Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I Met a Druze Today

I Met a Druze Today

After spending the night in a remarkably serene Kibbutz in Parod, we found ourselves in the small Druze village of Peki’in in the Galilee Mountains of northern Israel. A small, centuries-old town of 5,200 people, Peki’in has a charm in and of itself. Green vegetation populated the hills around the buildings, some almost as old as the town itself, dating further back than the founding of the American colonies. Quiet and humid, a gentle breeze whisked the heat away and provided a breath of fresh air. Tranquil beauty can be appreciated wherever it may be found, regardless of country, politics, or religion, and Peki’in of course was no exception.

Our appetites suitably aroused from walking the mountainous streets as we toured the city’s historical sites, we enter the final landmark: a literal hole-in-the-wall where we will sit down for lunch. As we enter, we are greeted by a long, white table, covered in cloth with places set and chairs inviting us to stay a while. The walls, carved out of the mountain rock, are adorned with mirrors, tapestries, and decorative trinkets. A kind, bald man of apparent Arab descent welcomes us, and proceeds to serve us the most delicious course of meals I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying on this trip. The cuisine was distinctly middle-eastern, with no trace of European gastronomy. Having successfully stuffed our group to delighted exhaustion, limiting our escape, he offers us his experiences as a Druze in Israel, a group heretofore I was unaware of.

Roughly one-thousand years old, the Druze consider their faith an interpretation of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, with apparent Greek and Hindu influences. In stark contrast to the previous religions, the Druze religious texts are secret, and the religion itself is closed to converts. Their culture and language are evidently Arab, but their fealty is directly tied to the flag under which they reside. At less than 2% of the population yet intensely proud of their history and continued contributions to their community and nation, Israel likes to make them a poster child for the potential of Israeli relations with the Israeli-Arabs throughout the country.

L. A. W.

The Other Side of the Wall

To my right, the city of Jerusalem sprawls out across the rolling Israeli hillside, it's tall, stone buildings stand firmly in the holy soil as they've been for thousands of years, the city emanating democracy and forward thinking, and bustling neighborhoods with people going about their day.  To my left, there's sand. The stark differences are amplified by the monstrous concrete wall erected in-between the two lands, creating a contrast as clear as day and night, black and white, or in this case, Israel and the West Bank.
The security wall is actually 93% fence and was built in 2002 to keep suicide bombers from harming innocent israeli civilians. The fence was a success and suicide bombings have plummeted with civilian injuries decreasing and creating an overall safer Israel.  The physical schism that the fence has become separates two very different worlds. Crossing the border and experiencing the West Bank was stunning because the Palestinians style of living varies so greatly.  While some Palestinians towns are very much reminiscent of anywhere else in the world, Bedouins are just as common of a sight.  These nomadic tribes live as simply as possible, inhabiting tents in deserts while shepherding goats and raising chickens.  My mind skipped immediately to sci-fi Star Wars desert tribes on Tatooine - it was astonishing. Prior to this experience, I was completely unaware that people were living the same way they did hundreds of years ago and seeing it first hand was overwhelming.  The security fence has grown to symbolize many things, but what I found today was it being a gate to an entirely new world.


Yesterday we arrived at the beautiful, lush paradise of Kibbutz Parod in Northern Israel. Leaving Jerusalem, we took the highway through the disputed land of the West Bank, where we were able to see some of the Arab and Israeli settlements that are often used to make the argument that Israel is an ‘apartheid’ state. To pretend that the relationship between these communities is not hostile would be misleading. Travelling past one Arab settlement a sign warned Israelis from entering, deeming that the doing so is “Forbidden, Dangerous to your Lives”. However, the explanation for this hostility is not a simple one; a complete understanding requires somewhat of a history lesson, which we were fortunate enough to get this morning from Inon, an Israeli activist and Pro-Israel speaker.

          It is helpful to look at some events that led up to the West Bank we drove through yesterday. After the Israeli victory in the Independence War of 1948, Arabs fled the region due to their leadership’s commands and when they were unable to return, became refugees. A border was made to distinguish the land that was part of Israel, but more importantly to act as security. The victory of the war was still an open wound, and Israel wanted to limit its vulnerability.  However, this border was problematic because it separated many villages and communities, some Arab and some even directly down the center. In the case of Arab communities, those who found themselves in Israel’s territory were now considered ‘Israeli-Arabs’ and were given equal citizenship as to those already in Israel. Thus, the open wound began to fester; Israeli-Arabs were both distrusted by native Israelis and thought to be traitors to their Arab comrades.  This distrust continued even after the Six Day War of 1967 when the border was removed and communities could be reunited.  The pus around the wound had already hardened.
            As we drove through the West Bank, the effects of this wound were visible.  We were able to see some of the security border that has been built recently to counter the terrorism that occurred during the Second Intifadah.  Today, this border 95% fence, while the remaining 5% that truly is a wall protects suburban Jewish homes. Furthermore, before condemning this fence as a method of apartheid, one should look at the history. It is important to understand where the idea came from, which is not racial segregation and discrimination. Instead, this fence was born from a violent and emotional history, which has created a deep injury that has yet to heal.   


Dirty Hands

The knob of a faucet squeaks as a young girl in Palestine attempts to wash her muddied hands before she eats her first meal of the day; but the faucet produces nothing but noise and dust. This poor Palestinian is suffering the scorn of her governing force, Hamas. The ruling Palestinian force has shut off the water to the citizens under Hamas rule while its officers cool themselves in ice cold showers, smiling as the rockets made from citizens water pipes scream toward the people of Israel. Certainly this is only a single perspective to a very complex issue and Israel is not an entity of purity and absolute truth. Obviously, one must consider those who claim to be pro-Palestine advocates and how their agenda effects the issues that plague the Middle East. When one hears the term pro-Palestine one may envision a group who attempts, through humanitarian methods, to better Palestine, but no such actions take place. Pro-Palestine advocates, by definition, should support democracy, education, social care, clean air and water, and freedom of speech and press; not dissolving Israel and supporting a man who mistreats his citizens. In effect, those who would dissolve Israel and support the oppression of basic human rights are not Pro-Palestine or humanitarian;  I am Pro-Palestinian. I wish health and equal rights for those who share my planet. One may find that there are few true Pro-Palestinian individuals but rather advocates of the dismantlement of the state of Israel which in the mind of many is neither a humanitarian or righteous mission.



Writing in the Light of the Moon

Demanded by my fathers and guaranteed by my governing document, freedom of speech and press has come to represent America and those who bear the title "American". Inasmuch, Americans citizens, including myself, often assume that this is a global right reserved by all. Certainly one will be surprised to hear about the state of media and journalism under Hamas, the president of the controlling entity of Palestine. According to Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu, Tomeh who observes Hamas and Palestine, journalists can meet with aggression and violence. He stated that " You can write an anti-Israeli government article and walk around in down town Jerusalem without fearing for your safety; you can't in Palestine". Certainly, one's mind begins to reel with the possibilities of the implication of such a policy in America; under this policy the entire Tea Party's feet would dangle  over the entry way to the White House; even though some of us may not mind in this case democracy dies along with these extremists. The Hamas officials are additionally immune to persecution and incrimination; Tomeh stated that "In Israel a reporter can send any government official to jail but in the Arab world an official can withstand  any accusation". Centuries of freedom of the press has spoiled us and led to the assumption that our prosperity is global; but in the brink of the opposite truth democracy is simply impossible in the Middle East. As Americans we can agree that  this is simply unacceptable in a world moderated by the United Nations and humanitarian intentions.

The people of Palestine deserve more.



Advocacy Israeli Cool

Coming onto this trip, I excepted Pro-Israel advocacy training. Not the roots from my heritage or a closer connection to my Jewish identity. 

Yesterday I watched three young Haredi boys playing in the streets in the Old City of Jerusalem right outside my hostel window. They appeared so happy, lively, and unconcerned with the chaos going on in the surrounding Arab towns. 

After leaving Jerusalem we drove into the ‘c’ section of the West Bank that is under israeli military and civilian control. I saw Israeli flags, beautiful homes, and people going about their day as if I would back in the States. I saw Jewish people hanging their clothes on hang lines with fearless faces and smiles that were evident from a drifting bus. 

Today we traveled North to a small Arab village called Peki’in. Quite the opposite of Jerusalem there are only four Jewish families residing in this part of Israel. Margalit Cinati, who is a descendant of the Cohanim who fled Jerusalem during the Roman diaspora. Here she maintains the home she grew up in and the synagogue built over the ruins of a destroyed synagogue from when the Cohanim fled Jerusalem. Inside contains ruins from the old temple destroyed 2,000 years ago and the front of the synagogue is printed on the 100 shekel bill. 

Prior to both we attended a tour at Yad Vashem on Mount Hertzel. Here the Blue Star group as Christians, Catholics, Jews, Sikhs, and Atheists walked, listened, and fell in deep sympathy for the lives of six million Jews who were victims of ignorance. Although stated by our museum tour guide that the Holocaust is not the reason the State of Israel was given to the Jewish people, I came up with this information on my own. It was clear to me not by the pictures of these targets of genocides but from the children playing in the streets, the elderly woman maintaining a historical synagogue, and the Jewish West Bankers. All these people share one thing in common: pride. Proud of their country, proud of their religion, and the pride of maintaining a moral and ethical life in the land that was given to them by G-d.  

As a Jewish person living outside of Israel with no absolute family connection to the State of Israel, I feel it is my obligation to continue my Israel advocacy. Sharing this trip with native born Israelis has shown me that I may not call this home because familiarity but I recognize the place that I’ve read about in the Torah my whole life and I feel like I’m home. 

K. W.

Not a Game


I’m sprinting across the rocky terrain to reach safety in the form of a one hundred square foot metal shack. Heart racing, out of breath, I’m trying to remember the instructor’s commands. Muscle memory, no time to aim, hurry, hurry.


There’s splatter on my face. I’ve been hit. It doesn’t hurt as much as I had imagined, and at least this meant it was over.

The next thing I know I’m back in the shade covering, laughing with my friends as we sip on water, admiring our battle scars and freshly crafted modern art. Paintball is fun after all.

While there is no way to do the real act justice, the simulation of a terrorist attack response scenario did give a glimpse into the realities of the IDF. The commander gave us basic training, focusing on everything from the precise angle to step while drawing our guns to teamwork communication while entering a building with a terrorist threat. Even though I knew that the embarrassment from slipping on the rocks and falling was my only real danger, I couldn’t help but feel legitimate fear as I crouched around a corner to fire at the “terrorists” in the form of my friends with green paint for bullets. This fear is amplified tenfold when I try to imagine the real situation.

The night before the simulation, we had attended a presentation by Colonel Bentzi Gruber on the ethics within the IDF.  Contrary to certain popular beliefs, the IDF takes extreme precaution to prevent as many civilian casualties as possible, including a no shoot policy if there is even a sliver of doubt that the target is correct. Even though the commander at the simulation reinforced this policy multiple times throughout the day, I must admit that I did not once think while I was firing at the enemy team whether or not my stray “bullets” might hit an innocent. To combine their code of the ethics with the absolute chaos during a terrorist attack, I truly cannot reiterate how much respect I hold for these men and women.


Baby Steps Towards Change

People around the world have a strong belief that there is little to no hope for a resolution on the conflict between the Jews and the Muslims. This problem between the Jews and the Muslims seems to be exemplified as many seem to belief that the Muslims simply wish to have no communication with other religions. Nevertheless, my visit to the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre home to the tomb, crucifixion spot, and slab on which Jesus was laid on, showed otherwise.
             Coming from a Catholic background, arriving at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was an overwhelming experience. Soon enough, I was shocked to see about 40 Muslims in line to visit what many Christians believe to be Jesus tomb.  I was curious as to what brought them to a church. Upon asking these Muslims followers what brought them to a church as this one, one of the men stated, “we are here to pay our respects.” Hearing this phrase changed the perspective I had towards Muslims. For members of a religion to go into another religious place to simply “pay respects” is a sign that there are those fighting for peace amongst various religions. Not all members of a certain religion have to simply abide by their beliefs rules. Seeing Muslims in a church, (although not a Jewish synagogue) shows that there still is some hope to achieve peace with various religions. Ultimately, by showing respect to a religion, these Muslims might have created an influence that will not only affect some followers of their religion, but other people as well. Eventually, respecting various religions in the church of the Holy Sepulchre can be seen as a stepping stone towards Muslims maybe even respecting Jews as well.  Although, showing respect to a religion can be seen as a simply baby step towards achieving peace among religions, it is a damn good start.


A New Kind of Front

    Unlike many of its contemporaries and adversaries, the Israeli government holds its military to a standard that demands results that are in line with ethical expectations. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is, consequently, no surprise the world leader in counter-insurgency warfare due to its “unique” position as a nation literally surrounded by perpetual enemies, foreign and domestic. This reality has demanded this small but enterprising nation to develop the best means to engage in 21st century terrorist warfare.

   I witnessed this unique kind of training first hand when I visited a counter-insurgency training camp in the high mountains of Samaria (commonly known as the West Bank). Apart from the typical military atmosphere of uniformity I have felt before in other excursions, this camp included additions that were specific to combat environments that Israel faced on a regular basis. Close quarter combat in buildings and tight spaces, smaller strike forces , and a focus on time and accuracy that avoided unnecessary casualties were only a few examples of the ways our instructors attempted to imbue a mentality of urgency Israeli soldiers face everyday on the front lines.

   According to IDF Col. Bentzi Gruber, a code of ethics that center on necessity, distinction, and proportionality are essential for any successful counter-terrorist operation. Ideas like using force only for accomplishing the mission, avoiding harming civilians at all cost, and investigating all means possible to avoid collateral damage on the battlefield are embraced with a passion. Consequently, these same values are held to a greater standard here in Israel, a nation that prides itself in the science of tactical and strategic homeland defense.

-Luke Basaca

Yad Vashem

As we walked into the entrance of Yad Vashem, a museum dedicated to Holocaust commemoration, an elderly man scolded us for laughing too much. “This is a place to be serious. If you want to laugh, go to a disco tech,” he suggested. A bit shocked, we wandered away with the rest of our group, into the museum itself. Our tour guide led us through rooms and hallways, past ragged garments and videos of Holocaust survivors. I soon realized why the old man had been so grave. This certainly was not a place to laugh.

I’ve been to other Holocaust museums, I’ve written papers, I’ve led discussions. This is not the first time I’ve realized that the Holocaust is not something to take lightly. But honoring the genocide while visiting Israel was a new experience for me. The museum did not just symbolize another horrifying part of the history of humankind. It was much more real and direct to these people in this nation. 

As I scanned the room, dozens of soldiers meandered throughout. This museum seemed to be a place for those fighting for the country of Israel to remember why they’re fighting for the country. It’s a place to remember what it looks like for the Jewish community to have no home; it’s motivation to continue the fight.

Our group’s Jewish, middle-aged tour guide took his time explaining the history. He seemed to find significance in each factor of the Holocaust and was careful not to leave anything out. 

As we came to the end of the tour, our group stood in front of a photograph of Holocaust survivors. The photograph is often admired because it captures a Jewish service that took place in one of the death camps only days after they had been liberated. However, the guide pointed to a nine-year-old boy in the picture, and he explained that his father (shortly before being killed by the Nazis) had asked him to continue the tradition of becoming a rabbi. The young boy didn’t just grow up to become a rabbi, as his father had hoped --- he grew up to be the chief rabbi of Israel. Our guide began tearing up, recognizing the potential in each child killed during the Holocaust. As a Jewish man living in Israel, he recognized the significance of becoming a rabbi, of carrying on the Jewish traditions and values to the next generation.

I think there is something unique about acknowledging the tragedy while in Israel. The people here find more meaning in this part of history than anyone else, whether it’s motivation to fight for their country or it’s their unique understanding of the lives lost. And I think that they are more unified and joyous now because of it. 


Ethics and the Field

Two days ago we had a lecture from an Israeli Colonel, Bentzi Gruber, about the Israel Defense Force’s ethics when in combat. There were a lot of things that he said that just made sense, yet no one in the room ever thought about them before. It was all based around how much force should be used to accomplish the mission, and how the force can’t be used if innocent civilians would be hurt. He also gave us the numbers on how many rockets were shot into Israel. The numbers were outstanding, 2,910 in 2007, 2,735 in 2008, 300 in 2009, and 1,656 in the last year. He displayed how they stopped a lot of these rockets from happening with strategic strikes. Forty percent of the rockets the IDF fired were directed midflight however, because civilians were brought in.  With the help of the Iron Dome, these strikes were able to bring down these rocket numbers to only twenty two rockets fired into Israel so far this year.  

Due to the reduced numbers, the border towns near the Gaza Strip have been able to relax a little, not have to worry about the sirens going off twenty times a day. But as I started to think that there might be a little peace here, six more rockets were shot into Sderot yesterday. I don’t care what side of the issue anyone is on, these rockets need to stop.

A Friend in an Unlikely Place

A Friend in an Unlikely Place

Today we visited a small Arab village called Peki’in. The significance of this tiny village is that it has had a continuous presence of Jews for over 2000 years, one of whom is a small 82 year old woman, Margalit who in the last of her family in Peki’in. She is the descendent of the Jewish priests, Cohenim, who fled Jerusalem during the first diaspora. She is one of four Jewish families left in Peki’in. We learned of the rich history of her family and all they did in Peki’in and then she preceded to bless us.

The most interesting thing about this town isn’t the fact the Jews have had a continuous presence there for over 2000 years. The most interesting thing about this village is the people that live there. They are a small group of Arabs who belong to an exclusive religion called Druze. Druze is a monotheistic religion that combines some of the “best parts” of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They have a very strong value system and are extremely hospitable. This small but proud group of people live mostly in Muslim countries, but because of such harsh persecution many of them fled to Israel. Israel is the only country to recognize the Druze right to religious autonomy. The Druze are also Israeli citizens and identify as so. They take pride in their complete devotion to the State of Israel and participate in Israeli military service.

Although Druze live all over the world in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, England and the United States, the only place they enjoy complete right as citizens is Israel. Because of persecution  by Muslims, the Druzim have chosen to keep the rituals of their religion a secret. However despite such secrecy, the Druzim are a warm and hospitable group of people who coexist peacefully with Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Israel. It makes me feel hopeful that there is a future for peaceful coexistence between the various religions in the Middle East, and Israel is the starting point.


By Anonymous




Today at the shooting range I came in with previous knowledge that paintball will be all fun and games. In my past history in paintball, I always took it as a serious game that it extremely fun and strategic. But I never put myself in the shoes of that the game could actually be a real life situation that can either kill your enemies or result in your death. So today as the captain was going over the rules and safety of the game, he was also going over the real life situations that were going on in the battle field. We were honored to learn some of the positioning and stances that the real soldiers practice and their routine of entering and clearing a room. Although we may have learned them, I have to say it was pretty hysterical watching my fellow colleagues practicing these maneuvers. Even though we knew the moves, the drill definitely showed us that all the training takes immense practice and patience, that's why they took us to the field so we know what the Israeli soldiers have to go through almost every day. When we were done with all the training the captain let us practice the drill with two teams. We were to practice all the skills that we learned today and implement them in the actual game. This is where it became really serious. I watched every step to make sure I didn't get shot because I knew a shot in the arm, leg, or the torso could possible make me lose an arm, leg, or lead to my death. This drill really put a different focus in my head, making me think that this is a serious training operation that could save many lives with serious practice and training. I applaud the Israeli army for handling the terrorist groups and taking all precaution to prevent civilian casualties when they are in the heat of the fire.