June 6, 2011

            Today was a very crazy day. When I got to the office, I sat down at my desk and began checking emails, and then Claire called that she had to go to Jerusalem for visa interviews. She asked if I wanted to go. I said absolutely!  It is not that far to Jerusalem from Ramallah, about 16 km, but the journey was an experience I will never forget. To get into the city, I had to go through Qalandia checkpoint. As we were approaching the checkpoint, Claire was saying that she hoped there was no trouble, but as we got closer, she said it looked like there had recently been some activity because everything was blackened from burning tires. Then I saw the checkpoint. Now, I’m not really sure what I expected, but it wasn’t what I saw. There is a massive concrete wall topped by coils of barbed wire.

                                                                          Part of the wall and a watch tower near Qalandia

You drive into lines of cars to wait to go up to a little booth where the IDF soldiers are. Claire was able to go to the shorter line because she has Israeli tags, but I had to get out of the car and walk through the checkpoint because only immediate relatives are allowed to remain in the Israeli tagged cars with the driver. She pointed me where to go, and I followed the Palestinians into a dark warehouse-like building. Once in there, there were rows of very narrow, metal chutes that I had to walk through. There were only about a foot and a half wide, and they were completely enclosed like a cage. Once I walked through that, I had to join a line at another metal barrier with a rotating metal barricade that locked once a certain number of people went through. It only took a few minutes to get through that. On the other side, I had to put my bag on an x-ray belt and walk through a metal detector like at the airport. After the metal detector, I had to go to a window behind which an IDF person sat and show him the visa in my passport. Then I could retrieve my bag and head out of the building. I had to wait a few minutes before Claire came through with the car and picked me up on the other side.

            Even though it didn’t take a long time, I feel like I gained some perspective from the checkpoint experience. Just like at the airport, you are made to feel like a criminal even though you’re not. Even worse, the chutes at the beginning were like cow chutes, it just felt so inhuman. As an American, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have to go through that every day just to go to work or to school or to visit some family that really only lives 20 minutes away. I cannot believe that the Israelis can get away with doing such things and treating people so poorly. It is one thing to have the knowledge about what goes on and to think that it is bad, but it is another thing entirely to experience it.

           After that, we were off to the consulate.  I got my first glimpse at the Security Wall a little way from Qalandia. Well, glimpse is rather an understatement, as the wall is enormous. It must be a good 15 feet high, made of thick concrete and topped with barbed wire. It is really ridiculous, and it truly does completely cut off one side from the other. You cannot even see the tops of buildings over it. It’s like the world just dead-ends with a sinister grey wall.

           After finidhing at the consulate, the next stop was a meeting at the Aroma Café coffee shop near Hebrew University. Here, Claire was meeting with the logistics coordinator of the Israeli side, and Mohammed was meeting with the Israeli program coordinator. I sat in on the logistics meeting. It was very interesting. The two delegations must coordinate in order to have all of the kids get out to the camp at the appropriate time and date. Claire has to let the Israeli coordinator know how many kids are coming and when in order to get through the checkpoint and out of Gaza. Apparently, to make everything run smoothly, the Israeli coordinator must use his personal connections, call in favors, and push in order to get the correct amount of permits to allow the kids to leave the country and attend camp. I learned a lot relating to the logistics of implementing a peace-building program. Clearly, there is more to it than simply dropping into the appropriate place and starting your work. Being in a conflict zone complicates the ability of the program to operate as it is intended because of the exceptional rules and circumstances, which means that the goals of the project may not be effectively achieved. The logistics and restrictions on movement can prevent the kids from going to camp at all, and if the kids cannot go, then the Seeds of Peace program is ineffective in accomplishing its goals of promoting understanding of the other side and learning about the other’s situation because one side may not be adequately represented. I never even considered before how profound an impact the policies and opponents of the peace-building work can have on your ability to achieve your well-intentioned goals as an organization. This was important for me to realize since I want to be doing field work for my career.

After these meetings, we headed to another location for the full regional staff meeting about the multinational camp that is taking place in Jordan in July. The Israeli program coordinator described that the theme of the camp will be people power. The goals of the camp are that for the first two days, the kids should learn and come to an understanding of the forces in their society that shape their identity and their understanding of what it means to be that identity, whether it is a religious, gender, national, or other identity. From this point, the remaining days will be dedicated to achieving an understanding of what the kids can do as people, members of society, youth, and individuals to change their conception of a given identity and the systems that reinforce them.

Even though it was a very long and busy 12 hour day, I learned a lot about the realities of living in Palestine, the ways in which the conflict atmosphere and policies can impact and complicate the implementation of peace-building programs, and the massive amounts of work that go into organizing and carrying out these programs. I am glad that I had the opportunity to go along, sit in on the meetings, and learn.