See complete stories at: – Nov. 2017

Why Are You Here?   |   Amirah Abu LughodStony Point, New York

Over the mountains, over the sea and through Israeli security…

“Are you with this group? Please go to the waiting area miss, we need to do another check on your passport.

“Why are you here? You’ve been here before? Then why did you come back? You already saw what you needed to see so why are you coming back?”

“Tell me your father’s name. Your grandfather’s name.

“Are you Muslim? What’s your mother’s name? Have you always been Muslim?”

“Why are you here?”

“Write down all of your phone numbers. All of your email addresses”

“You can go wait outside, we’ll call you back again.”

“Why are you here?”

“Write down all of your phone numbers”
“Write down all of your email addresses”
“What’s your father’s name?”
“What’s your grandfather’s name?”

“Do you have family here?”
“What are their names?”
“How old is she? Is she married?”
“Are you married?”



Today We Witnessed   |   Lea Koesterer – St. Louis, Missouri

The status quo is not in the best interest of the Israelis nor the Palestinians.


Snapshots of Jerusalem   |   Laurie HanawaltCleveland, Ohio

Flash forward to our first day in Jerusalem. As we began to enter the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, one police officer stopped and asked if I was Muslim.  When I told him “No,” he said I couldn’t enter. Our guide tried telling him I was part of his tour group, but the police insisted I not enter, so we all had to go to another part of the market.  It reminded me of stories I used to hear about how African-Americans in the Jim Crow South were not allowed to enter some restaurants just because of their skin color.  I’ve been privileged up till now not to have ever experienced this type of discrimination.  I felt I was being put in my place.


Love and Joy   |   Paul HanawaltCleveland, Ohio

Then my mind goes to the occupation.  Forgetting the unforgivable planning that went into the creation of the Zionist state and the Nakba in 1946, ‘47 & ‘48, just seeing the reality today of 30 foot walls separating people from their land and their way of life, their actual livelihood – How can one man know the joy of seeing his child grow and turn around and build a wall that takes the life away from another man’s child?

I came to Palestine thinking I would find a people crushed and defeated by a hundred years of having another people stealing their land, destroying their way of life and locking them up in outdoor prisons but what I found my first day in Palestine was love and joy.  That gives me hope in what seems like a hopeless situation.


A Feeling Like Home   |   Erica TerenceSomes Bar, California

What can we really do, I ask myself. The answer is simple:  every drop of resistance to this unjust regime counts.

And just as at home, the drops add up to make a reservoir we’ll need to get through this together.


Sabr Means Patience   |   Amirah Abu LughodStony Point, New York

The greenery most prominent in the landscape were large clusters of cacti. Our guide, Umar, explained that the cacti were planted as borders between homes. Now the cacti are an indicator of where Palestinian villages used to be.

The cacti continue to grow, quite abundantly and spread across the land of those people whose hands planted them. Growing no longer as a border between neighbors but as a reminder for all who see them growing that there were people who lived on and loved this land.

The word for cactus in Arabic is Sabr. Sabr also means patience. I’ve witnessed over and over again within each person we’ve had the privilege of meeting a steadfast presence of patience. The plants embody in the natural world the continued patience and resilience of the Palestinian people.

The plants growing on this land seem to be telling the story of the people who once loved and cared for them. Their poetic language keeps beauty and resistance alive.


Listening to My Ancestors   |   Simi ToledanoBrooklyn, New York

Finally, my Belarussian ancestors spoke to me, “Never forget,” they implored. “We have been to the forest, we have been witnessed in the attempted extermination of our existence. Now you bear witness where the trees do not. Remember us as you serve justice in Palestine and work towards the collective liberation of all peoples.”

I stood silent before the land where the tree once stood and promised my ancestors that I will remember them and bear witness to human pain and suffering. I promised them to listen for hope, resilience, and truth. I promised them to honor the lives and ancestors of the Palestinian people, who continue to dream and mobilize around their right to return to their homeland.

I looked down at the stone in my hand, and placed it on the earth where a tree once stood in Lifta. I whispered a prayer for justice in Palestine and the collective liberation of all oppressed people’s. I walked towards our bus and felt my body relax with the secure knowledge that my ancestors have my back, and my roots, here in Palestine.


Olive Harvest   |   Betsy SimpsonEaston, Pennsylvania

Even back here at home, as I was being given a lift from a car repairman because my car suddenly wouldn’t start and had to be towed to his shop, in just a brief conversation, having mentioned that I just returned from a trip to Israel, I was able to share a bit of the truth of life on the ground.  He was astonished to hear that what he and everyone else is told through the news media is not even close to the truth, that it is less than half the story and is slanted heavily toward Israel.

He thought I probably had seen a lot of violence by terrorists in Israel.  It felt good to correct at least a little bit of his sense of what’s going on.  It gave me hope and encouragement to share more and with everyone I meet.

This trip has given me the impetus and challenge to shine light in our own darkness. What a gift!


Yaffa – The City My Family Once Called Home   |   Amirah Abu Lughod Stony Point, New York

I found myself struggling to see the beauty. I knew what I was seeing was nothing like the Yaffa my grandparents called home and what did resemble their existence there felt like a restoration of mockery.  It looks nothing like what my ancestors called home because my ancestors were those people who lived on “the land with no people for a people with no land.”

I looked out over the Mediterranean Sea, a piece of the scenery that hadn’t changed since my family’s presence. I realized that the water, the sea still remembers my grandmother’s face looking out over its expanse. That sea holds the familiarity and memory of all of those ancestors.

And so, I turned away from the land and focused on the water. Grateful.

Grateful to have the opportunity to hear from those people of Yaffa who stayed, survived and continue to survive. Grateful to be able to look over the water and see what my ancestors saw and grateful to be able to show the sea my face. A hopeful face, a humbled face, the face of her granddaughter.


Destroyed Villages   |   Lea Koesterer – St. Louis, Missouri

Although there is a concerted effort to erase the existence of Palestinians since the time of the Nakba, archaeologists were able to save the remains of the community of Lifta, a wealthy and intellectual hub, near Jerusalem. We hiked down to the main gathering place of Lifta where there is a beautiful spring surrounded by trees.


Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem   |   Lea Koesterer St. Louis, Missouri

During the first Intifada (Palestinian uprising) from 1987-1993, books and newspapers were banned from the camp. So, folks began to write the news on the walls as graffiti. The IDF painted it out and threatened to bulldoze any building with writing on it. By the next morning every building was covered with graffiti and the IDF desisted so as not to cause a big international flap for destruction of the entire camp. Graffiti is now revered there.


A Time for Heroes   |   Lea Koesterer St. Louis, Missouri

The schoolgirls poured from their schoolhouse door in their crisp uniforms onto the broken and dusty streets of Hebron. Such a contrast! The streets have been long broken since the attacks by Israeli settlers and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).

While the other delegates were watching the IDF teenagers with automatic weapons, I was enchanted by the children. I was at the back of the group and was watching them when they saw Issa Amro. As soon as they spotted him they began to chant in unison, “Issa Amro! Issa Amro! Issa Amro!” As they neared us shyness overcame them and they merely grinned ear to ear.

The shopkeepers are clearly in awe of Issa Amro for his courageous leadership. His joy in living is contagious despite the cruel apartheid. With my own ears, I heard him say “I love life, but would not hesitate to offer mine for Palestinian freedom from oppression.” I am in awe of this man.


Erez Checkpoint and Sderot   |   Betsy Simpson Easton, Pennsylvania

Our eyes saw the checkpoint for people crossing from Gaza to Israel. Of course, it is more than a simple checkpoint (can such a thing be simple?), it is a massive stretch of buildings containing Israeli intelligence offices, interrogation rooms, detention cells, and who knows what else.

There were few people there outside, but I saw a ‘memorial’ of sorts – a large cylindrical water-type tank lying on its side, at each end, painted on concrete walls, what appeared to be the twin Towers, at one end they stood untouched, at the other they seemed broken and falling. Around the base of this ‘memorial’ was barbed wire, and it all spoke to me of the fear, the violence, and the hatred that provokes the seemingly unending barrier between these peoples. It felt like we were being watched, but at the same time it was as though we stood at the end of the world. There was a deathly silence.


Reflection of Trip   |   Jeff Petrucelly Cambridge, Massachusetts

We traveled to Sderot, an Israeli city just next to Gaza. Though the residents had for the 12 years prior to 2014, been bombarded by rockets shot from Gaza, we met with two Israeli peace activists who still protested the occupation and worked with Palestinians from Gaza on peace activities.

Although the Israeli settlements in the West Bank have significantly grown, and the massive apartheid like wall has been constructed around Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other areas, the Palestinians are still resisting and will not give up their struggle for justice and equality.    So too, Jewish Israelis would like an end to the war with their neighbors, and to live in peace.

Overall, I came away with hope for peace and justice in the mid-east, but it will take a sea change in the leadership on both sides, other Arab states, and our country. A massive project for all!


The Road   |   Lea Koesterer St. Louis, Missouri

In order to drive a vehicle, one must have a license. In the case of Israel and the West Bank the plates are either yellow (Israeli) or green and white (Palestinian). We had a yellow license plate that enabled us to use the super highways built for the Israeli settlers. Our travel would have been severely curtailed if we had had to go through the numerous checkpoints.

There are more than 60 Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank, along with hundreds of other roadblocks and barriers to Palestinian movement.

As we drove, our guide would periodically announce that we were at that moment traveling over the remains of a particular Palestinian city or village. There were many.

We also passed many living Palestinian towns and cities as well as active Israeli settlements constructed illegally on occupied Palestinian lands. The settlements had signs announcing the name of the settlement. Palestinian towns were often not granted a sign, but we could see them and our guide knew the names.


On Holy Ground   |   TJ Williams Chicago, Illinois

Arriving in Jerusalem took me back to the origins of a people of three faiths:  Christianity, Judaism and Islam. To see and experience the livening presence of the three faiths and how they are interconnected through this historical, middle-eastern Arab town named Jerusalem to the faith of three historic peoples opens my mind and heart to listen and hear fully. In the call for prayer as it awoke me each morning, I heard the voice of the Islamic transformation that began in 632 when Jerusalem was established as Al Quds Al Sharif (the noble sacred place). The call gave me a welcome song to my spirit that served as a spiritual and physical alarm clock and reminded me that the day and task ahead must begin with a sacredness; that this work is bigger than what I know myself to be; and that I am, as religious grad, called to the work of justice and liberation.

The Character of Jerusalem is a reminder the she is that city on a hill who represents one city and three faiths calling us toward a place of collective integrity. Jerusalem located in a place called Palestine the land that we know as Israel is holy ground. Therefore, the ideology of Zionism has no place there!


Final Reflection   |   Paul Hanawalt Cleveland, Ohio

Laurie and I are staying 10 days after the delegation.  Some mysterious force canceled the reservation we previously booked and put us in a great hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem, next to the Tower of David Museum.

The first morning in our new hotel, while we were having breakfast, there was a woman sitting near us who got served a special meal that wasn’t part of the buffet.  Laurie went over to ask one of the women what she ordered.  After a minute of talking to these ladies (Donna-Lee and Jules), they invited us to join them at their table.  It turned out that Donna-Lee has a Jewish boyfriend who has only rote Zionist answers to her questions about the ongoing tragedy in Palestine.

We ended up spending all day with them in the Tower of David Museum.  Donna-Lee drilled us continually about Palestine.  We filled her up with everything we have seen, read, and heard about the formation of the Zionist state of Israel and the consequences for the Palestinian people.  Donna-Lee asked for books she could read and I gave her authors, Richard Forer, Ilan Pappe and Rashid Khalidi along with book titles.  I feel sorry for her boyfriend when she gets home.


Leave a Reply