We traveled along both sides of the Jordan River and visited cities in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The Sea of Galilee, Magdala, Capernaum, Jericao, Amman, Petra and Jerusalem were just a few of our stops. We looked at historic peoples in the region and examined the historic religious and political claims on land on both sides of the Jordan River.
This was our journey.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Excerpts from Some Student Reflections

Eren Orellana, sophomore
     Traveling to Israel and Palestine has been one of the most amazing and eye-opening experiences of my life. I have never been so emotionally attached to a trip as I was to our trip to the Holy Land. Traveling to the Holy Land was such a spiritual and revealing journey for me that I will certainly never forget… Going to the Holy Places and seeing that they are still remembered and that they are there for the world to see, just made the stories in The Bible so much more real to me. I mean you can believe what you read through your faith in God but something about seeing it with your own eyes just makes it real, its almost like having proof of what you believe in.
     Coming into this trip to Israel and Palestine I was completely ignorant of the conflict occurring in the area. I always knew there was some sort of quarrel in the area but I never cared enough to look into it. Thus learning first-hand about the problems in this land truly wounded me. The fact that I had been so willfully ignorant, that I had never been interested to find out the problems of other nations because they did not concern me, just realizing the fact that I had been so selfish, really hurt me. Recognizing the fact that most Americans are ignorant in the way that I was really bothered me and made me feel like a horrible human being.    
     Being able to go to Bethlehem University and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and learn about the injustices that the Palestinians are facing was by far the best part of the trip for me. Being able to learn first hand from the students everything they have to go through everyday of their lives and how they feel about their situation were all learning experiences that I will never forget. Talking to all of them and seeing how most of them still have that glimpse of hope that someday things might get better truly made me see how lucky I am to have all the freedoms I have. Palestinians can only wish and hope to have freedom while we just take it for granted, and I think that was the main lesson I learned while in Palestine.
Alexandra Stauffer, junior                                   
     Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Jordan, Nazareth, Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah. Who can say they spent their January this way? Well, I can. This year I knew I wanted to travel for January Term but I had no idea I would be able to experience all of what I did. I went to the Holy Land, I physically walking around where Jesus once did. That for me was more than enough. But then we also experienced and saw sights that make one feel very uncomfortable, heartbroken, unimportant, and useless. Taking a look at the Israeli and Palestinian conflict up close and personal was mind blowing. In the three weeks that I spend in Israel I was able to feel and learn about aspects that are important in my life and that need to be important in my life.
     Personally day two was my favorite, waking up and having breakfast in the lovely Scotts Hotel and then traveling to so many important biblical locations. Our day started with the Mount of Beatitudes. This place was breathtaking. I had a good time walking around the beautiful property looking for one specific beatitude. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” Matt. 4:5. Knowing that I was physically in the place were He made these promises was indescribable. I always knew this first had but being there will hold an amazing place in my heart for the rest of my life.
In the five days we spent in Bethlehem we got to make so many new friends. New friends that go through things that 5 weeks ago, really didn't know existed. Checkpoints, ID cards, curfews, permits and harassment is just the beginning. And through all of this they are still hopeful for a new beginning. One without any of these things.
     I watched the presentation of one of the students, Jacoub, and his amazing speech was wonderful to watch. He got the chance to visit New York for this conference and he said something that has stuck with me.  He noticed that as he went miles and miles around New York there were no check points. No guards asking him who he was and why he was there and where he was going. Nothing. That was an amazing experience for him, and little does he know that meeting him and his friends was an amazing experience for me.

Lindsay Fukui, junior
     Traveling to Israel, I expected to have a relaxing trip with a wonderful group of peers.  I knew that this course was going to be a learning experience along with the fun touristy stops, but I did not expect to hear the stories of the Bethlehem University students in Palestine.
     A key piece of the itinerary was our visit to Nahalin, a village near Bethlehem which the Israeli government has been trying to confiscate for the past nine years from a family which has been living on the land for hundreds!  This is the home of the Tent of Nations.  I had an amazing experience at the Tent of Nations learning about the cause.  I learned how the Israeli government is trying to take the land away from the Nassar family.  This piece of land is very important because it connects the four Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.  The government has made it difficult for the land to continue to prosper.  The water has been cut off, new construction is prohibited, and the main roads have been blocked making it difficult to travel to the land. The land has continued construction of new rooms, but they construct underground.  This is a way of going around the rules without breaking them because they are not building on the land.  After learning a little history and the cause of this organization, our group planted olive trees on the land.  We made a difference in helping the land prosper.  Our positive and emotional experience made an impression.  Tent of Nations is an organization that has begun to find a solution to finding peace for Palestine.  The Tent of Nations raises awareness to the conflicts surrounding and in Palestine.  By learning about the importance of this land, the cause of the Tent of Nations, and the hands on activity of planting olive trees, I want to pass on my positive experience.
     How can we help stop this conflict?  Our first step is to educate ourselves, and then pass the information along to others.  It is easy to become isolated and blind to the current events that go on around us.  We must make an effort to listen to the daily news not just locally, not just in the United States, but around the entire globe.  We must raise awareness to the situation and begin little ways to find the solution.
     I have already begun to share my experiences with my family and friends.  I want to continue to speak of not only the fun touristy landmarks and shopping trips; I want to speak of how my trip impacted my life.  I want to share the stories of the people that touched my heart and give them a voice.
Justin Grider, senior
     When you ask someone how a recent trip was to the Middle East, few people can prepare themselves for the answer that waits. The “Holy Land” is a once in a lifetime destination for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. Our trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan was a two-part experience that not only opened my heart but my eyes to the world that I live in. The first part of the trip was one of sight-seeing and walking in the steps of Jesus. My class and I were able to see incredible churches at sights where Jesus performed miracles and gave sermons. We were able to visit where Jesus turned water in to wine, where he fed the crowd of 5000, where Jesus was betrayed by Judas, where his tomb was and everything in between. For any practicing Christian, these sights are breathtaking and incredible. But what really tore at my heart was not the holy sites but the injustices that were taking place right in front of me while on the trip.
     In his Letter From Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King writes that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Just from a short time in Israel/Palestine it is easy to tell that there is a major injustice taking place.
     On our trip we were able to spend time with many Palestinians, mostly students from the Bethlehem University, a Pontifical University conducted by the Christian Brothers.  The students were no different from my fellow classmates and myself as human beings with goals and dreams. Where they did differ was their stance and action towards their dismal situations. Even though Israel and for the most part the rest of the world refuse to acknowledge their existence, the Palestinian students carried themselves with more maturity, passion, hope and faith than myself and anyone else I know. In a situation where any normal person would become hopeless and just give up or turn to violence, the majority of the Palestinians and the students take a different approach. The students and their families have taken a passive approach to Israel. They remain patient during the hours of checkpoints and refuse to give up their homes even with settlements all around them. One of the refugee camp leaders said that, “we (Palestinians) all have the same cause, same desire, even if we go about it in different ways”. The Palestinian people simply want their own right to self-determination that Israel and other nations have. This is the same self-determination that the former President of the United States Harry Truman talked about in the Truman Doctrine, saying that it will be, “the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures". The Palestinians are subjugated by Israeli force and can only hope that one day they will free from it.
     What is happening to the Palestinians is a travesty. For Palestinians their only motto is, to exist is to resist. It is not violence that will bring about peace and justice, nor is peace and justice achieved through negations in the White House with a handshake from Obama. The Palestinians deserve a land that they can call their own, free from foreign rule that has plagued them throughout most of their history. Change can only come on the ground, in the trenches between Palestinians and Israelis who work side by side next to each other. Change can and does happen everyday from the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe against the Soviet Union to protests in Tunisia leaving a government and its president fleeing in exile. It is my hope and the hope of the Palestinians that one day, sooner rather than later, Palestine will have its recognition and obtain some sort of justice that it deserves.
Caitlin Losi, sophomore
     The biggest gift was to be able to meet with students from Bethlehem University and to listen to their stories.  If others could only listen to how unwelcome they feel in their own homeland and how they are mistreated!  While some feel there is no hope left for Palestine, some still have hope and see a better future for themselves and their children.  This inspires me!  One said he’d never leave Palestine because that is what Israel wants.
     I too think there is still hope for Palestine.  Knowledge is power and the only way to create change is to spread this knowledge to others, to our fellow Americans to let them know what is actually happening.  In this way, change can happen.
     I am also encouraged by the conversations with shopkeepers in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Speaking with Palestinian shopkeepers, I learned that they can and do get along with the Israel Jews who also have shops in the Old City.  I also found this encouraging.  Most people simply want to live their lives in peace!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Our Last Full Day (Saturday, January 22nd, 2011)

Our last full day on the trip, we visited Sebastya, the site of the beheading of John the Baptist. We had a great lunch next to the old Roman forum there. We then drove to Taybeh, a town 100% Christian some 15 miles north east of Jerusalem. The name of the town means, good (people). During the time of the Muslim leader, Saladin, many Muslims nearby were ill. The Christians cared for them and so Saladin called them "good people." The town now boasts the only brewery in Palestine. We had a good visit and were provided with samples!

Back to Notre-Dame Center for dinner in Al-Rozana in Bethlehem. Some are off into the new city/Jewish Jerusalem. Free time tomorrow before heading to the airport and back home!

This group has been wonderful! First, they have been obedient, in the best sense of the word! No problems. It has been a pleasure having them. They have questions, concern, and compassion for the people of the Holy Land - Jews, Christians, Muslims, Israelis, Palestinians, Samaritans, Bedouins, and strangers. Notre-Dame Center has been so pleased with the group, they had a special cake baked for us this evening with "THANK YOU" written on it. You should all be proud of your children and students!

For my part, I will remain at Bethlehem University doing some work in preparation for a Christian-Muslim conference at the University in a couple of weeks.

Pray for peace in Jerusalem!!

Brother Donald
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Petra and Sea of Galilee

In front of the Treasury in Petra and on the "Jesus Boat" on the Sea of Galilee, courtesy of Scott Kier.

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Friday, January 21st, 2011

After a leisurely dinner at Notre-Dame Center in Jerusalem, the students sat together to discuss some of their experiences during the trip so far.  The question asked repeatedly, "How can be help bring about some resolution to the conflict in the Holy Land?  What can we do to help the people?"  Today is a free day. Some are walking the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Some are visiting the Cenacle, the church on the site of the Last Supper.  Some are off to the Wailing Wall for Shabbat prayers.

Wonderful weather!

Brother Donald

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Our last evening in Bethlehem we had dinner in Beit Jala, one of the towns of the Christian Triangle (Bethlehem Beit Sahour, Beit Jala). Akkawi Cafe is owned and operated by the celebrated Akkawi family bakers.  Friends of mine for some 20 + years, they are generous to the Saint Mary's College groups.  Saint Mary's students hosted ten Bethlehem University students.  A feast of oriental salads, rib eye steak and chicken with mushrooms, and three desserts, we were well fed.

In the morning, we drove to Bir Zeit, near Ramallah, and visited the university there.  A private university, it was established as a school for girls and now a co-ed university with over 8,000 students.  Following our visit, we drove to Ein Arik, a nearby valley for msaken, roasted chicken baked and served on bread, onions, and spices.  We then checked in to the Movenpick Hotel in Ramallah, just a month old. Many said it was the best hotel they have been in...anywhere.  A luxurious hotel, the dinner and breakfast buffets were spectacular with choose your own fish, seafood, pasta and how you want it prepared to made to order omelets.  I think they are now spoiled!

This morning we visited Yasir Arafat's tomb.  Regardless one's political views, he remains an historical figure who held the Palestinian people together as a people.  After stopping at the home of our driver, Hanna Khoury for refreshments, we returned to Notre-Dame Center in Jerusalem.  Everyone is free tomorrow for visiting the Old City, shopping, praying, or resting.  The weather is spectacular!  This evening students are mulling over what they have experienced.  Some are frustrated; some don't understand how the many conflicts in the region continue; some wonder what the USA is/is not doing to help resolve the conflicts; and some wonder how it is that the children of Abraham - Jews, Christians and Muslims - can treat each other so terribly.

We are all off to dinner!

Brother Donald

Sister Sophie Boueri

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