Above Image: Taken on the day I visited the Al Jalazoun Refugee Camp, which houses about 15,000 refugees. It is one of 19 such camps in the West Bank.The camp is right on the edge of an Israeli settlement. This picture gives a sense of how close they are, as the fenced wall to the right in the foreground is the wall of a refugee school for boys, while the Israeli settlement homes are in the background. Unsurprisingly, it is often a site of hostilities.
I recently had the opportunity (along with four other U.S. academics) to participate in an Education and Cultural Exchange Mission to the West Bank and Israel from July 22-30. The trip was made possible by the efforts of a colleague, Dr. Justin Bateh, a Palestinian-American born in the U.S., that I got to know while at a conference in Chicago, who connected me with the the program through the American Federation of Ramallah-Palestine. The purpose of the trip was to gain first hand experience with some of the key issues that influence Israeli-Palestinian relations and current conditions in the West Bank as they relate to Israeli (and sometimes U.S.) policy.
It was an extraordinarily eye-opening experience, that included meetings with the Mayors of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and other smaller towns, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Education, the leaders of important NGOs working in the region, various Palestinian university officials and professors, and a member of the Israeli Knesset (Israel’s unicameral parliament). In addition to all of the famed holy sites, we also visited a refugee camp, a Bedouin community, some of the more troubled towns like Hebron, and interacted with everyday Palestinians who, of course, had a lot to tell us about their experiences. Continue reading