Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Photo Set is Complete!

Photos from the Israel/Palestine portion of the trip are now live on Meiner in the Middle! Click on any picture under “2012 Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project” on the right to view my Flickr with the complete set of photos from the entire trip! I’m still working on adding captions to everything, but all the pictures following the one from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv were taken in Israel and Palestine. As the next few days’ blog posts go up (especially the forthcoming post on my tour of the Old City in Jerusalem), it’ll be pretty easy to follow along with the photos! I hope you all enjoy looking at these as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Safe Travels! – Jake


June 12, 2012: Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank

Today was another busy, busy day in Israel for the six of us! We started early this morning with an 8:00 AM departure for our day of two intense tours that are important to understanding some of the narratives and history behind Israel and Palestine (and the IPC, too) – a tour of the Jewish settlements and other areas of the West Bank in the morning and a tour of Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, in the afternoon. Today was an extremely thought-provoking and solemn day but an extremely important one for all of us. In the flurry of emotions, information, history, and politics that I experienced today, I have a lot to discuss. So get ready to join me on this journey through some very important stories.

Our morning started out by meeting Lior Amihai at our hotel right as we headed out for the day. Lior works for Settlement Watch, a project of the organization called Shalom Achshav (or “Peace Now” in English). Shalom Achshav was started in 1978when 350 reserve officers in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) signed a letter asking Prime Minister Menachem Begin to try to settle a peace with Egypt following Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel. They are a security-conscious “dove” camp that has become one of the most famous and well-respected peace groups in the region. Settlement Watch, the project that Lior helps to run, is considered one of the most accurate sources for information and statistics on the growth of settler populations in the Occupied Territories.

Lior (whose father, for the record, works for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a diplomat) started our conversation off with an explanation of how Settlement Watch and Shalom Achshav define Zionism since they brand themselves as a Zionist organization. According to Lior, Zionism is self-determination for the Jewish people coupled with an understanding of the necessity for democracy and human right. This specific definition promulgated by Shalom Achshav is different from the one given by more right-wing organizations that define Zionism in the context of service to the State of Israel and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The first stop on our tour of the West Bank settlements was a village called Nabi Samuel, which is the archaeological site of the prophet Samuel’s burial and a Palestinian village behind the Green Line. The Green Line, according to Wikipedia, refers to the demarcation lines set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and its neighbors (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The Green Line is also used to mark the line between Israel and the territories captured in the Six-Day War (including the West Bank and Gaza Strip). This first stop served as our orientating point for the rest of the morning. Lior gave us all maps prepared by Settlement Watch that provide statistics and geographic representations of Jewish settlements, Palestinian localities, illegal outposts, as well as the route of the separation barrier/security fence and wall (more on that in a little bit), the Green Line, the Jerusalem municipal border, and several roads for both the West Bank as a whole and Jerusalem in specific. With maps in hand, we began exploring the historical narrative of the development of the West Bank.

From 1949-1967, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan controlled the West Bank, following the borders of the Line of Armistice from the Israeli War of Independence, or the Green Line. In the War of 1967, Israel gained all of the territory that had been controlled by Jordan. Since that time, Israel has struggled with exactly what to do with the land. Israel has not annexed this land outright. The question is, why wouldn’t they annex it if they had gained the territory? The answer has to do with the demography vs. geography tradeoff that I’ve mentioned a few times before. While annexing the land would have been a geographic gain for Israel, it also would have meant a huge demographic gain of the large Palestinian population living within the territory, which in turn would mean that Israel would have to grand citizenship to the Palestinian population. If Israel did grant citizenship to the Palestinians, then the demographic balance of a Jewish State of Israel would shift away from the first adjective I used to describe the country – Jewish.

It’s also important at this point to explain an important part of the logistics of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The entire area is divided into 3 areas, named Area A, Area B, and Area C (how creative), as a result of an interim agreement on the West Bank from the Oslo Accords. In each of these three areas, there are two types of authoritative power that a government can hold: civil control and security control (to make a complicated issue incredible short). In Area A, the Palestinians (today, the PNA – the Palestinian National Authority) hold both civil control and security control. In Area B, Palestinians hold civil control while the Israeli military holds security control. In Area C, the Israeli Military holds both civil control and security control. Together, Areas A and B account for around 40% of the land in the West Bank (meaning around only 40% of the land is in Palestinian hands), and Area C accounts for 60% of the land (meaning 60% is controlled by Israeli military). In terms of statehood, Areas A and B are currently on the road to Palestinian statehood (with A being the closest, naturally). Area C is highly contested. Palestinians want it part of a Palestinian state and settlers and other Israelis hope that it can be part of a greater State of Israel including Judea and Samaria (more on this right now).

Although Israel has not annexed the land, from 1967 to today, Jewish settlements have been popping out all throughout the territory. These settlements are pockets of Jewish citizens of Israel who are living within the West Bank and East Jerusalem for a variety of reasons (a few of which I mentioned in my post from Washington, DC). For some, settlement is entirely economically motivated – it is simply less expensive to live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For others, it’s a much deeper ideological issue concerning an absolute Jewish claim to the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, which are geographically located in the area where the West Bank is today. These settlements are recognized by most of the international community as an illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are the lands designated for Palestinian communities following Israeli independence in 1948 (and between then and 1967 controlled by Jordan).

Thus, today more than ever, there are dual narratives emerging amongst Palestinians and Jews over to whom the West Bank and East Jerusalem belong. Many Jewish settlers say the land was promised to them in biblical times as Judea and Samaria, and these lands must be part of a greater expanded State of Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Many Palestinians living in the territories feel differently, of course, from the Jewish settlers. Some feel that the land has been designated for them and that Jewish settlement there is an intrusion upon their right to the land as understood by the creation of the Green Line. Right now, this issue more than perhaps any other, is at the crux of the IPC. These two narratives represent to very different ideas of the physical land where two national entities are both struggling to exist. It is my belief that any resolution or agreement to reach a two-state solution must address the issue of settlers and the occupation of these territories. Indeed, the issue is a critical piece of all past, present, and future negotiations, as every single person we have met with thus far has confirmed.

Please note that this explanation of settlements and the dual narratives that I have just provided is incredibly basic. One could write on and talk to this issue extensively for hours on end, and I’ve just tried to summarize it in two paragraphs. Thus, I can promise you that my definition is not complete. I encourage you, if you are interested, to do more research on this fascinating debate. It’s certainly something important to be aware of, especially if it does become a crucial part of the peace process, which I believe it will.

Anyway, back to our tour with Lior. The next topic of conversation was the “separation barrier” between the State of Israel proper and the West Bank built by Israel following the Second Intifada in response to public outcry following terrorist attacks. There is a wide range of terminology used to refer to this barrier; some refer to it is as the “separation barrier,” others the “security barrier,” and still others the “apartheid wall.” The terminology that one uses usually is reflective of his or her own political beliefs and opinions. For the sake of my writing, I will be using the somewhat neutral term “separation barrier,” which is also used by Settlement Watch. In reality, the actual “wall” portion of the barrier is only one-fifth of the total structure. The remainder of the barrier is a fence; the wall only goes up in mainly urban areas where the fence cannot. Regardless of your politics on the issue, it is clear that there is a barrier that was built by the Israel that separates the State of Israel proper from the West Bank. At least that I think we can all agree upon.

East Jerusalem also falls under scrutiny in this discussion of settlements and occupied territories. I was unfamiliar with the story of East Jerusalem until Lior explained it, and I’ll be able to get a bit more intimate view of the situation there on Thursday on our tour of East Jerusalem with Danny Seidemann (more on that on Thursday). Here are the facts as I understand them. In 1967, the municipal borders of the city of Jerusalem were expanded beyond the Green Line. Technically, this new expanded Jerusalem is a part of Israel and its capital. However, the twelve Jewish neighborhoods in the expanded area of Jerusalem are not considered “neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” but rather “settlements” like I’ve discussed above. In East Jerusalem today, there are around 200,000 Jews and 300,000 Palestinians. Essentially, Jerusalem today is a combination of the Jerusalem pre-1967, Jordan’s East Jerusalem (from 1949-1967), and further expansion into the West Bank as well. Some people in Israel feel that the Mayor of Jerusalem, if he were to give Jerusalem lands to Palestinians, would be breaking up a “unified Jerusalem” for Israel (despite the fact that the current mayor is right-leaning). The separation barrier also does not exactly match Jerusalem’s municipal borders, often carving further into the West Bank.

Our next stop was the Ofer Camp/Court/Prison, controlled by Israel, which handles all military procedures and courts within the West Bank. The base is only about five minutes from Ramallah and a corresponding checkpoint called Beituniya, which is only open to trucks carrying cargo, not civilians. Checkpoints are an extremely interesting part of this whole discussion of occupation, but more on that in a little bit. The reason Lior took us to Ofer was to point out a difficult question that is often brought up in any discussion about Israel’s role in the West Bank. How do you reconcile the human rights issues associated with Israel’s existence as both a Jewish and a democratic state? By that I mean, how can Israel be both Jewish and democratic without disadvantaging those members of its population who are not Jewish? The Ofer Camp demonstrates that the West Bank is under military occupation. This occupation is notdemocratic, according to Lior, because a democracy should have three parts: an executive, a legislature, and a judiciary (think American government). In the West Bank, there is only one – the military – and the seat of that power in the West Bank is Ofer. Interestingly enough, an Israeli would not be tried in Ofer, only a Palestinian who was arrested by Israeli military within the West Bank would be tried here. Ofer was an eerie sight. The family members of Palestinians being tried pace around within the high walls and fences of the compound waiting for word of the decisions in the courts. We didn’t stay too long (the point Lior was trying to make was clear to all of us), but it was definitely important that we saw Ofer and discussed what it was.

When we got back on the bus, we started discussing some of the political implications of the occupation of the West Bank and the role of Netanyahu’s right-leaning government in the West Bank. Netanyahu’s government is supportive of settlements in the West Bank. At the current moment, there is no plan or no negotiations in the works to reach a peace settlement. But, despite this, Netanyahu does believe in economic peace. According to Lior, this has involved the removal of checkpoints to boost Palestinian economics in the homes that this will lead them to abandon their desire for a state. It’s a way to keep the Palestinians quiet and put off the issue of Palestinian statehood.

We visited the Qalandia Checkpoint as our next look into the West Bank occupation. Interestingly enough, security on entrance into the West Bank is pretty low key. Lior explained that leaving Israel is not of much concern for the Israeli military, who are more preoccupied with entrance from the West Bank into Israel. Exiting the West Bank is a difficult process involving both Palestinian and Israeli security in many cases. Palestinians trying to get across the Green Line from the West Bank into Israel must park their cars and go on foot across the checkpoint into Israel with a special permit granting them access. If the Ofer Camp was eerie, the Qalandia Checkpoint was downright depressing and, frankly, scary. It looked like a prison, surrounded by fences topped by barbed wire, complete with metal cage-like holding areas that Palestinians walked through to enter Israel. Being there made me reconsider Lior’s question about human rights and I was, and still am, having trouble reconciling in my own head the immense human rights implications (and violations) of these checkpoints. I now understand when people say that the checkpoints are dehumanizing and disgracing; you’d feel disgraced too if you were required to walk on foot across a border that others can cross by car, led through metal cages and surrounded by high fences. It’s not okay. It’s not easy. It’s scary. But people cross the Green Line in these conditions everyday. Trust me, I understand why the checkpoints were put there in the first place. It’s a security concern. But when does it stop being an issue of security and start being an issue of human rights violations?

Now that I’ve thrown all that into your lap (my apologies, but I think that this issue is one that everyone must understand in order to speak correctly about the IPC), I’m going to move onto the remaining part of our discussion with Lior: the settlements. Once we cleared the checkpoint (all staying in the bus, mind you), we started discussing the recent history and issues involving the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In 1996, Netanyahu officially announced that Israel would not build any more settlements in the West Bank from that point forward. However, the population of settlers in the West Bank has nearly tripled in this time period from around 110,000 to around 330,000. So how do you account for these new 220,000 settlers? They are living in unofficial settlements that are not recognized as legal by either international or Israeli law (remember that all settlements are considered illegal by much of the international community; these settlements are also considered illegal by Israel). These settlements are referred to as “illegal outposts” because they are not authorized by the Defense Ministry of Israel and are, thus, not legal.

One of the most highly contested of these illegal outposts is called Migron, which we had a chance to drive through. If you haven’t heard of it already in the media (and there’s been a bit of coverage on the Migron situation), Migron is an illegal outpost built on privately owned Palestinian lands that the military has ordered to be demolished. In August 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court said that Migron needed to be demolished by March 31, 2012, but four days before the demolition deadline, the State of Israel asked to reopen the case after “reaching an agreement with the settlers there.” The Supreme Court refused to reopen the case, but did postpone the demolition deadline to August 1, 2012.

With definitive demolition plans on the table for Migron, the settlers there have started to establish backup plans for themselves to continue living in the West Bank. The first of these backups is the new “Winery Hill” settlement, which is still under construction (thanks to Palestinian labor, mind you). Workers are rushing to finish Winery Hill on time before the August 1, 2012 demolition deadline at Migron so that the settlers from Migron can move in immediately. You may be thinking: wait a minute, I thought that no new settlements could be built! Isn’t that why Migron is being demolished? How is a new settlement at Winery Hill possible? A loophole in the orders banning further settlement allows for the borders of existing settlements to be expanded to include new neighborhoods. Winery Hill would essentially become part of a nearby pre-1996 settlement whose borders would be expanded to swallow the new neighborhood. (Kind of a big loophole, don’t you think?). If Winery Hill is not finished in time, then the settlers of Migron will move into an existing neighborhood in a pre-1996 settlement called Adam.

So let me back up for a second again and lay out how land in the West Bank is categorized. I needed Lior to explain this to me so that I could fully understand what exactly the issue was with settlements, and this helped to clarify a lot of questions for me (and I hope it helps you too). Land in the West Bank falls into two categories: private and public. Private lands are lands that someone, usually a Palestinian, actually owns outright. It is illegal to build a house on these lands (see: Migron settlement). Public or state lands are lands where the occupier is not allowed use the land for anything unless it is for a public need (such as a hospital, school, etc.). Public lands follow the ideology of “eminent domain,” in which whoever has authority of the land is the ruler of the land. In the case of Area C of the West Bank, for example, the Israeli military has eminent domain. Prior to 1996, Israel would build settlements on public lands, but post-1996, Israeli military has seized some of these public lands to expand the borders of existing settlements to include new neighborhoods. This method of seizing public lands to expand settlements is a major loophole around the building of new settlements (see: Winery Hill).

Back to the tour, our last major stop in the West Bank was another controversial neighborhood called Givat Ulpanah in Beit El, another Jewish settlement. Beit El was built in the 1970s completely on private Palestinian land under a military order that stated that the seizure was for a security need. In 1979, the Israeli Supreme Court said that building on private land in the West Bank was no longer legal, so Beit El was a huge exception to this rule (still under the military order). Ulpanah was recently built outside the borders of Beit El (so outside the lines of the land appropriated by the military order) on private land, making it illegal by Israeli law. There is a current Supreme Court case regarding the illegality of five of the buildings that are under construction in Ulpanah. A decision to demolish the five buildings is in place, but it won’t be acted upon until July 1, when the High Court is set to order the military to carry out the demolition.

Interestingly, legislation was brought forward in the Knesset to legalize the building of Givat Ulpanah. According to this legislation, if owners of the private land have not complained within the past four years or proved their ownership in that time, then these privately held lands are turned over to the new occupiers. This would mean that Givat Ulpanah would be the new legal owner of the land on which it is trying to build. This legislation did not pass in the end. Ministers in the coalition threatened to leave Netanyahu’s government over the issue of the legislation (i.e. if Netanyahu did not support it, they would leave the coalition), but Netanyahu challenged them to end their own power in government in exchange for a measure that wouldn’t pass, and all of the ministers who made these threats were “absent” from the vote on the legislation. In the end, they backed down and the settlement at Ulpanah was not made illegal. However, they ended up getting more than they bargained for, because the settlers in the west bank received benefits to make up for the failed legislation. As part of this benefits package, 850 new housing units were promised in the West Bank. It’s an interesting concession when you consider the failed legislation that led to its existence.

Once we saw Ulpanah, we started wrapping up our actual tour with Lior. Before heading for some delicious falafel at a small place that only sold falafel right by Hebrew University (I swear to God I’ve never seen anybody make and fry falafel balls so quickly in my life like I did at this restaurant), Lior made his final point. There is a blurring of the Green Line currently with the growth of settlements throughout the West Bank. The Israeli military in the area are responsible for “defending law and order” within the West Bank. Sometimes the come into conflict with the settlers, but more frequently conflicts occur between the military and the Palestinians. In any case, the main message of this tour was that the settlements are tearing apart any hope for a peace between Israel and Palestine. And I’ve got to say: if settlements continue to grow and infringe upon Palestinian land in the West Bank, we really won’t be able to reach a lasting agreement between Israel and Palestine.

After our tour of the West Bank settlements and lunch, we headed over to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum. I had been to Yad Vashem twice before – once with my family and once with NFTY in Israel, but I was really excited to see it now with such a diverse group of people with different backgrounds. Previously, I had only ever seen the memorial with those who were of Jewish descent and who had been educated quite thoroughly on the Holocaust before. Especially right after a controversial settlement tour of the West Bank, I was really looking forward to seeing a memorial to one of the largest catalysts of the creation of a Jewish state: the Holocaust.

I decided not to take a notebook with me into Yad Vashem. Something felt inorganic and wrong to me about trying to take down notes there. Since I had been there twice already, I knew most of the information that I would be hearing already anyway, so I chose to make this visit a more contemplative one than an academic experience. Reflecting on the afternoon, this was definitely the right choice. Not having a notebook in my hand allowed me to examine and listen with every ounce of attention that I had, which resulted in a really unique experience that was unlike my other two visits there.

This was the first time that I toured Yad Vashem with a tour guide who worked for the museum. She led the eight of us around the entire memorial, highlighting all of the most important exhibits and spots and providing some really intriguing commentary about the history and the museum, while bypassing other exhibits for the sake of time. (We ended up arriving a little bit later than we had expected, so we didn’t get as much time at the memorial as we originally hoped; luckily, I had seen the whole museum before so I was able to fill everyone in on what we missed). Throughout the tour, I found myself asking a lot of questions about the artifacts and history and also answering some questions for everyone else I was with.

Interestingly enough, the actual museum at Yad Vashem is set up so that you are travelling in a tunnel through time. Although the museum appears small, it can take hours to move through the whole thing as you wind around from exhibit to exhibit. The museum is designed in such a way that as you hit the more graphic and horrific sections, you are standing in the middle of this “time tunnel” at a point that is lower to the ground than where you started. I once had a conversation with a friend about which Holocaust museum I found more impactful – the Washington, DC memorial or Yad Vashem. Although the DC museum is quite symbolic as you start on the fourth floor and descend deeper and deeper into hell throughout the exhibits, I find Yad Vashem to be a much more disquieting and meaningful experience. The end of the museum is a huge glass vista that overlooks the Judean Hills and Jerusalem. The symbolism here is clear: you exit the horrors of the Holocaust into the beauty and the joy that is Israel for the Jewish people. However, as close as that final goal may seem, as near as you think you are to the Judean Hills and reaching a Jewish homeland, you keep getting sucked further and further down into this maze of depressing, dark, and horrendous history. It’s an experience unlike any other.

For me, it’s the same three exhibits that get me emotional every time I’ve been to Yad Vashem. Two of them sit right next to each other: a collection of confiscated shoes from a concentration camp and a clay model of the extermination gas chambers at Auschwitz. The first is presented in a simple enough manner: a collection of old shoes of all shapes, types, and sizes, men’s, women’s, and children’s, that are set below a pane of glass in the ground. These are the shoes that people wore as they entered the camps and would never again place on their feet. Among all the different artifacts that were collected and later retrieved from the camps, shoes are perhaps the most symbolic. Shoes are very personal items that often can reflect your style, your occupation, and your life. In this case, these particular shoes carried many people on their journey to death. Our tour guide explained that most of the time people walk around the glass that lies on top of the shoes, fearing that they will disturb the collection. I had been one of those people the past two visits I had at Yad Vashem. However, the exhibit was designed so that people would walk on the glass and look down at their feet among the collection of shoes, showing that it could have been any one of us who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. Overall, an incredibly powerful image. The clay model of the gas chambers is pretty self-explanatory, but perhaps the most disturbing part of it are the small figurines of people lining up above ground, entering the chambers, undressing, and dying on top of one another in the extermination rooms. I think the imagery here is clear enough. You are watching a progression toward death in a very crude way.

The final exhibit that we visited just before leaving (and the third exhibit that always makes me emotional) was the Children’s Memorial.  Hollowed out of a dark cavern, the memorial is incredibly simple. A dark room filled with the light of only a few memorial candles that are “reflected infinitely” in mirrors that cover the walls and ceiling, the memorial was built by a donation from Abe and Edita Spiegel, whose son Uziel was killed at Auschwitz at the age of two and a half. There is a carving of Uziel right outside the entrance to the cavern before you are enveloped by darkness and the reflected candlelight that gives the illusion of thousands of stars. As you walk through the memorial, which takes less than a minute, names of children who were murdered in the Holocaust are read aloud from the Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony, along with their ages and countries of origin. It’s a grim, upsetting, and meaningful memorial, but one that really makes you consider just how horrific the Holocaust was.

When our stop at the Children’s Museum, we bid farewell to our tour guide and sat together on a wall within the compound just reflecting for a few minutes. It was clear that Yad Vashem had left its impression on everyone and had touched us all deeply. It was really interesting to see how people not of Jewish descent reacted and were moved by the museum. Then again, it’s a human emotional response to seeing horrific, inhumane, and evil events, so maybe it wasn’t so interesting after all. It didn’t matter what our religious affiliation was at that point, our political opinions, or anything. The Holocaust was a terrible event. Period. And it was important that here in Israel, a place so filled with politics and war and argument, we took a step back to recognize together a horrendous piece of Jewish history.

Of course, there are also political implications of the discussion of the Holocaust in Israel. Just the design of the museum alone begs a discussion about a Jewish homeland in Israel being the light at the end of a tunnel of horror for the Jews. This, of course, will lead into a discussion about the Holocaust being a reason for the creation of Israel as a Jewish state. But that’s exactly what it was: a single reason. A compelling one, yes. But the Holocaust is not the reason that Israel exists. Did it push the cause for Israel over the edge? Yes, and only a short while after the end of the Holocaust, Israel was founded. But is it fair to say that the Holocaust is the only reason Israel exists? I don’t believe so.

I think for all of us, seeing a very real depiction of one of the critical reasons for Israel’s creation put a lot of our meetings and the debate over Israel into perspective. The Jews were a battered people in need of a homeland, and that’s what Israel became – a homeland. Are there still issues with Israel? Yes. Are there human rights issues in Israel today that are difficult to reconcile when you consider the country’s foundation and the plight of the Jewish people? Yes. Does that mean that the Holocaust is any less horrible or that it’s less important to understand what happened during the Holocaust? Absolutely not. Israel is a country that is constantly in motion, evaluating and re-evaluating its policies and issues, trying to reconcile a treacherous and difficult history with a promising yet challenging future. I’ll be the first to say that Israel still has a long way to go in terms of reconciling these two things. But for me, the important thing is that Israel is on its way to making that reconciliation. Israel is trying. Israel is moving. Israel is dynamic. It is not a stagnant nation.

After a long day of politics, debate, discussion, emotion, and walking, we headed back to Rehavia to unwind a little bit for dinner. At around seven we walked to a nearby kosher Mediterranean tapas restaurant and shared a delicious meal of all sorts of fun small plates from duck to steak to fish. It’s always nice that at the end of a day, despite our differing opinions and ideas, the eight of us can all sit down at a table and just laugh and have a good time. Being a part of this group has showed me how essential it is to be able to laugh with friends and create strong relationships regardless of political views and opinions. Sometimes the best political arguments by day can happen between people who laugh louder together than you’ve ever heard in the evening. Anyway, we had a really fun meal together and the owner of the restaurant became our new best friend. By the end of the meal, he was having such a great time with us that he insisted on buying us all a round of Arak, a ridiculously strong alcohol that’s served in shot glasses with dry ice. The whole table looked like an ice cloud had descended upon us when he put the glasses down. We politely sipped our drinks and left to walk back to the hotel to get a good night sleep. Tomorrow we have a tour of the Old City with Avi Ben-Hur (who is on the faculty of the University of Haifa Tourism School) and a meeting with Aviva Raz Shechter, the Deputy Director General for the Middle East and Peace Process at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so it’s going to be another challenging and interesting day. But hey, what day in the Middle East isn’t?

Safe Travels! – Jake