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I once visited a refugee camp, and only once. Yet memories from the visit remain bright and vivid, with conflicting emotions that never seem to escape me in life. We can understand most human conflict is grounded in the following bases (1) divergent ideologies or viewpoints; (2) religion; and (3) the inability of people to see past stereotypes imposed by media, culture, or the environment in which they grew up. I was reminded of this visit yesterday, when an Israeli reader began to argue with me yet again about "scary" and "evil" Muslims. Given the current political climate in the U.S., and the escalating global situation with terror threats, now seems as good a time as any to share this story.Read more... )
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"If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion." - Noam Chomsky

The famous American-Jewish author, Noam Chomsky, has written a lot about the West Bank, but I believe this quote hits closest to my heart. I've already told you how I feel about Palestine in my stories from Ramallah and Sebastia. I think many Westerners live in some sort of "comforting illusion" about this region. Believing only what they see on the news. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we see mostly horrific scenes from Gaza - dead children, bombed out apartments and buildings, extremists using humans as shields...Constant debate about Israel's military tactics in the area, yet also a strong understanding and justification for the defensive actions taken to protect Jerusalem and other parts of the country. However, the West Bank is much more than Gaza. It's a land filled with ordinary people, living in an undeniably oppressive environment. Colorful street scenes await your eyes around every corner, in a third-world sense. I felt the whole time that people on both sides of the Separation Wall are essentially imprisoned, but in very different ways.Read more... )
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I've been going through my photos from the Alaskan journey, and one thing is clear. The shots are almost entirely of the beautiful landscapes, with few humans in the frames. The opposite was true during my trip to the West Bank, where so many interesting faces were ready to pose at a moment's notice. So, my photos from Ramallah are almost all portraits. The people here completely captivated me, drawing me in with their warmth and hospitality. I couldn't imagine that I'd be walking the streets of Ramallah a year ago. This city was my first introduction to a predominantly Muslim region, and I had no idea what to expect. Any small ounce of inner fear was completely overcome by curiosity. Few Westerners venture deep into the West Bank on holiday, instead limiting time to the relgious sites in Bethlehem. Those sites are interesting, but fail to capture the essence of ordinary life.

To understand the complex nature of life here is impossible. As an American citizen, I passed freely through Palestinian and Israeli controlled checkpoints, with absolutely no hassle. No prohibition on movement, no prohibition on visiting relgious sites. Ramallah falls under "Area A", and the Palestinian Authority is in full control. Entry into the area is prohibited for all Israeli citizens, and there are threatening signs at all checkpoints warning that entry by an Israeli citizen is "forbidden and dangerous to your life." I showed you the ominous sign in this post. What is the purpose? Personally, I think the language is meant to scare foreign tourists away, thus limiting exposure to ordinary life in the West Bank. Today I'll show you what I saw during my walk in Ramallah on a hot Sunday afternoon a few months ago. Read more... )
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Just a few months ago, I was roaming the streets of Israel and Palestine. Now I watch tensions and rockets escalate each night on the evening news, and I think back to my time in the West Bank. I became so tired of the crowds in Jerusalem that I couldn't wait to escape into less traveled areas, and let's be honest - many foreign tourists are scared to venture out of Bethlehem and travel deeper into Palestine. For me, the emotions of exploration, which were silenced during the first few days in Israel, immediately came to life when we entered the West Bank.

While my friends went to visit yet another church in the rural village of Sebastia, I decided to investigate the narrow, secluded streets where the church sat. I turned a corner and these children peeked outside their door, intrigued and happy that a foreigner was in their remote village. "Hallo, hallo, where are you from?" It was the same greeting all Palestinian children gave me during the journey, but the smiles of these boys captivated me in a special way. As always, I was struck by the innocence, beauty and curiosity of children, no matter the nation. They typically see only one race - human. As it should be.Read more... )
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bus ad

Readers occasionally make comments to me that free speech in America is dead. If you still believe this, take a look at this shocking ad I saw plastered on a Metro bus in Washington, DC this morning. I could hardly believe it. The advertisements are reportedly the work of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, controversial founders of the organizations "Stop Islamization of America" (known as "SIOA") and the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Geller also operates a website and blog called "" here. To see a statement like this on transport buses in ultra-liberal and culturally diverse Washington, DC is surprising. Yet this appears to be the shock value tactic of this organization, who also ran similar ads in New York City. The banner below became the subject of a heated court battle with New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority system last year, when SIOA attempted to buy ad space which was rejected on the ground the advertisement contained disparaging content.

nYC ad

SIOA sued the NY Transportation Authority on freedom of expression grounds and won. The ads eventually appeared in NYC subway stations. The organization currently is engaged in a similar battle with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority who refused this same ad.Other anti-Islamic ads... )
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photo (15)

When walking the streets of Ramallah, it's impossible not to notice all the food vendors. Smells of exotic spices, roasted meats and sweets penetrate the air. Everywhere vibrant colors, constantly distracting me and causing me to fall behind from the rest of the group. For a food lover, it's an overwhelming experience. I wanted to touch and taste everything, and most vendors gladly offered a small sample to tease my taste buds. Typically I'm a picky eater, but when traveling in Palestine there were so many street options for interesting foods that I stepped out of my comfort zone and discovered many new delights. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of most of them. Maybe readers can help? This was some type of fruit, with a fuzzy texture (similar to a peach). The taste was sour and the skin tough, but a surprise in the center! A small nut, or maybe it was a pit or seed? Overall, a strange and unusual taste but I liked it. I've never seen anything like it in America. Does anyone know the name of the fruit?Read more... )
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Hello dear friends! I'm now back in America after a memorable trip to Israel. Somehow I misunderstood the point of the sponsored tour there. I thought we would spend most of our time in Israeli-controlled areas, when in fact most of it was spent in Area "A" of the West Bank, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. I can only say that it was an amazing and eye opening experience. Perceptions of a place and reality often don't coincide, and it was the case for me in the West Bank. In the future, perhaps I'll write some posts and impressions about the journey. We visited many areas, including Jericho, Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus and Sebastia. We were stationed in Bethlehem, and it was there I experienced the burning sensation of tear gas for the first time when a disturbance occurred at a checkpoint located close to the hotel. Overall, this is an incredibly interesting region of the world, with complex layers of human emotion tangled in webs of cultural and religious identity.Read more... )


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