates their rights at the national and international level, and works to end torture and other violations of prisoners’ rights through monitoring, legal procedures and solidarity campaigns.”
Omar B & Addameer - 8During Sahar Francis’ talk and as a running theme we observed in our time meeting with Israeli and Palestinian activists, were numerous human rights’ violations pertaining to who becomes prisoners, how people they become prisoners, and how they are treated as prisoners in life and death.
Omar B & Addameer - 1Some atrocities and statistics that we learned that stick out were as follows: 160 child prisoners (22 of which who are under 16), 400 administrative detainees (being held indefinitely without any charges), 5,700 political prisoners, charging dead people with crimes and then holding their bodies until their sentences are up, and interrogators using methods that don’t leave marks so they cannot prove torture has taken place.

The Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights has a campaign for the prisoners kept after they are dead, referred to as the Graveyard of Numbers.

Meeting Omar Barghouti
As the co-founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti was articulate and passionate in what this strategy stood for. He described BDS as an inclusive, nonviolent, non-racist (including anti-semitism) movement that is only against Israel because it’s an oppressive regime. BDS is entrenched in the resistance against settler colonialism.

To quote Mr. Barghouti about the goals of BDS, “We’re destroying and undermining a system of injustice, not a people. Undermining a racist system? Yes. Destroying a people? No.”

Since February 2014, Israel has adopted a new strategy for fighting BDS. Netanyahu and those to the right of him have increased funding to stop BDS, used infiltrators, and lawfare which have had a delegitimizing and chilling effect.

In 2014, direct foreign investment in Israel dropped 40%, in part to BDS and the war on Gaza. According to Mr. Barghouti, BDS is reaching a tipping point. He reported that approximately 15% of Jewish people in the U.S. support a boycott against Israel. He indicated that Israel right wing and opposition of BDS “looks like the beginning of McCarthyism in the U.S. This is recruiting a mainstream, liberal support of BDS as a result of this and suppressing BDS.”

He also noted that academic boycotts are against institutions (i.e. no joint research, exchange programs, etc.), not individuals.

Last year, 95% of Israelis supported the attack on Gaza. There is a massive resistance to the ideas of equality. There is no “left movement” in Israel at this point. A theme we repeatedly heard both from Palestinian and Israeli human rights’ activists was that Israel is not going to change on its on and that outside pressure, in the form of BDS, is necessary to implement change.

In regards to lawfare and getting our own referendum shot down at our local co-op in regards to deshelving Israeli products until the occupation has ended, Omar Barghouti had this to say:

More can be read to supplement his thoughts in the video in this article.


Tour of Haram Al Sharif and UN OCHA

A small contingent of our Interfaith Peace Builder Delegation went to Haram Al Sharif together.  The site encompass 35 acres of the old city of Jerusalem, and contains the well known Dome of the Rock, also known as the Al-Aqsa Mosque.   Before we could enter we went through security and had our bags searched.  Our tour guide Said told us they where looking for religious items, or national flags, as well as the obvious things that could be dangerous.  I was excited to visit this architectural marvel, and was disappointed to learn I could not go inside.  Said explained that because the site is considered holy for Jewish and Muslim people there are frequently Jewish people demonstrating in the site.  There have been examples of people trying to hang flags, religious items, or desecrate the site.  To help prevent other religious groups from taking over the mosque, all non-Muslim people are prevented from entering.  During our visit a group of Israeli residents were walking around the site with their own security.  They were followed by religious Muslims chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) in protest.  We were informed that this happens on a daily basis.  It was a strange and slightly unnerving site in what otherwise was an amazing experience.


Later that day we went to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  Here we learned a great deal about the conditions of people living in both Gaza and the West Bank.  OCHA works to advocate for and help the worst humanitarian situations.  The Jerusalem office and field offices in West Bank have had a presence, coordinating relief efforts in the region for 10 years.  Approximately 40% of the Palestinian population lives within the West Bank and Gaza.

The area of Gaza is 6km – 10km wide and 400km long.  Many of the residents are not originally from Gaza.  Around 1/2 of the entire population is under 18 years old.  There are no Israeli residents inside, and no military base.  Israel has control of the sea, airspace, and checkpoints around Gaza.  The Southern point is controlled by Egypt, but it is not open.  Since 2014 all checkpoints remain largely closed.  There are restrictions on the import and export of goods to Gaza.  The checkpoint Karem Shalom is the only place for trade of goods, but is frequently closed.  The closures prevent people within Gaza to get basic supplies.  DSC_0201The other checkpoint for people is Erez crossing. An exit permit is required for individuals to enter or leave.  Permits are only granted with a medical referral, to business merchants, or senior humanitarians.

There is generally a 100m buffer from the fences or walls surrounding Gaza.  In some areas the distance is greater or frequently changes depending on the time of day.  It is usually unclear what the limits are, and residents must figure it out through word of mouth.  As a result many people have stopped farming or switched to low maintenance crops.

Since Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, 200,000 people in Gaza have been displaced.  Entire city blocks have been completely flattened.  The region is not developing and is going backward.  Construction materials are restricted and not reaching people fast enough to help rebuild.  Visit this page for a visual map and graphics depicting the movement of goods and people.

Residents of the West Bank and East Jerusalem do have more freedom of movement but there are still restrictions..  Around 18% of the West Bank is considered a military zone.  If a resident of East Jerusalem ID  is revoked the individual is not permitted to move to other parts of Palestine.  People are often pressured to leave or asked to move.  Palestinian traffic is pushed off of main roads and pushed onto poorly developed side roads.  People are restricted from entering surrounding areas.  Development is slow in the region because only 2% – 5% of building permits are approved by Israel.  Building without a permit often results in the demolition of homes or business.  Bedouin tents also require permits.  Many Bedouin people have been forcibly transferred, which is a break of the Geneva Convention.  (UN Officials: Israel must halt plans to transfer Palestinian Bedouins)  The restrictions on movement and construction in the West Bank has resulted in poor economic growth.

“Although there has been a reduction in the levels of violence in recent years, many Palestinians continue to have humanitarian needs that are created by ongoing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including threats to life, liberty and security, restrictions on access and movement of people and goods to and within the OPT, and the risk of forced displacement.” – United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – occupied Palestinian territory. (n.d.). Retrieved from, August 24, 2015.

You can find additional information, including maps of the region at this site –

The main website is –


A step back in time

DSC_0144Lifta is an ancient town located in the outskirts of Jerusalem.  The village is nestled within the hills.  Houses and shops were once spread out from the top of the mountain and into the valley below.  In the lowest part in what was once the town center there is a spring that is still used today by locals.  Today most of the remaining buildings in Lifta are unoccupied.  About 60 of the original houses remain, with a few that now house Israeli residents.  Lifta was once considered to be a wealthy community, where people would come to purchase fabric and embroidery.  The area around the spring was once used as a social place, and for special occasions by the residents.  The water system running through this town was established by the Romans.  The upper pool was used for cleaning while the lower was used for animals.  Many people where swimming, and playing in the upper pool area.  Residents used to maintain vegetable gardens and fruit trees within the town.  DSC_0157Today you can still see many fig trees throughout.  During our visit we explored the inside of some of the homes, a mosque, and an olive oil press.  The crumbling structures offer a glimpse into how homes where typically constructed in the region, with each new layer built on top of the other as families grew.  collage1

DSC_0162Scattered around the area we could see large cacti intended to represent spots where houses once stood.  In 1948 about 30% of the Palestinian population lived in cities and towns like this one, with the rest scattered in small farming villages.

During the time of the Nakba a coffee shop higher up on the hill in Lifta was attacked.  A nearby Jewish neighborhood claimed they where surrounded and felt threatened by the Arab people.  After the attack many moved further downhill into the homes of friends and relatives.  The attacks continued forcing more people to flee.  A few men remained to protect the town, however they soon realized they did not have enough resources.  The land was considered absentee property to allow the state of Israel to claim it.  Many of the people left toward Ramallah.  There is a small community of people from the town of Lifta living in East Jerusalem today.

Our group leader Jacob Pace from Interfaith Peace builders created the video below

Lifta is just one example of what happened throughout Palestine in 1948.  The Zionist movement at that time was well prepared for war, but the people living in the region where primarily farmers and not prepared.  In June of 1948 in Tel Aviv it was decided that the refugees would not be able to return.  Some did try to return home but where prevented.  After Israel took the land and properties it was sold to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) who then sold it to incoming residents.  About 6%-10% of the land was purchased to sharecroppers who do not live in the area.

Zochrot is an organization formed in 2002, working to preserve the history of the region.  Their mission is to promote accountability and responsibility for the ongoing impact created by the Nakba.  So far they have created records of 600 of the places that had been destroyed.  They have recorded stories from surviving families, created maps depicting where the villages are located and are working on publishing a book for each place.

The map can be viewed on their website, or through the iNakba app for iPhones.  The app provides coordinates and information for each village.


A ghost town called Hebron

Hebron was possibly the most depressing town we visited during our tour.  No where else was the discrimination so blatantly obvious.  The city is divided into two sections.  H1 is governed by the Palestinian authority, and about 120,000 people live in the section.  H2 has around 600 Jewish residents, and is under Israeli military control.streetview3 streetview

From the moment we got off the bus we were met by children, desperately hoping for money or water.  Some had small souvenirs to sell, others asked for money for photographs we took of them.  They followed us almost everywhere we went.  The city itself seemed abandoned, most of the shops had shuttered doors.  We saw buses for settlers that are bullet proof driving through the streets.

Hebron is the home of Ibrahimi Mosque and the Tomb of the Patriarchs.  It is believed that the tomb is were biblical patriarchs are buried.  We were not able to visit these places, however we did learn that in 1994 a US-born Israeli military physician opened fire on the people praying inside.  Many died or were injured during the massacre.  The Israeli army killed more civilians during protests taking place in the city.  The Israeli government ordered over 500 Palestinian shops to be closed, most of which remain closed today.

Houses, hotels, stores close to Israeli settlements are not allowed to be occupied.  Many of the streets we walked down had checkpoints, staffed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  Cameras can be seen everywhere.  Palestinian residents do not open their windows because settlers will throw garbage inside.

On one empty street soldiers told our tour guide, Muhanned Qufesha who was born in Hebron, that he could not continue on, but the rest of us from the U.S. could.  Palestinians going through a checkpoint are often made to wait for hours at a time for no particular reason.

This video was filmed by our group leader Jacob Pace of Interfaith Peace Builders. (IFPB)


nettingWe walked through a market street that now houses Israeli settlers and a watch tower in the floors above.  People living in the floors above often throw trash, excrement, and cleaning water down onto the street below.  The people owning the shops below installed netting to catch the garbage.  We met one shop keeper who told us his shop was passed down by his grandfather.  Many leave the city, but he is one of the few who are determined to stay and maintain his family business.

star We walked down a called Shuhada Street sometimes called Chicago St.  A large abandoned hotel stands at one end, and a Kibbutz can be seen on the other.  All the store fronts are closed.  Many of the storefront doors have a Star of David or racial slurs toward Palestinians painted on them.  The street is completely closed to the residents.  Those living in the area are forced to exit there homes over roofs or through back doors.

To learn more about what is going on in Hebron today visit This is a group of young activists working to end occupation through non-violent civil disobedience.

The video below is of Youth Against Settlements member Issa Amro discussing life in Hebron for Palestinians.

The video below was created by our IFPB group leader Jacob Pace.





The city of Nablus


DSC_0221After saying goodbye to our hosts in New Asker, we visited the old city of Nablus. The buildings are made with large heavy stones, and the streets are narrow. Every now and then we came upon a large open parking lot. We learned that the buildings that once stood there were destroyed during the second Intifada. Some of the buildings still have bullet holes around the windows. DSC_0213

We stopped to visit a lovely hot bath, and a spice shop that smelled delicious. Nablus was once known for its many soap factories. Many of them had been destroyed from bombing, and today only about 6 remain. The city once had a museum with many historic artifacts. The items were stolen and placed in a Jewish museum. Items they did not want were destroyed.

DSC_0207Our guide Wajdi Yaeesh told us many stories about what happened during the height of the second Intifada. In April 2002 the city was bombarded, and almost destroyed. From 2002-2009 hundreds of invasions took place. Soldiers stormed houses and destroyed everything. They shot holes in water tanks, and in one case even poisoned the water. Paramedics were prevented from entering the homes of injured residents, and could not even help injured children. In one case a child died from a stray bullet that went through his bedroom window.

We stopped at another window were paramedics had to pass food and water to people inside their home. They were forced to go to the bathroom in plastic bags. The people also had a curfew and would only be able to leave their homes for a certain number of hours. Even hospital workers were prevented from entering the building to help patients.    DSC_0210 While touring Nablus, we also learned about how the dead bodies of prisoners or freedom fighters are kept by Israeli authorities until their sentences are up before returned to their families. In one case, a martyr from 1976 (Palestinians frequently refer to anyone killed by the state of Israel as a such, not necessarily suicide bombers in the way that Westerners may think) recently had his body released back to his family as his sentence was over. We were told that sometimes they don’t even give the correct body back, as evidenced by a family who recently did DNA testing on the cadaver and it wasn’t their relative. When some people are killed by the state, the Israeli government charges the dead person with a crime and then keeps their body until their sentence has expired. DSC_0229 Wajdi Yaeesh a paramedic himself told us he was shot while rushing to help others.  The bullet went through his legs, but thankfully he is completely healed today.DSC_0208In 2002 the Human Supporters Association began with a party for children in the area, and later started a summer camp program. About 72% of the youth living in Nablus are still experiencing the effects of trauma from the second Intifada. With the support from international donations and volunteers they provide children classes in art, theater, dance, and support for under achieving students among many other activities.DSC_0233One activity they began doing is to ask children to write responses or letters for the soldiers. As part of a non-violent demonstration members began to have picnics at the checkpoint. They did not bring any children with them but did bring their messages to share along with food and music. International supporters also came with them. Unfortunately, the group was met with violence. Some people including international individuals were badly injured. While visiting this organization, they showed us this powerful short film (11 minutes) aptly titled, “Nablus: Pains and Hopes.”

The Human Supporters Association continues its work through aid from many different countries. However, they do not accept aid from the United States, because if they do they must sign a promise that the money will not be used for terrorist activities, and other restrictions on how to use the funds. The group believes signing such documents is a way to define them, or to divide the Palestinian people.

– Stephanie & Amber


Finding hope in refugee camps

It’s difficult not to feel depressed during this trip.  Visiting two refugee camps certainly helped to paint a bleak picture of the people living in occupied Palestine.  However, our visit showed us how compassionate, and resilient people can be.

DSC_0051Jenin and New Askar are both refugee camps, with similar stories. They are called camps, however today you can see cinder block buildings instead of tents. People where first forced to move to these places in 1948 during the Nakba. Originally tents where provided, and the people where told they would live here for a few weeks or a month and then could return to their homes. As time wore on they began building houses. Typically the homes where built close together with narrow streets because there was no room to expand outward.

During the second Intifada tanks drove through the village destroyed many of the houses to create a wider path in Jenin.  There is now a large street with shops running through Jenin were homes once stood. The people of the village built a large horse created out of rubble from when the homes where destroyed.
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In New Askar we heard many different stories about the challenges of everyday life. We saw a dumpster overflowing with garbage because services have stopped.  We heard stories about soldiers shooting holes into water tanks.  We also learned that if a prisoner dies while in prison they will keep the body until the term is completed, and then send it back to the family.

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When you ask a resident in either town, where they are from they will tell you their family home village or city.

In Jenin we visited the Freedom Theater
They provide an outlet for youth to express themselves and to help cope with traumatic events that can occur on a regular basis.
Classes started in 2008 with young people who feel they are in the outside fringes of society and has since continued to grow. They offer classes in multimedia, film, and photography. The theater publishes a youth magazine and now has a ensemble that travels the world.
One project they are working on is a playback theater. Audience members share a story about their lives, and the actors improvise it. These stories have been collected and turned into plays.

In New Askar we stopped at the Keffiyah center This place was built as a response to the lack of schools and services available for youth. The center offers a summer camp with sports, languages, music, dance, theatre and Gymnastics amongst many others. They also have a youth leadership program, and teach culture and history.  Classes are taught by both local and international volunteers. They vary based on whatever knowledge the teachers bring.



A visit to Yad Vashem & the Death of Innocence

Friday, July 31st, 2015 was an overwhelming 24 hour period in Israel/Palestine. We awoke to the story of Ali Dawabshe, an 18 month old Palestinian boy who was burned by settlers in Duma, outside of Nablus right before dawn. We’ll write more about this story in a later post. The day before, several were stabbed at a pride parade in Jerusalem. Solemnly we made our way to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, a Holocaust memorial museum.
test - 1“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
-Pastor Martin Niemöller

Many years ago when I was in college, I took classes in the Holocaust, visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and later as a faculty member at a community college in NJ, helped co-lead trips to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. for my students. The above quote is on a poster hanging in my office and one that I try to live by. The stories of the oppressed have always been something I felt I needed to bear witness to so that I may help to stop the oppressive forces from happening and to create a more just world.
test - 8 (2)Yad Vashem was built on beautiful grounds with striking architecture. One could easily spend an entire day there (or several) really taking in the information and surrounding landscape. Walking into the main building, you look up with walls surrounding you in the shape of an upside down V. There is little light that comes in through the narrow opening at the top. Some on our delegation described it as feeling “tomb-like.” Some thought it felt as if you were in a prison since all of the walls were grey and concrete and it felt very cold and austere.
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test - 11 (1)No pictures were allowed to be taken inside the first main building, so I took handwritten notes of some of the quotes on the displays that really stuck out to us on this journey to Israel/Palestine.

“A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates…” –Kurt Tucholsky, German essayist of Jewish origin

“Slay them not [the Jews]…scatter them abroad.” St. Augustine, 5th century church elder

Modern Antisemiticism
“Myth of the ‘Jewish Conspiracy’ was created, claiming that Jews are engaged in a secret plot to take over the world.”

Nazi Antisemiticism
“…Became a political program by Hitler that demanded an immediate solution to the ‘Jewish Problem’…”

A Journey Through Nazi Germany
“In the autumn of 1935, a Dutch motorcyclist rode from the Netherlands to Berlin. Along the way he photographed anti-Semitic signs posted in the cities and towns as he passed.

“Jews take note – the road to Palestine does not pass through here.”

“Jews entering this place are in danger.”

Third Reich Consolidates
“Germans were satisfied with the stabilization of their political system and most of them accepted the abolition of democracy and the persecution and opponents of the regime.”

Despoiling the Jews
“They confiscated all types of property – homes, real estate, factories, businesses, and artistic and cultural treasures. In Eastern Europe, the plundering continued in the Ghettos. When the Jews were sent to death camps, the local population took control of their homes and property.”

Nazi Policy – East and West
In Eastern Europe, the Germans incarcerated the Jews in severely overcrowded Ghettos, behind fences and walls. They cut the Jews off from their surroundings and their sources of livelihood and condemned them to a life of humiliation, poverty, and degeneration and death.

In Western Europe, the Nazis did not establish Ghettos for the Jews, but rather enforced racist legislation and a policy of Aryanization and discrimination.”

“Softly, softly! Let’s be silent!
Graves are growing here.
They were sown by our tormentors.
Green they grown, and fair.
Toward Ponary run roads a plenty,
From Ponary not one
Father disappeared, and with him
All our joy is gone.”
-song written in the Vilna Ghetto in April 1943
-lyrics – Shmerl Kaczerginsky, poet and partisan
-music – Alek Wolkowyski (Alexander Tamir), 11 years old

Upon exiting the main building of exhibits, a wide and breathtaking view of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas greets you.
test - 1 (6) test - 5Other parts of Yad Vashem that we had to rush through unfortunately, included a children’s memorial and exhibit on children in the Holocaust, an art museum exhibit from 1945-1947, and a beautiful garden.
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test - 3 (2)As you leave the grounds, this is the structure you exit under.
test - 9 (2)test - 7 (2)Things were tense on the ground in Palestine after the murder of toddler Ali Dawabshe by settlers. Upon return to our hotel in East Jerusalem, there were numerous Israeli police and military in and around Old City. Word was there were going to be protests after the mosque let out. Our tour bus couldn’t get anywhere near our hotel because of all of the road blocks, so we had to be dropped off a few streets away to walk back.
test - 10 (3) test - 2 (3)Later in the day we went on a tour with Micah Kurz from Grassroots Al Quds. During our tour with Micah, we had to leave this area of Jericho Road quickly on the border of Abu dis & Bethany (Al izzawiyain) in Jerusalem after some stone throwing over the separation wall met with tear gas by the police/border control. We were shuttled into our tour bus quickly and our beloved tour guide Said did traffic control so that we could get out of there safely.
test - 8 (4) test - 9 (4) -Amber

Grassroots Al Quds in Jerusalem

hands that buildGrassroots Al Quds is a platform for Palestinian organizations to work together.  Today the group consists of 80 community organizations in 40 Palestinian communities.  It allows Palestinian people to discuss what is going on in their lives and to decide what actions to take.  It provides individuals a place to organize campaigns, and share resources.

One of the projects the group is currently working on in collaboration with Palestinian Vision Association is “Say it like a Palestinian”.  The goal is to bring awareness to how places, people and signs are given certain terms.  One way to accomplish this was to create a map showing the original Arab names for places in and around Jerusalem.

They also offer political tours around the city.  Our tour guide Micah Kurz is a Jewish Israeli citizen.  When asked why he is interested in working with the organization, or if he has considered leaving Israel, he explained that he considers himself a global citizen and that with privilege comes responsibility.DSC_0223

During the tour we visited a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem.  We drove past a building that had been a police station, but was purchased by Irving Moskowitz.  The building is now a home for Israeli Settlers.  It is surrounded by fencing, barbed wire, and hired security.  Segregated buses come into the neighborhood for the people living in the area.  Services such as garbage collectors come to the Israeli building, but pass by Palestinian homes.  Crime is on the rise in the neighborhood because there is no longer any police protection.

Wall is visible in the distance.
Wall is visible in the distance on left side of the image.

Palestinian neighborhoods around Jerusalem typically do not have enough classrooms.  The classrooms are usually simple rooms, with few if any resources such as labs.  Children must go to school until 9th grade, but there is no place to build new schools.  These neighborhoods have a 50% dropout rate.  Families do try to push their children into university, however there are very few options for Palestinian students.  There are two schools just within Jerusalem one is Mt. Scopus University and the other is Al Quds.  The third option is to go abroad to a school such as Bethlehem University.  However, because they will need to leave for more than 3 years, students will lose their Jerusalem residency, and be unable to return.

Grassroots Jerusalem is working to make more people away of the uses in the area, and showing people that it is a global issue.  Israel has become an exporter of security.  Educating police forces around the world.  The French company Veolia runs the segregated bus services around Jerusalem.  Israel also has the largest drone market.  Micah emphasized how important it is for people to become aware of the issues happening in Israel/Palestine,

“Not just because we share racist values but because we share the same racist police policies and practices.  It is not a coincidence that if you are a young Palestinian man in Israel or a young black man in Ferguson you will be treated with the same tactics, and the same rubber bullets and the same tear gas.  This is an issue we need to collaborate on.  We really need the world to understand what is going on with the occupation” – Micah Kurz

DSC_0217– Stephanie