Highs and Lows (Part 1)

On Friday through Monday, we were exposed to the broadest range of Israel / Palestine experiences possible--evoking emotions all over the map (as well as altitudes!).

Friday began with a tour of West Jerusalem and then a visit to the wonderful Mahne Yehuda Market (a definite high). Beautiful produce, olives, bread and pastries, nuts, fish, meat, cheese and more varieties of Halavah than I've ever seen in my life!!! 



There's lots of graffiti here-- pictures and words. While strolling around West Jerusalem, Yuval pointed out the graffiti below:
"Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies"-- with the  "refuse to be" partially scrubbed out and repainted several times. Indeed, we have also seen plenty of folks wearing T-shirts with that same slogan . So, there is hope.
Also this one:
Emily: Saw this today on the side of a building, driving through Bethlehem in the West Bank. I feel like my eyes are being opened and mind being blown as I am exposed to the complicated realities of life in this storied land. Our tour guide today compared it to something from a fantasy novel and I see it now - joy and beauty co-existing with despair and injustice, the history of thousands of years playing out in real time. No simple answers...
And that's a nice segue to our next stop, Tent of Nations-- which (like Neve Shalom) is predicated on the notion of working together. We spent the afternoon there, on the West Bank near Bethlehem. Some of the signage near the checkpoints is absolutely terrifying. Alternate routes are available.


While the landscape is desolate and the situation desperate, this is an inspirational program run by Daoud Nasser--whose family's farm has been properly documented with the authorities (whether those be the Ottomans, the British, or the Israelis) since 1916, yet that ownership is constantly being contested in the courts. In the meantime, the land is being encroached upon by Settlements, access roads have been cut off, and there is no running water or government-provided electricity. Last spring, most of Daoud's fields were destroyed by settlers. Daoud invites groups for olive / apricot picking, reconciliation, and other programs. While his story is heart-wrenching, he is a visionary who refuses to give up and continues to protest via peaceful, legal means. This visit was a high (in that we were inspired) and a low (in that the family's circumstances are so depressing and emblematic of the property issues facing many Palestinians). 


We needed our spirits lifted, so we had an extraordinary meal at Mona-- Israeli fusion. We were honored to be joined by our Israeli guide Yuval. Yuval and I started with deconstructed Caprese salads that were as delectable as they were striking to the eye. Emily enjoyed crab bisque and Susan feasted on soft polenta with truffle oil and mushrooms. Can you spell delicious? (Whoever told me that dining in Israel is boring did not know what they were talking about or went to the wrong places to eat!)  Yuval and I had salmon in miso for our mains. Emily had pasta with clams and Susan went back to the sea bream with quinoa (twice this week)! We shared a lemon tart and chocolate fantasy desserts. No fantasy-- this meal was tremendous!

After dinner, we visited with some Hands of Peace alums for an exhilarating, emotional, and inspirational candle-lighting tribute to those who lost their lives this last summer in the violence.

Saturday was an altogether different kind of day. We visited Masada and the Dead Sea. Both are way below sea level-- thus the "low" experience-- but they have been definite 'high points" on the trip. While both were fascinating, the visit to Masada took a dual narrative twist as Husam explained a good portion of the site from Herod's perspective. Apparently, the story of the heroic Jews who withstood a horrific siege from the Romans only to kill themselves at the end rather than lose their freedom has been challenged as of late. I greatly prefer the narrative I was brought up on (read The Dove Keepers by Alice Hoffman if you want a romanticized version). Regardless of which narrative you believe, the fortress at Masada has truly withstood the test of time.



After Masada, we journeyed to the Dead Sea where our visit was totally relaxing and fun and included a mudpack for one of us-- guess who?

Yes!!!! You can float without really trying!

Our post-Shabbat dinner on Saturday was at Eucalyptus in West Jerusalem-- a
highly-touted Kosher restaurant with an inventive menu tied to Biblical themes. We passed up the "King David" and "Queen of Sheba" tasting menus in favor of more reasonable (as in fewer courses) fare.  Truly, if they ate like this in Biblical times, they would have had a hard time crossing the desert!  We enjoyed smoked eggplant and fish falafel appetizers, followed by a trio of soups (Jerusalem artichoke, mint tomato, and red lentil). These were absolutely scrumptious. The main courses we chose were neither particularly notable nor Biblical-- but the desserts more than made up for it-- baklava and chocolate. We are eating well here!




The next blog will detail the juxtaposition of two challenging and emotional touring days--- on Sunday, we visited a refugee camp and Hebron-- an ancient and important city where we walked through the Tomb of the Patriarchs and wandered the streets of this occupied town of 250,000 Palestinians and about 800 Jewish settlers. Then, on Monday we visited Yad Vashem (holocaust memorial) and S'derot-- an Israeli town located very close to Gaza. 

Stay tuned! 

Until then, peace, shalom, salaam and love,

wendy and emily

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