Pray for the peace.

I took this photo at the Garden Tomb in 2008.

(I took this photo at the Garden Tomb in 2008.)

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Pray for the peace of her hills topped with mosques and churches. Pray for her the peace of her valleys, lined with ancient tombs.

Pray for the peace of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, its stones worn smooth by the tears and kisses and prayers of Christians of every country, creed, and color. Pray for the peace of the devout of East Jerusalem, called to prayer each morning long before sunrise by the cry that was surely sounded at creation’s dawn. Pray for the fathers, bearded and dressed in black, hurrying their little boys to yeshiva school in the early morning blue of the Jewish Quarter; pray for the toddling boys with side curls and kippahs on their tiny heads.

Pray for the old toothless women sitting in the limestone streets of the Muslim Quarter selling vine leaves. Pray for the plucky British hosts of the Garden Tomb. Pray for the Arab shopkeepers selling blue and white Armenian pottery, and the Armenian shopkeepers selling Temple Mount photos and souvenirs. Pray for the mothers lying in beds in the Palestine Red Crescent Maternity Hospital, and their new babies with dark eyelashes softer than butterflies’ wings.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Here lies the heartbeat of the world. When peace reigns here, its rosy fingers will spread out until they fill the whole world.

P.S. It’s been busy around here! We just started our most ambitious house remodel undertaking yet, and my secret project (which I’ll be unveiling soon) is on a tight deadline. So for a while I’ll be posting every other week, on Thursdays. Thank you for stopping by!


Free Palestine.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

– Helen Keller

In light of recent events in Gaza, and the incredible bias of American mainstream media when covering the conflict, and the disturbing ignorance of most Americans regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I couldn’t stand idly by.

Last week I taught six high school classes (!) about the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and about the current issues faced by Palestinians today. While I don’t have enough time to detail everything that I taught in my classes, here are some things that you should think about:

– In the recent Gaza conflict, 13 Israelis died. Ten of those killed were soldiers; three were civilians. By contrast, more than 1300 Palestinians were killed in Gaza. Almost all of those killed were civilians. One-third were children.

– This is not new. In the First Intifada, which began as a peaceful Palestinian uprising in 1987, only 12 Israeli soldiers were killed, but more than 706 Palestinians were killed. In the Second Intifada, which began in 2000, there were more than 5,500 Palestinians killed, while Israel suffered about a thousand casualties.

– This conflict, contrary to popular belief, is not about religion. While Jerusalem is a city that is holy to three faiths, the conflict actually stems from 20th century political events. The reason for the conflict isn’t because the Jews and Muslims in Palestine “just can’t get along,” contrary to what is said by your grandmother/relief society president/insert name of ignoramus of your choice here. Jews, Muslims, and Christians co-existed peacefully for centuries: in Spain, in Greece, in Egypt, in modern-day Iraq, in North Africa, and in the Medieval city of Akko. Even today, the conflict divisions are not drawn along religious lines. Many prominent Israeli leaders are secular, not religious, Jews. And many of the Palestinians trapped in the West Bank are Christian, not Muslim. (In fact, although the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, most of the Christians living in the Holy Land today are Palestinian.)

– Every year, the United States gives more money to Israel than to any other nation in the world. Much of that money is used to fund the Israel Defense Forces. Therefore, your taxpayer dollars are used to ghettoize Palestinians and seal them behind separation walls in Gaza and the West Bank. Your money is used to establish checkpoints along every road and at every settlement in the West Bank, making it extremely difficult for the residents there to get to school, to get to work, and to support their families. Your money was used, from 27 December 2008 to 19 January 2009, to kill 1300 Palestinians in Gaza.

– The substance of white phosphorous was declared illegal in the Geneva Conventions, because it burns away flesh to the bone. Because it is so harmful, at the Geneva Conventions it was declared illegal to use even against other militaries during times of war. But during the recent attacks on Gaza, Israel used white phosphorous against a civilian population, including the hundreds of children who were killed and maimed by these weapons.

So why does the United States support this kind of wholesale murder? Unfortunately, the answer comes down to nothing but politics. As the global watchdog and self-proclaimed promoter of democracy, the United States supports Israel because democracy in the Middle East is important to us (although, ironically, when the Palestinians of Gaza elected Hamas by fair democratic process, the U.S. refused to acknowledge or work with the democratically-elected Hamas leaders). There are other political reasons why the U.S. supports Israel. There are many wealthy Jewish American lobbyists, and American politicians have many Jewish constituents to answer to (there are more Jews living in New York than in all the state of Israel).

Another reason for our support of the state of Israel is the Holocaust. After WWII, there was a lot of grief and guilt felt by Americans for not doing enough to prevent this atrocity. So when the war was over, the smoke had cleared, and the new state of Israel was proclaimed, the U.S. began giving money to Israel to the tune of millions (and now billions) of dollars. Israel proceeded to drive Palestinians from their land to establish a “Jewish national home.” But let me ask you an important question: should the Palestinians pay the price for a crime they did not commit–namely, the Holocaust?

And what about security? Do the separation wall and the checkpoints in the West Bank really make Israel safer from “terrorists”? Or do they further radicalize a Palestinian population that is already tired of being deprived of basic human rights? Is security just the trajectory of rockets and the line of fire of bullets? Or does security also have something to do with the basic human dignities afforded to the people that you are governing?

As American voters, as makers of U.S. foreign policy, and as forgers of our own future, we have to accept the responsibility to act ethically in our affairs with other nations, to intervene justly or not at all. There is no room for ignorance or apathy.

And, on a more lighthearted note, Heather, Jana, Evan, Rachelle, Jamie, Adam, Matt, Drew, Eric, Kim, Dave, Kyle, and I took a sweet slot canyon trip to Blue John, where Aron Rolston cut off his arm in 2003. Cool canyoneering photos soon to come!

Yad Vashem, the Yeshiva Shooting, and the Conflict

It occurs to me that my blog, up to this point, has been mostly a collection of of happy-go-lucky posts about field trips and vacations, with lots of photos of me standing in front of significant places and smiling at the camera.

Actually, though, living here in Jerusalem has been much more than sightseeing. It has been a learning experience, and a sobering experience as we live among people for whom violence and danger is a daily reality.

About ten days ago, as you may have heard, there was a shooting at a yeshiva, or Hebrew school, across town in West Jerusalem. The killer, who was from a neighborhood near us in East Jerusalem, fired fifty or sixty shots; many people were injured, and eight teenage boys studying at the yeshiva were killed. The gunman was finally stopped when a man from a neighboring building came into the back entrance of the school and shot him down.

Our Hebrew teacher, Judy Goldman, was teary and somber when we saw her in class after the shooting. She told us, “I debated about whether or not I should come to teach class today. But then I remembered something that was said after Virginia Tech. One of the professors that was killed was himself a Holocaust survivor. This man was killed when he blocked a doorway with his life to protect his students. The son of this great man said after his father’s death, ‘In the face of a tragedy like this, you must go on. Otherwise, you let the terrorist win.’ That is why I came to teach class today.”

Mrs Goldman also told us that in Israel, when there is a crisis, people run toward the disaster so that they can help, rather than running away for safety. A few years ago when there was a car bomb, her husband, who is a rabbi, ran toward the explosion. He showed up at the scene and started pulling victims out of the rubble.

After the attacks, the Jerusalem Center was locked down completely; we weren’t allowed to go out for any reason for about four days. It was a really long four days, especially because before that we had been forbidden to go to the Old City or East Jerusalem because of the Gaza strikes (when there are Gaza strikes, we can only leave the JC if we get a taxi to take us directly to West Jeru; we can’t walk through East Jeru or past the Old City).

We took a trip to Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust Museum, a few weeks ago. Some things you might find interesting:

Two-thirds of the SS officers who carried out the mass murder of the Jewish people were college-educated. Most had degrees in law, philosophy, economics, and history. One-third of all the SS officers held doctorates in their fields of study.

“The world was divided between places where they could not live and places where they could not go.” Chaim Weizmann said this of Jewish refugees in Europe in the 1930s.

Posted on a wall in Yad Vashem is this poem:

First they came for the socialists,
And I did not speak up, because I was not a socialist.
They came for the trade unionists,
And I did not speak up, because I was not a trade unionist.
They came for the Jews,
And I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak for me.

As I was wasting time online, I came across this rather disturbing variation of that poem:

First they came for the fourth amendment,
And I did not speak out, because I didn’t deal drugs.
They came for the fifth amendment,
And I was silent because I owned no property involved in crimes.
They came for the sixth amendment,
And I did not protest, because I was innocent.
They came for the second amendment,
And I said nothing, because I didn’t own any guns.
And then they came for the first amendment,
And I could say nothing at all.
(Illinois State University College of Fine Arts)

Today we went to Bethlehem and spoke to some of the students at Bethlehem University. The West Bank is supposed to be the territory of the Palestinians, but it is not contiguous; it has been broken up by Israeli settlements. In order to get to their classes at Bethlehem U, the students told us, the 30-minute drive takes two hours because of all the checkpoints they have to go to. They are not allowed to move freely in their own home country; it is divided between places where they have to have permits and places where they have to pass through checkpoints.

These are just some of the things that have been on my mind lately; what do you guys think? Let me know!

Gaza, Egypt, and Unrest

I have only been here three weeks, but it feels like months already. Or maybe a lifetime.

I was worried about living away from home for the first time, but fortunately I’ve been too buys to get terribly homesick. Between the heavy load of schoolwork I have here, the articles I write for work, and my sightseeing…um…obligations, I never have a spare moment. This semester seems pretty relaxing compared to last semester, however. Taking a full-time schedule of classes and working three jobs nearly killed me. : )

We weren’t allowed in the Old City yesterday. Since Tuesday there has been a lot of unrest because of the situation in Gaza. If you haven’t been following the situation there, here it is in a nutshell: Hamas launched airstrikes on Israeli settlements from Gaza, so the Israeli government shut off Gaza’s fuel and other resources. On Tuesday, Hamas operatives blew down the border wall between Gaza and Egypt, and now hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza are pouring into Egypt to buy fuel and food. More than seven miles of the wall has been torn down, and the refugees have been flooding the border ever since.

We are leaving for Egypt tomorrow morning for eight-day trip. We’ll be crossing the Israel-Egypt border sometime tomorrow afternoon. We’ll have an armed guard on each of our busses, and we’re all hoping that there won’t be any complications–keep your fingers crossed!

Jerusalem is a true melting pot of Muslims, Palestinian Christians, Russian Jews and Christians, and Jews from all nations. But once we cross the border into Egypt, we’ll be in a land that is almost entirely Muslim. It will be an eye-opening experience, I’m sure.

We wont’ have computer access in Egypt, so I won’t be posting for a while. I love you all! Until after Egypt!