Day 5: Ramallah and Jerusalem
Today we were greeted by chilly weather and constant rain, but in spite of this we carried on with an ambitious agenda. Our first stop was across the check point into the West Bank where our guide, a Palestinian-American journalist for the New York Times, provided context on the issues facing the Palestinian people. We spent time at a refugee camp and in Ramallah. In Ramallah we met and learned from a top Palestinian leader and former Governor of Jericho.
In the afternoon we toured Hatzalah United, a non-profit dedicated to engaging volunteers to respond to crises. The organization started just a decade ago, and it is now in many other countries. Hatzalah United engages more than 5,000 volunteers in Israel alone.
After a brief rest we started our evening at the Shoresh Institute where we met with a leading researcher on social policy and economic issues in Israel. He provided a thorough overview of the substantial challenges facing Israeli society relating to economic growth and opportunity. We ended the evening having dinner with a representative from Bio STL to discuss their important work. View pictures from today here.
(Pictured: Walking through a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank.)
Reflections From Representative Crystal Quade
Today has been the most intellectually thought-provoking day of the tour. Throughout the trip we have learned of the strong and vibrant Israel that has formed among serious conflict- with towns constantly being attacked and parents having a mere 15 seconds to get their children to a bomb shelter when the sirens alarm. We have constantly heard about everyone wanting peace, the great programming specifically designed to help Palestinians succeed, and have truly felt the belief that all humans deserve the dignity that Judaism teaches.
Today began with a brief tour of Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority, a visit to the border wall with its barbed wire falling off and graffiti filled with hope and despair, a walk through a refugee camp, and a visit with a PA government official. We saw the images so often shown to us on the television- trash everywhere, homes with barrels of water on top of them so they can simply drink, and crumbling buildings. Our tour guide was an American citizen, a Palestinian, and lives in East Jerusalem. He spoke of his experiences as a reporter covering the conflict as well as someone working towards peace. While standing at the wall dividing the two entities, he said to us “We need bridges, not walls. My children need to know their children are good kids. That’s how we make peace.” I cannot begin to comprehend being a parent on either side of this issue.
After meeting with the PA official, with many dodged questions and some heart felt answers, things seem even more complicated here. Each place we go with civilians shows that most folks want to coexist, and it may simply be politics in the way. The continual example we see is in the innovation field. Even on the other side of the wall, tech companies are working to provide jobs.
We later toured the United Hatzalah of Israel. This organization has taken innovation and technology to create an all volunteer medical response team throughout Israel. Here we saw all sectors of Israeli society (religious and secular) working together to provide immediate medical response all over the country with a three-minute or less response time. Volunteers are on call and using a system similar to Uber- when an emergency call is made, dispatchers contact the closest volunteer and they respond by bike, motorcycle, or any means to get there immediately. With over 1,000 calls per day, these people are saving lives. The civilians here are showing the elected officials that they can work together and put differences aside for the common goal of human dignity. One can hope it continues and those in power start to mimic them.
(Pictured: Palestinian Authority meeting.)
Reflections From Senator Dan Hegeman
Today our group had the opportunity to enjoy the Israeli “wet” season. We understand that rather than the four seasons that we experience in North America, there are two seasons here, which are wet and dry.
We ventured into Palestinian West Bank territory with Rami Nazzal, our Palestinian-American journalist guide. He showed us a refugee camp and the trying conditions in which its citizens live. There are three plus generations of individuals living in the same home who are refugees of the 1948 Israeli War for Independence. These folks seem caught in a political fight centered upon a perceived right of return to properties of their ancestors.
We then met with a Palestinian Government Official, Majed Fityani, General Secretary of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council and former Governor of the city of Jericho. He explained his view of the situation in the West Bank and some of the intractable intricacies of obtaining peace. He still seemed hopeful for success in the future in which he would ideally like to see Arabs, Jews and others all living together in a democratic state or two separate states.
Next, we toured the United Hatzalah Organization (Hatzalah means Rescue in Hebrew). This is a nonprofit dedicated to providing volunteers with the means and support to provide immediate aid to those who might need emergency medical care. This organization is partially funded by donors from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.
(Pictured: At United Hatzalah.)
December 7: At a Glance
- Tour the Museum of Tolerance
- Visit the Yad Vashem museum
- Falafel Lunch in the Old City
- Visit the Jewish Quarter and see Cardo
- Shabbat and Chanukah candle lighting at the home of Pamela and Aba Fox Clamen
- Western (Wailing) Wall
- Traditional Friday night dinner at the Fox Clamen home