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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Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Today we visited to the Holy Family Creche, Home for Abandoned Infants in Bethlehem. Students spent time this morning listening to the Social Worker, Iskander, about the purpose of the Creche and its role in the Palestinian community. Students were able to spend some time with the children (birth to 5 1/2 years) before lunch. Included is a photo of Sister Sophie Boueri, Lebanese Daughter of Charity who has been responsible for the Creche for some 22 years. I have been working with her for the entire time, assisting with funding for the operational budget as well as capital expenses. Attached to the Creche is a Maternity Hospital, certainly the best in the area and which has delivered 50,000 babies in the last ten years. It is largely conducted by the Knights of Malta. The Daughters of Charity also conduct a day care, dentistry care, and a health clinic for the local Bethlehem area population. The Creche's educational programs are in connection with Bethlehem University's early childhood program.

Again, these last few days have been particularly overwhelming for the students. Seeing the day to day situation of the local population, the consequences of the various political, religious, and social conflicts, the efforts for peace and justice, the day to day lives of university students, and life in refugee camps taken together - we are all on overload, I think. After lunch we will do some shopping and try to process the last few days. Tomorrow morning we leave for Bir Zeit University and overnight in Ramallah.

Brother Donald
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Monday, January 17th, 2011

Posted by Picasa The group spent time at the Tent of Nations today with about ten Palestinian students from Bethlehem University joining them.  Tea upon arrival and some play (see photo)  before the presentation by Daoud Nasser who manages the family farm of about 400 acres and the Tent of Nations tentofnations.org  Daoud explained how the Nasser family has owned the property since decades but that the Israeli military attempted to confiscate it.  It is on the top of a hill which is surrounded by five Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  Surprised that the family had deeds and papers proving ownership, the Israeli high court could not but rule in the favor of the family.  Nevertheless, the matter remains in the hands of the court after almost twenty years.  Instead of giving up, emigrating, or being the victim, the Nasser family has been working with the system and continues to invite foreigners to the farm.  The demand is simply that Israeli abide by international law and convenants to which it is a signatore.  "We refuse to be enemies" is the motto.  Daoud made it clear that it is no the role of outsiders to take sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but to be informed and to demand equity from all parties to the conflict.  Peace, justice and environmental responsibility are the goals for Israelis and Palestinians.

The group were guided around the farm by Bshara Nasser, Daoud's nephew and recent graduate from Bethlehem University.  The students then planted olive trees.  OVer one million trees were uprooted by the Israelis in an attempt to rid the farm of the family.  After a traditional Palestinian lunch, the Americans challenged the Palestinians to a soccer match.  While sophomore Taylor Bradshaw made two goals, the Palestinians won the match.

Jacoub Sleibi, senior at Bethlehem University, invited the group to dinner and traditional music at his family's restaurant, Al-Rosana, next to Bethlehem University - a two minute walk from our Hospice.

A beautiful day, much-needed rain may arrive this evening.

Brother Donald

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Dear All,

We checked out of Notre-Dame, Jerusalem and to Bethlehem University.  We had no difficulty through the Israeli checkpoint.  Brother Joe, Director of the Brothers' Community at the University, met us and gave us a presentation in the University Chapel.  We then viewed a DVD about the University in Furno Hall entitled "Beacon of Hope," which the University is for the Palestinian community.  Students from Bethlehem University then engaged the Saint Mary's group about the situation in which they live.  They then guided the Saint Mary's students through Bethlehem, including the Church of the Nativity.  After lunch, we checked in to St. Vincent Hospice, conducted by the Daughters of Charity as an income generating project for their orphanage, the only one for the Palestinians.  We then visited Dheisheh Refugee Camp nearby which has over 13,000 refugees.  Demitri Awwad, PR director of Bethlehem University hosted students at his home for after-dinner refreshments.

This morning we are on our way to Hebron, Al-Khalil [meaning friend in Arabic in honor of Abraham who is buried there], to meet with the UN group responsible for observing the situation there and which will guide us through Old Hebron.  We will visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs before lunch.  We will host the Bethlehem University students at the TENT, a traditional Palestinian restaurant in Beit Sahour, one of the villages near Bethlehem and the site of Shepherd's Field.

Some much needed rain these days but not enough to deter us from our itinerary!

Brother Donald

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Dear All,
Today, Orthodox Christian New Year's in the Holy Land, is a free day for the students.
Most have elected to visit Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust Museum, and/or the Shrine of the Book [a museum of the Dead Sea Scrolls where the Book of Isaiah is displayed, and/or walk the Old City walls, and/or visit the Israeli Museum.  This evening our ever-faithful Hanna will walk down the road to a small club which has live Arabic music.  A fun place for younger people who are not "keeping the Sabbath."

Tomorrow, Saturday, we leave for Bethlehem.

Brother Donald
Some of the students at the Greek Catholic Day Care Center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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Thursday, January 13th, 2011

After wandering at their leisure yesterday afternoon, some students returned to rest; others went to the Catholic Mass which is said everyday at 6:30pm.  The staff at Notre-Dame Center are so fond of the students that they provided wine with dinner, gratis.

This morning some students got up early and made their way to the Noble Enclosure, the site of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.  Others made their way to the Holy Sepulchre and were able to get into the Tomb.  After breakfast, we walked in to the Old City to the Pontifical Mission for Palestine Offices, the Vatican agency established in 1949 to care for the Palestinians after the State of Israel was declared.  The Office was to be short-lived, a couple of years, but since the conflict continues more than 60 years later, the Office remains open and supports the Palestinian community throughout the Middle East.  I was Director of the Jerusalem Office for some years, then Vice President for the Mission.  We walked next door to the Brothers' high school, College des Freres, Jerusalem, where the current Director of the Pontifical Mission, Professor Sami El-Yousef, gave a wonderful presentation on the work of the Pontifical Mission and an overview of the situation for the Palestinian community in Israel/Palestine, particularly for the Christians.  He showed a short video of the history and work of the Mission and fielded questions from the students.  Two staff members, Joseph Hazboun and Tony Zarour, guided the group through the Old City to visit some of the works of the Office, including the Franciscan school and the Citadel Hostel which has a day care center for mothers in the Old City.  There are about 400 boys at the Terra Sancta/Franciscan school and about 35 children at the day care center.  We then walked to the roof of the Holy Sepulchre where Ethiopian monks have built small cottages for themselves and where Joseph Hazboun outline the negotiations I made which resulted in the decoration of the interior of the Great Dome of the Holy Sepulchre.

I then set the students free to wander the Old City for the remainder of the afternoon. 

Since I have been given the Pope's Suite at Notre-Dame with the only balcony - which holds about 30 people if needed - we will have preprandials on the balcony before dinner and before sending Scott Kier, Dean of Students of Saint Mary's College, on his way back to California.

Some students asked about a possible trip for family members and friends in the future.  In response, I am arranging a ten-day visit to the Holy Land for the later part of June.  I should have details and cost estimates in a few days should any of you be interested.  I would like to limit the group to 20 persons. I will, of course, conduct the trip which will include one night in Tel Aviv upon arrival, three on the Sea of Galilee, one in Jericho with swimming in the Dead Sea, and five in Jerusalem, with visits to Bethlehem.  There will likely be a three/four day optional add-on to Rome.   More later.

Brother Donald

The Dome of the Holy Sepulchre (Wednesday January 12th, 2011)

This morning we bussed to the top of the Mount of Olives to get a good view of the Old City of Jerusalem. We took a group photo with the Old City behind us.

We then bussed down to the bottom of the Mount, to Gethsemane, the site of the Church of All Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony. It was here that after the Last Supper Christ prayed to his Father that, though he preferred that the "cup" be passed by, His will be done. He took the "cup" and was arrested. We then bussed to Dung Gate, the entrance to the Jewish Quarter. Students prayed at the Wailing/Western Wall. We then walked through the Muslim Quarter, the via Dolorosa, and to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here we visited Golgotha and the Tomb of Christ. We walked about the Old City and had lunch. Though cool, the weather is good.

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We Have Arrived! (Wed, 05 Jan 2011)

We arrived into Tel Aviv safely and even a bit early.  No problems with security, passport control or customs.  Have have checked in to the Metropolitan Hotel in Tel Aviv, just a couple blocks from the Mediterranean.  Dinner at 7:30pm, then rest!  We begin tomorrow, Thursday, with 7:00am wake-up calls, breakfast and check out; then to Jaffa, Caesarea, Nazareth, Cana, and check in at the Scottish Hospice in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.