Today was full of brand new experiences, more so than any other day. We started off the morning early to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, an experience very few other groups get to do. We picked up a Palestinian tour guide because even though our Israeli tour guide Or was with us the whole time, she cannot operate in West Bank Zone A cities. To enter Bethlehem, we had to pass through a security checkpoint, and once we were inside we were behind concrete security walls. Our first stop in Bethlehem was the Aila Refugee camp where our tour guide told us about the history and how it operates today. After visiting the camp, we had the opportunity to walk along the security wall and look at the extensive graffiti covering it. The graffiti demonstrated a wide variety of messages, like the desire to end the fighting, tear down the wall, and to continue resistance. We even got to see some of Banksy’s work on the wall! Our next stop was the Walled Off Hotel which also serves as an art museum covering the history of the West Bank from a Palestinian perspective. The hotel had more of Banksy’s work as well as a room with a timeline from 1948-present and lots of art showing the history. Later, we met with a Palestinian professor who talked about the environmental impact of the occupation, and what he was doing to make Bethlehem a more sustainable place.

We had lunch in Bethlehem before getting back on the bus and driving to Gush Etzion where we visited Shorashim, or Roots for Peace. We heard both an Israeli man and a Palestinian man describe their unique stories and how they came to be a part of the organization and why it was important to them to be involved in these conversations around peace. Even though we’ve heard a lot of speakers on both sides of the conflict in the past couple days, everyone really enjoyed this conversation and getting to hear both speakers in the same space.

Back at the hotel that evening, we took some time to reflect and process everything we’ve experienced not only over the past couple days, but since we arrived. We talked about what we connected to, what surprised us and what challenged us. It was a really meaningful discussion and everyone seemed happy to get the time and space to talk. A favorite quote from the night was “We come on this trip to try to find answers and we’re leaving with more questions.” We all think that describes this trip pretty well so far.

Until tomorrow,

Havaya Israel 2023