It has been four months since violence sparked in October, yet 25 Israelis and Palestinians joined us on a visit to Bethlehem and Jericho this January.
Sadly, violence caught up with us too, making the reality of where we live and who our neighbors are even more visible.
Each site we visited had more than one story to tell, more than one tradition. The connection an Israeli feels with a site is apparently different than the connection felt by a Palestinian.
At Deir Hijleh
, for instance, we visited a monastery. Alongside its Christian tradition we also heard its name comes from the Biblical Hebrew "Beit Hogla", also found on the Madaba Map
Qasr il-Yahud (Palace of the Jews
) was another site where we heard a mixture of traditions. Some traditions carry a familiar echo, others sounded brand new to half the people, meaning the other’s ties to the site were previously unknown.
Still on the issue of our perceived connection to the land, the following question came up:
"Are today's Israelis related to the Jews of the Bible?"
About half of our participants said YES, the others said NO, and most of them answered with great certainty!
Later at night our group discussed ISIS. Again we found disagreement. Some in our group said ISIS was controlled by the Israeli Mossad, while others thought that was a ridiculous idea.
What else do Israelis and Palestinians take for granted, thinking it is obvious, never realizing the other side totally rejects the notion?
The mood took a turn for the worse when we heard that a relative of one participant died in a clash with the IDF while we were traveling. An alumnus came to greet the group only two days after losing his relative in a different clash with the IDF.
Putting aside the debate over the circumstances of these deaths, it was encouraging to see our participants supporting each other through their grief. On our previous trip violence struck
close as well, and the group stayed committed and supportive then too.
The second day of our trip featured the Cremisan monastery
, wine production, the Church of the Nativity
, and a meeting with Ali Abu Awad,
where we spoke about the necessary changes in our identities and social norms, such that will enable positive progress in unison.
We are happy to conclude that, despite all the violence, authorities still approve cross-border programs such as ours, and locals keep attending. Even our Gaza contact person was coincidentally granted permission to travel and he was able to join us briefly, becoming the first Gazan on Tiyul-Rihla.
In some geographical areas we encountered resentment
and had to divert our route accordingly, but thankfully participants on our trips are still committed to constructive engagement.
We wish to thank our returning participants and our new participants, especially those who have to travel far to join in.
Our next program is for professional tour guides, this February.
We will demonstrate how The Guide on the Other Side
leads tours, what narratives guides promote, what dilemmas arise from that and what we can do better as educators.