Student Post: The David Project Seminar (2/3/13-2/9/13)

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Published in Frances' Excellent AdventuresJanuary 9, 2013 This blog post was written by Frances Lasday, a student who participated in a David Project seminar in Israel through Year Course

On Monday we had an amazing siyur (field trip) to Ein Karem to take a look at the Christian relationship with Jerusalem.  We went to John the Baptist church, where John the Baptist was born, the Church of the Visitation where John’s mother, Elizabeth, saved Mary from ill intentioned soldiers, and Mary’s Well.  We also went to The Gourney, the massive Russian Orthodox Church with very limited visiting hours, and very strict rules.  We ended up going to mass which was really interesting, especially in a Russian orthodox setting which has coordinated movement and praying in addition to the strong incenses in the air.  I had never seen mass before let along a Russian orthodox mass, so it was a very unique experience for me.   We also learned about transubstantiation as one of the main difference between Catholic /Orthodox and Protestant Christianity.  All of the churches were so beautiful with lots of different art styles.  The Church of the Visitation was especially beautiful.

The outside of the Church of the Visitation, now imagine how beautiful the inside is.

Tuesday started our 3 day David Project Seminar.  The theme of the seminar was learning how to tell our Israel story as our most effective tool for Israel Advocacy.

When we were on Machon (Young Judaea’s Summer Israel Program) an actress Helen came to speak with us.  She came in dressed like a Hareidi woman, and told us all kind of things, like how she became religious, and how you can’t choose which parts of Judaism you follow, and how she doesn’t believe in the state of Israel, and how it is blasphemous that there is a Gay pride parade in Jerusalem among other things.  By this point we were all yelling at her, and Yael tried to walk out, but then she took off her head covering and told us that she was an actress.  She then transformed into a woman living in the settlements, then a left wing Israeli, then an Arab Israeli.  I remember being so blown away, and we all still talk about it even though it was two summers ago.  Helen came to talk our section as one of the opening activities for the seminar.   It was just as amazing watching my friends react to her, and being confused about why some of us weren’t reacting (since we knew what was coming), as it was watching her for the first time two summers ago.

We then moved into an “Israel dilemmas” workshop led by Zeev my Power of Persuasion teacher.  We were each handed a card that said “Yes” on one side and “No” on the other.  He asked us yes and no questions about scenarios on everything from Nuclear Iran to the 2005 disengagement of Gaza.  In general this kind of thing is really hard for me to do, because I’m a firm believer of the nonexistent “it depends” side of the card.   The interesting part of this activity for me was seeing how some of my friends turned their cards and the arguments that came up for both sides of every argument.

Before the seminar, we all signed up for different workshops.  Since the theme of the seminar was storytelling we had three options, Photography, Branding and Storytelling.  I had chose storytelling, and I was so excited to find out that it would be lead by Helen, the woman of many faces!  She is hilarious and completely absurd.  She demanded all of our constant attention and brutally made fun of everyone in the room, especially Ze’ev, one of our teachers.  She is compassionate and brilliant and not only taught us storytelling techniques but gave us excellent feedback when we tried to tell our own stories and I really learned a lot from her.

That evening, Kahaled Abu Toameh who is an Israeli, Arab, Muslim, Palestinian (not placed in any particular order) came to talk to us.   He works for the Jerusalem Post but he said he would work for anyone as long as they do not censor him. He truly believes in free press, and he uses his unique background to try to get as much of the real story out as possible.  His talk was fascinating.  He talked about “the good old days before peace”, and how, based on his knowledge the Oslo accords in 1993 were made based on the incorrect assumption that the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) was not a reliable partner for peace.  He talked for a long time, about lots of different things and we were all pretty enthralled by what he had to say.  Basically, his end message was that he believes that Israel can do no more in the “peace process”, but wait for the Palestinians to get their act together.  His whole speech reminded me of the quote by Golda Meir; “We will only have peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”   I am so glad that the David Project brought him in to speak with us.

The best part of the whole thing was that after Toameh spoke, I went up to my friend, who shall remain nameless, but is really right wing, and tends to (always) generalizes Arabs and Palestinians.  I said to her “Now what does this teach us about generalizing people”.  She gave me a death glare and then laughed.

That night for a fun elective, we went to the Malcha Mall, and had a “Spinning through Israel” experience.  It was a spinning class! Our Power of Persuasion teacher ran the class, and there was an overhead projector projecting video of the views of Israel with inspiring Zionistic quotes at the bottom.  He blasted loud music and it was so so so so so so so so much fun!  We were all dead by the end of it and my face remained tomato red for the next 4 hours, but I cannot emphasize enough how amazing it was!

On Wednesday, 25 of us went to the “West Bank”.  I put West Bank in quotations there because frankly, I have no idea what I want to call that area.  Anyway you say it has political connotations; “The West Bank”, “The Occupied territories”, “Judaea and Samaria”.  There are so many ways to say it that I am a little bit lost.  You would think that my trip into this area would help clear up some of my conflicting, confusing opinions about the area, but in fact, it made me much more confused and conflicted.

We started the day, with a speaker from Peace Now (who, as a point of reference, called the area The West Bank).  Stereotypically, I am the kind of person who would agree whole heartedly with Peace Now.  This however, is not the case and although I believe that the speaker had some valid points, other things that he said, delegitimized his point of view for me.  I don’t know! My confusion continued to grow throughout the day.

We then got onto an armored bus and drove through a checkpoint, passed through a wall, into the area that our new tour guide, a religious man, continually called Judea and Samaria.  Our first stop was to a factory that made the plastics for plumbing and bathroom pieces.   At this particular factory, half of the workers are Israeli and half are Palestinian.  The owner told us, that he had lost 15% of his usual earning since the Palestinian authority boycotted the factory.  He also told us, that Palestinians typically make 1000 to 2000 sheklesa month in the PA zone, but in his factory, and in other businesses in the Israeli controlled areas they can make 5000 to 10000 shekels a month.  The point of this stop was to show how Palestinians and Israelis work together.   A Palestinian man who talked to us said that THE conflict was not on the personal level, but much higher up.  He had a managerial position at the factory, and told us how much more prosperous he was working in an Israeli factory, but he hopes that one day there will be the ability to have a Palestinian factory that employs the Palestinians as much as the Israeli factories do.

Our next stop was Ariel University, in the Israeli settlement Ariel.  Ariel University has only recently become a full fledged university having recently gone though the transition from college to university which of course was controversial due to the location of the school.

Next we went to an organic farm run solely by Rachel, an absolutely amazing woman who lives in Ittamar.  Ittamar is the settlement most known for ideological settlers, who are mostly religious Zionists.  Rachel was not always religious.  She came to Israel en route to India and stopped here because a professor she had told her to go to a Peace Now rally that was happening at the time.  Somehow, she discovered that really all the land belonged to the Jews, and became religious at the same time meeting and falling in love with a man from Ittamar.  They moved there together and started the farm.

Rachel runs the entire 5 dunham farm by herself, she wakes up at 3 every morning to milk the cow, works at the farm all day long, always runs for an hour every day, and she has 11 children.  We decided as a group that she has a time turner or something because there is no way she has enough time in the day for all of that.  The farm itself is incredible and is the perfect example of complete permaculture.  The methane from the cow, heats the water for the fish, which grows the bacteria necessary to cancel out the poisonous ammonium that is a product of the methane.  All of this becomes excellent fertilizer, and further heats the hot houses in the winter.  The orchards of fruit trees have all different small plants growing freely between the rows, putting nutrients back into the ground. She grafts the trees so she can have more than one fruit growing in the space and breeds spiders and bees to get rid of the pests and pollinate the plants.  Rachel made natural caramel, fruit smoothies, and yogurt for us all to try, and then went on a rant about how the Jewish people are meant to be farmers.  It was amazing and I was border line hysterical about how cool it was (don’t worry my friends made fun of me for it).

The whole point of the day was for us to see the “West Bank” beyond the conflict and, simultaneously, in the context of the conflict.  Our tour guide, who makes a living of giving this specific tour, had a very clear agenda, and so did the Peace Now activist who volunteered his time to come talk to us. Although I am now far more confused about my opinions, I am starting to think that my confusion is a good thing, because it means that the issue is no longer black and white in my head.  This issue is certainly not black and white, and unfortunately, it ends up being red from the violence that occurs a lot of the time.  I think that the most important thing I learned from this day is the importance of getting the whole picture.

For the conclusion of the seminar the next day, we each presented our stories, pictures, or brands to the rest of the section.  Overall, it was an excellent seminar, and I learned a lot from it (it was also, a lot of fun!)