Part 1: Plain sailing
As usual, we woke up at 7:30, got prepared and had a good breakfast. Afterwards we got together for ten minutes of blessed silence followed by some time to share the many wondrous stories of last night with one another. Today was a special day, though, because after our morning routine we didn’t dive into something serious and mentally challenging but rather were off for a day of fun, kayaking in the sea. So we packed our stuff and made the 40-minute drive to “Rosh Ha-Nikra”, a beautiful beach with chalk cliffs and sea grottos by the Lebanese border. The participants strapped on life vests, put on sun screen and were given a brief introduction to kayaking before jumping into their own kayaks and launching them in the sea. We, the guides, were disappointed to learn that there were only enough kayaks for the participants, but we were compensated by a swim in the sea and a walk through the beautiful grottos while we observed our young kayakers paddle through the waves. We met up with the group as they emerged from the water, telling us their heroic, funny, and sometimes “tragic” (for those who were sea-sick) stories. We continued to share the excitement while we had our lunches near the beach, and some of the less heroic participants used the time to sleep off their exhaustion.
Part 2: From Galilee to Jerusalem
From Rosh Ha-Nikra we had a long (2.5-hour) journey to Jerusalem (Yerushalayim / Al-Quds). We used the time to chat and sleep, but also to educate ourselves a little bit about things we encountered on the road. Special attention was given (by me) to our Journey along Road No. 6, the new toll road which spans the length of the country from the north to the center and (soon) to the South. I explained to the participants a little about the meaning of a privatized toll road, and the favorable terms (for the construction company) under which it was constructed.
The Separation Wall - Qalqilia
After that we had a look out the window to see Israel’s "separation wall”, part of which was built alongside the road. We discussed the consequences of this separation wall for the Palestinian population on whose land it was built. We named three major effects: the annexation of roughly ten percent of Palestinian land in the West Bank, together with wells, farms, etc., the ghetto-isolation of the Palestinian population affected by the wall into small little enclaves, in which their inhabitants are often cut off from their family, friends, workplaces, hospitals, schools etc., and lastly the creation of facts on the ground which will not allow a future Palestinian state to exist and thus making a future peace process that much more difficult.
After my small presentation everyone was free to go back to sleep, which many did, until at long last we reached our final destination on our journey: Jerusalem. In Jerusalem we settled in a hostel near the old city where we had some rest and dinner, and then sat down to summarize our day. The participants gave mixed reviews about the kayak experience; some had enjoyed it immensely, while others had found it too strenuous (though still quite funny…).
Many of them mentioned learning about the separation wall. We were surprised by the lack of knowledge amongst the participants - this time regarding the wall - but also about other issues like their own historical narratives.
We do hope that the “journey” will serve as a touchstone to learn more.
Part 3 : On the Temple Mount/Haram as-Sharif — The Western Wall of the Jewish Temple
After our summary circle we joined Dalia Landau. Dalia is the founder of the “Open House”, a member organization of GNRC, a partner in this project and a resident of Jerusalem. She took us on a special journey in her beloved city, for a late-night tour of the Western Wall, in the heart of the old city. Beforehand, though, we watched a special hi-tech movie “the time elevator” where we got to know different stories from Jerusalem over the ages, and about how Jerusalem came to be so significant for each of the three monotheistic religions.
Meanwhile, to enhance the effects of the movie, our chairs rocked and rolled and occasionally water sprayed down on us from the ceiling. It was quite an experience, but not quite as the night-time spectacle of the Western Wall itself. Dalia explained to us a little about the wall, how it is the only surviving remnant of what used to be the great Jewish temple, and how its particular location on the Temple Mount made it very special. We then had a chance to get up close, pray, or insert a note with our personal wishes, in the nooks and crannies between the great stones of the wall. It was a very special experience to be there with a mixed group. For most of the Palestinian youth it was the first time and many of them were very curious. Rotem found himself explaining little bits and pieces of Jewish religious tradition to some of the Palestinian youth. Dorit went up to the wall with a Jewish and a Muslim girl who wanted to put a note with their wish between the stones. The atmosphere was very quiet and women were praying silently. Some were crying. Yasmin, the Muslim girl noticed two pigeons, one white and one black who were sitting quietly next to each other in one of the cracks in the wall. It was a special feeling to be present there at this late hour. Dalia who goes to pray there many times said that the place was active and lively for all 24 hours of the day and the night. Though we were very tired it was a wonderful and exciting experience for us, since we were all there together. Slightly after midnight we crawled back to our hostel for what had by now had become another of our daily traditions: sleepless nights.