Monday, November 30, 2009



Hey all,

I apologize for taking so long to write a new blog entry. We have been really busy lately. We are back in Cairo and have been furiously writing final papers. Yesterday, my group had a debate on the topic of, Is Political Islam an obstacle to Democratization? We won and added some bonus points to our final grade! So once we left Israel and Palestine, we settled into academic work and now I am almost done with papers and free to relax in Cairo.

I want to provide a recap for the last week in Israel and Palestine. We had several good speakers throughout the trip, and I think acquiring high powered speakers is the strength of the program. We heard from Zionist Jews, ideological settlers, Israelis working for peace, former Israeli soldiers who dissaprove of the occupation, Palestinians who have fought in the intifada, professors who have written books on the conflict, representatives from both the U.S. and Israel side of the diplomatic relationship and a Palestinian archbishop. Throughout it all, I continued to formulate my opinion on the morality caught in the middle of the conflict, the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the obstacles to peace and how best teh Palestinians can work to acheive peace. By the end of the trip, I was just so overwhelmed by the daunting mass of the conflict and the inherent problems with it from 60 years of occupation. It is just a big tangled mess and peace is going to be so hard to acheive.

We did fit in some tourist stuff within all of our academia. We visited the Sea of Galilee and the entire region was so pretty and it looked like it could have been the exact same in Jesus day. It is truly one of the coolest things i have ever been able to see. In all the Christian landmarks in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and even in spots around Galilee, the Orthodox church has erected guady churches on top of holy sites, and it really ruins the spirituality of the place for me. I just want to see things as they could have been in Jesus' day and I dont like the huge shrines built over the places Jesus was. But the region of galilee is beautiful and it truly is the place that Jesus carried out his ministry. We even saw the synagogue of Capernaum (pictured) in which Jesus HAD to have been in once in his life. It was really amazing. We also visited Nazareth, which was one of the places that was "spoiled" a bit for me with churches and conflicts over which sites were holy. We saw the Golan Heights, which is the NE corner of Israel that is disputed as Israel took it from Syria in the 1967 War and is a huge bargaining chip in peace talks with Syria.

Back in Jerusalem, we went under the Wailing Wall and visited the tunnels that were built at street level back in Jesus' day, including a street that Jesus HAD to have taken as it was the public entrance to the Temple. There is a lot of archeological history under the Temple Mount and it was really cool to see it.

The last night before we went back to Cairo, we took a second trip to Bethlehem and had dinner with Palestinian host families and it was so cool to sit down to dinner with a Palestinian family and just see a little bit about what their life is like.

One thing became certain for me in our two weeks in Jerusalem: I really miss home and I am definitely geting antsy to come home. The Middle East is amazing and I will miss it for sure, but I miss the people close to me and cannot wait to be back in the States.

So, back in Cairo, we are tying up loose ends and its only 11 days until I will be back home. Thanks for your reading!
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tripping over Bill Clinton at the Wailing Wall


Last week, I saw Bill Clinton at the Wailing Wall plaza in Jerusalem. We had been in line to go up to the Temple Mount area above the Wailing Wall and they shut it down while we were still in line. Whispers came through the line that Bill Clinton was visiting the Dome of the Rock. My friends and I were really excited and started looking around and started seeing Secret Service and Isreali police and began to figure out where he would be coming down from the Temple Mount. The plaza was really quiet and there weren't very many people there. I think that for security reasons the visit was unexpected and unannounced. We were about 15 feet away when he came out, and we followed his circle of security people into the plaza area. I was wearing a hat, so I continued to follow him down to the Wailing Wall, where he wrote out a prayer and stuck it in the wall. He then went up to the entrance to where the Western Wall tunnels are. He was in there for about 20 minutes and then came out and left in his motorcade. I was within about 5 feet of him at one point and he turned and gave a big wave to the crowd and I think we made eye contact (can you ever be sure of anything with Bill?). Pretty interesting day. We were definitely in the right place at the right time.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jewish Point of View and My thoughts

I was sent an email today asking to tell about the plight of the Jews and the pressures they face and fears that they have. There were questions about rockets being fired at Jewish towns daily, antisemitism in the region and violence over the Temple Mount. Questions were also raised about Biblical prophesy and implications of Israel/Palestine conflict in that context. I would like to say that this program does a pretty good job of showing both sides to issues and we have heard from several Israelis on their side of the conflict.

I would like to say that a lot of things have been misconstrued in the American media. We have read some papers written about how pro-Israel the media is, the power the Jewish lobby has over how Israel is perceived in America, and how hard Israel works on its own media machine. When I came to the Middle East, I thought that the whole region hated Jews and they were constantly terrorizing Israel and the like. That is what I had been told by the American media. Palestinians were terrorists and Israelis were only defending themselves.

However, through our extensive reading, listening to many speakers from governments, churches, social organizations, etc. as well as living in the Middle East and making friends with Muslims, Christians and Jews, I have changed my mind on a lot of things. I dont think that I am pro-Palestinian in the sense of being blind to the other side. I sympathize with some things the Jews face everyday, as well as being aware of the injustices the Palestinians endure. With that I will offer my limited knowledge on the Jewish side of the conflict and my personal opinion about it.

First of all, when I ate Sabbath dinner with a Jewish family and connected with an Israeli soldier, he was very interested in what I was seeing in Arab countries, saying that he would never be able to travel the region, because he believed there would be a violent response to his presence. He sees the region as antisemitic for sure. I believe that most Jews believe that the region hates them for their ethnicity and point to remarks by the Iranian government as proof. I believe that their oppression of the Arab Palestinians has a lot to do with their standing in the Middle East. They stole land from an Arab neighbor and no Arab country is ready to accept them as a welcome part of the region as long as they violate United Nations resolutions and human rights agreements. I don't believe that they are hated as Jews, I believe that they are hated as oppressors of Arabs.

Second, the rocket attacks are a huge tool for Israel to gain sympathy from the international media. There have been no rocket attacks on Israeli town since the Gaza War in January of this year. And when rockets are mentioned, they are referring to small homemade weapons with extremely limited range being fired from rooftops of Gazan towns. Look at the casualty numbers during the Gaza War to figure out who was taking "rocket fire" and who was targeting civilians and turning homes into war zones. 1,268 Gazans were killed, including 288 children and 103 women, with 85% of these casualties as non-combatants ( From the entire Israeli population, from Israeli soldiers who invaded Gaza, to those who took the "rocket fire", only 13 died with 10 of those being combatants. Amnesty International has accused Israelis of targeting schools, hospitals and withholding medical assistance to Palestinians. Israel claims Hamas was using its own citizens as human shields, which has since been investigated and found to be baseless. Hence, the famous Goldstone Report on the war crimes of the War in Gaza. Since the Gaza War, there has been very little rocket activity from Gaza, with the Israeli Defense Forces shooting anyone near the border and the Hamas Qassam rockets lacking the range to legitimately fire into Israeli towns. In the West Bank, there has been little to zero terrorist activity since the 2nd Intifada in 2001. So, in my opinion I don't believe that Israelis live in constant fear of rocket attacks and terrorism, because there is no real threat anymore. Also, there is a major study going on right now, about how every Hamas terrorist attack has been in direct reaction to an Israeli attack.

Third, on the issue of dispute over the Temple Mount, referring to the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Israelis retain full control of the area. According to Judaism, the 3rd Temple must be built on this Temple Mount, meaning that the Muslim holy places must be destroyed. Therefore there is heavy IDF security all around the Temple Mount area, and severe restrictions are placed on Muslim Palestinians who wish to visit their own holy sites. They are only allowed to visit during certain hours, even though I and other foreigners, Jews, etc. can visit at any time. There have been several Zionist plots to blow up the Muslim holy sites, rather than Muslim plots to wage war on the Wailing Wall. Control for this controversial site, as well as how to divide up Jerusalem remain the main obstacles to a peace agreement.

As far as how the Bible relates, I do not believe that the Jews have a right to the land. I believe that Jesus changed the entire covenant about the "Chosen People" and, as people who blatantly reject Jesus, they have no right to any part of His Kingdom (although they are always welcome to accept Jesus' sacrifice). Disclaimer here: I am not one of these people who believe that the key to the end times is converting Jews. Jews know who Jesus is, they don't need to be taught. I also do not serve a God whose plan could involve ethnic cleansing and murder to put a people who has rejected His Son in a land in which they could continue to oppress Christians. (Keep in mind that the Christian community in the Middle East lies with Arabs. There is a very real Christian presence in Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.) Therefore, I am definitely opposed to Christian Zionism, but that does not prevent me from loving Jews. I think that we cannot paint all the Jews as Zionist, because the vast majority aren't. The same is true when looking at Palestinians as violent resisters or terrorists. As I look around Jerusalem, I don't feel like this land is all that Christ-like. I see a lot of religion here, and I don't care for religion.

All in all, there is valid reason for Jews to feel cut off from the rest of the Middle East. They teach their children English rather than Arabic (which is spoken by the entire region in which they live), they erect a wall to keep Palestinians out, even though Palestinians have pledged peaceful relations and have lived up to their promise, and treat their own Arab citizens of Israel as 2nd class. Yes, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas aim to destroy Israel, but at this point the Israeli military is vastly superior and has done an excellent job of protecting its citizens, committing war crimes to do so. My belief is that whenever Israel recognizes a Palestinian state, allows refugees to return and begins to respect Palestinians as well as other Arab neighbors, they will see a huge difference in relations in the region.

This post has been a big catch all for my thoughts and feeling, while trying to give a bit of a glimpse at the Jewish point of view. I invite and welcome comments and critiques!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009



A few days ago, we visited Bethlehem which for me was my first glimpse of the Occupied Territories of Palestine. We looked at the Seperation Barrier that keeps Palestinians from entering Israel and subjects Palestinians to humiliating checkpoints. The wall has become a canvas of expression, and the pictures show some of my favorite messages written on the wall. We heard from a Christian Fatah leader, who has been the leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyr brigades during the 2nd Intifada. He has since embraced non-violence and is intrumental on setting up demonstrations and turning the Bethlehem community against violence. We also heard from a refugee organization, who has been working for Refugee rights in Palestine. The right of return for displaced Palestinians has been one of the greatest hangups at teh negotiating table and has been withheld by Israel. They refuse to allow refugees to return to their homes. We also visited a refugee camp, which was very sad. We saw old women who still held the key to their house that they had been evicted from by Israeli soldiers. They still hold on to hope that one day they will be able to return to their homes, but I see a sad reality that denies Palestinians this right. The children were especially sad to see. We played soccer with them, knowing that they were growing up without a recognized identity, in a city surrounded by walls, and a hopeless economy.

Seeing the walls of Bethelehem, my feelings were kind of mixed. I can understand the security reasons, with the terrorism several years ago. But the walls are so restrictive, they completely surround the city and box them in and their citizens are subjects to humiliating checkpoints. With no room to expand, the housing rates in the city have skyrocketed, leading to housing problems and poverty. In the refugee camp, its just so sad how little people get lost in the shuffle of global politics. But in all of thius I have been discovering a little bit more of what I want to do with my life. Coming into the trip, I thought that I might want to work in the Non Governmental Organization world, helping people that I could see face to face. But lately I have been coming to the idea that i want to work for the American government to change it and shape American foreign policy to help people. I mean working for a little NGO is really good and grassroots and necessary. I love that work, but i dont think that it is for me. We need good Christian people working at the top of the government too, and it cannot be written off. The American Govt is easily the most influential and powerful force in the world today, with one stroke of a pen, millions of lives can be changed. That is my arena. I want to be researching and advising and changing minds at the top. That is how i want to tear down walls and help the Bethlehem's of the world. But i know that working for the American government will require me to moderate my viewpoints a little and accept a lot of the frustrations of bureacracy and having to accept the American government opinion and spit out the party line even when i dont believe it. But if I can change just a few little things in the greatest foreign policy machine, a serious impact could be felt for people like poor Palestinians.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Shabbat Dinner and Synagogue Visit


We recently visited a Jerusalem Synagogue in groups and went in pairs to Jewish homes to eat Sabbath dinner with them. The family I went with was really great! The father was an Australian Jew, the mother was American and everyone spoke perfect English. They had two sons (that were present) and they were in their 20's. One was a soldier in the Army and the other was studying at a Judaism religion school. We had lively discussions about Palestine, the Occupied territories, Israeli politics, Judaism, Christianity and American/Israeli relations. It was very interesting and the family was very well informed and intelligent. I was surprised at how much in common I could find in a Jewish family across the world. They were so similar to your typical American family! I really connected with the youngest son, who was more secular and was in the Israeli Defense Force. He and I had great discussions about occupation, which he thought was necessary for security and he had many questions about what living in an Arab and Islamic country was like. I saw a Jew who was paranoid about the security of his state, but really wanted to learn more about the others across the fence. It was odd how as an American I have the abiltiy to visit these countries and learn these things first hand, whereas he could never be welcome in these situations as a Jew. Overall, despite all the wrong things his state is doing, and the fact that he understands the injustices that are committed, he was just kind of like an average Palestinian kid across the wall. He worried about things he could never control, and wondered what it was like to be in the other's shoes. It was a great experience and I hope to keep up with Vinnie, my new Jewish friend.
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Friday, November 13, 2009

My Address is the Via Dolorosa


We have been in Jerusalem for a couple of days now, and it has been an unbelievable experience! I am learning boatloads of new things by the day. We are staying in the Old City at the Austrian Hospice (on the Via Dolorosa), which has a roof with a breathtaking view over the entire Old City. I am continually in awe of the things we are doing and the people we talk to here in the Middle East, but nothing is quite like waking up and watching a sunrise in Jerusalem. So far we haven’t done that much sight seeing but it is built into the schedule later, so I can contain my excitement for the time being. We have been hearing from great speakers talking to us about the Israel/Palestine conflict, barriers to peace, Judaism and Zionism, and the settlement activities. Even though we are in the central pilgrimage site in the world, we are still holding firm to a pretty rigorous academic schedule. I am very challenged by the I/P conflict and love reading and learning about it, and I love the workload that we have and it makes it fun to walk the streets of the Old City and look into eyes of people who are daily affected by what we are learning. We read about 50 pages a night in preparation for the speakers the next day, which are usually about 2 a day. Yesterday we heard from an organization, B’Tselem that gives video cameras to Palestinians in the Occupied territories and use the tapes given to them by oppressed Palestinians to use as evidence in Human Rights work and raise awareness. I would advise viewing their website ( and watching some videos. Today, we heard from Gersham Gorenberg, an American Jewish historian, who has written several books about the mindset of Israeli settlers in the West Bank. He was hilarious, insightful and intriguing. Later on today, we are donning our kippas (yarmulke) and going to a Synagogue for the Sabbath. Afterwards we are eating Sabbath dinner with Jewish families. I am very excited to see inside a Jewish life, and pick their brains! I am going to learn a lot through this experience. I will update again soon!
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Hello From Jordan!


So we are going all the time here in the Middle East as we left Syria after 4 days and are now in Amman, Jordan. Syria was really great, and it is definitely one of my favorite places so far. We visited the Krak des Chevalies, a perfectly preserved Crusader Castle! It was like a return to childhood exploring it! On our way to Damascus, we traveled through the last Christian village in the world that still speaks Aramaic, the language of Jesus. We continued to Damascus, where for the next four days we spent most of our time in the Old City of Damascus, near Straight Street. I got very sick after the first night and had some severe nausea but luckily recovered enough to be able to catch our tour of the Old City. Straight Street is mentioned in the Bible on Paul’s trip to Damascus, where we saw Ananias’ house, where Paul was healed of his blindness. We made a visit to the new American embassy in Syria, just reinstated this summer under Obama. The officer there was very frank with our questions about Syria and our session at the embassy was highly informative. From there we went to Jordan where we have spent the past two days. Jordan is a bit boring with the exception of our visit to the Dead Sea. That was so fun! The water literally holds you up!
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