Session II update
Hello from Bethlehem, where we are two weeks into our second session of PSE! This session we have 22 new participants, bringing the grand total to 35 participants. We started out the session with a group trip to Jerusalem, where we first met with Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR). He spoke to the group about the advocacy work done by RHR on behalf of Palestinians and the divisions within the religious community of Israel. After that, we took a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem and visited various religious sites in the area. Next, the group visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. This visit provided an interesting, all-inclusive history of the plight of the Jewish people during World War II. It also helped frame some of the politics going on in the region since the creation of the state of Israel. Our tour of Jerusalem concluded with a visit to Abu Dis, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem where the wall has divided the area, completely destroying the local economy.
The new participants started their volunteer placements bright and early on Monday morning. People are volunteering in Bethlehem, Beit Sahur, and Beit Jala at a wide range of different organizations. Some participants are working with children, while others are conducting research for author Dr. Mark Braverman. This year PSE is honored to have Dr. Braverman, who will be acting as a scholar-in-residence for the last two weeks of Session II. Dr. Braverman will present a series of lectures to the PSE group on his book, Fatal Embrace, and then will hold a public lecture for the Bethlehem area community.
Arabic classes started back up again on Monday. Due to the increase in participants, we now have three Arabic classes, ranging from absolute beginners to advanced. The emphasis of these classes is Palestinian colloquial Arabic so the participants can interact with their host families and the surrounding community.
The first week was full of interesting meetings on a range of topics. First, we had a lecture on the Palestinian nonviolence movement by Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh. Next, we screened “With God on Our Side,” a documentary about Christian Zionism. The participants greatly enjoyed this documentary, and even had the pleasure of speaking with Porter Speakman, Jr., the director. On Thursday, rabbinical student Marisa James spoke to participants about Judaism. We followed up the Judaism class with another, slightly different class at Afteem Restaurant. Participants learned how to make hommos, falafil, and lemonade with mint. After working tirelessly, participants enjoyed the fruits of their labor with an all out feast.
Our weekend trip took us to the northern cities of Nablus and Ramallah. Part of this drive entails traveling through Wadi Nar, or the Valley of Fire. In the past, this was a treacherous drive devoid of streetlights and guardrails. However, recent donations have enabled the Palestinian Authority to redo the road so there is some degree of safety. On our way to Nablus, we made a quick stop in the village of Taybeh to visit the brewery there. After a tour of the brewery, we headed towards Nablus. Once there, we met with representatives from a women’s center in Balata refugee camp. The services these women provide are critical in a camp where 28,000 people are packed into one square kilometer. After a tour of the camp, we participated on a tour of the Old City, where scenes of devastation from the Second Intifada were contrasted with beautiful Ottoman-era architecture. We wrapped up the day with a taste of Nablus’ world famous kanafeh, a delectable sweet made from a specialty Nablus cheese, mozzarella cheese, flour, and lots of sugar and butter.
The next day in Ramallah, PSE-ers met with Al Haq, Addameer, and Sam Bahour. The representative from Al Haq, Wassam Ahmad, spoke about the organization’s use of international law as an advocacy tool for Palestinians. Al Haq has a fantastic media portal that provides the viewer with a chilling depiction of Palestinian reality in the West Bank. Next, we spoke with Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights group. Addameer works on behalf of the 5,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, advocating for them in both Israel and the United Nations. Finally, we heard from Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American businessman. Mr. Bahour described the struggles Palestinians faced in the business sector as a result of the occupation. He also touched on the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN this coming September and the struggles of gaining Palestinian residency for American citizens.
Time is flying by as we approach the halfway point of Session II. We have many more exciting trips and meetings in store, including a visit to Hebron this weekend. We are also looking forward to the arrival of Dr. Braverman, and his first talk, which is scheduled to take place this Friday. Stay tuned for more updates as the summer progresses!