First impressions

The journey to Israel/Palestine had its challenging moments, but we made it! I’m certain everyone in the group was feeling exhausted by the time we arrived at the Tel Aviv airport. On the bus ride to Jerusalem, the terrain was rocky and hilly with small shrubs and trees. Our tour guide Said pointed out that many of the trees are not indigenous to the region, except for Oak trees, and possibly Cyprus. The many pine trees, and palm trees had been planted to hide destroyed Palestinian villages.
The highway we traveled on was built to allow drivers to avoid areas where Palestinian people live. There are other roadways through tunnels that avoid the bypass. Some of the roadways are cutoff, and dead end at the bypass. We learned that Palestinians are only able to use certain sections of the bypass for limited number hours. However, they must go through a checkpoint and cars are detained for several hours, making using the bypass impractical. We also spotted a soldier on a ridge, and a surveillance balloon watching the highway. Said pointed out the villages with black water towers on the roof. He explained to us that the Israel government will cut off the water supply without notice, and the black water towers serve as a backup.

It seemed to me that the shadow of Israel was even more evident within the wall of the old city of Jerusalem. On the surface the old city is vibrant, and beautiful. There are vendors selling spices, clothing, and freshly pressed juice. When looking viewing it through the lens of a tourist it is an amazing place to visit. However, if you take a moment to scratch beneath the surface it quickly becomes clear that people living in the city are not truly in harmony. There are cameras on every street, and barbed wires and fences separating different sections. Israeli parents hire security guards to escort their children. More and more settler only homes are appearing. We passed a Mosque, which will soon have a settler home next to it. Street names have been changed from their original Palestinian name.
To me the old city was like a trip through Disneyland. Many areas where sanitized of their history, and visitors only saw what people in power wanted them to see.


-Stephanie Langer

No turning back

Today we are leaving for Washington D.C., to attend the orientation. We will meet the other people joining us on this trip, and of course our guides.

Right now I’m all packed, I’ve said my goodbyes, and I’m sitting in my comfortable home, surrounded by everything that is familiar. As that moment when we leave draws nearer, I am feeling more and more nervous about the entire thing. Did I pack everything I need? Am I bringing too much with me?

Whenever someone asks me if I’m nervous or scared about the trip, and they tell me I’m brave, I usually shrug it off. Many people before me have gone to Israel/Palestine with IFPB (Interfaith Peace Builders), and they have returned home safely. Why should I be afraid? However, the reality of making this trip has finally set in. This will be the furthest I have ever been from home. I have visited Germany a few times, but that was to visit relatives, and not much different from a drive to Pennsylvania. Of course the purpose of this journey is very different from any other time I’ve flown overseas. The truth is am a little afraid of visiting a land in such turmoil, but there is no turning back now. At the same time I am looking forward to meeting new people, and listening to their stories, and to becoming a witness. Most importantly I will share my experiences on this blog, and when I return home.

I will leave you with a quote from one my favorite heroines;

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.” ― Sophie Scholl

Visit Interfaith Peace Builders for more information about the organization we are traveling with.

-Stephanie Langer

We are coming to bear witness

In just a few days from now, Stephanie Langer and I will be taking our first journey to Israel/Palestine with Interfaith Peace-Builders to bear witness to the occupation. We plan on meeting with Palestinian and Israeli groups and leaders to hear their stories and gain a deeper understanding and perspective of what is transpiring on the ground. Our goal when we return back to the U.S. is to educate others on what we observed and to influence U.S. foreign policy.

Listen to our interview with Ute Ritz-Deutch’s WRFI Community Radio Human Rights and Social Justice Program in Ithaca, NY on 7/17/15 about our upcoming trip, making the connections between oppressions and more!

In solidarity,
Amber Gilewski