My Journey

In September, 2009, this Canadian boy started a masters program the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, learning about ecology and health, middle-eastern politics and the environment, and how a dire problem may facilitate a region's coming together for the better. This Blog is a record of my head-first dive into this immense world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

As the New Year Approaches

Yikes!  My last post was on December 12th!  A ton has been going on here, and I've been a little caught up to report on it.  Just to give you a little taste, for my environmental education class I made a trip over to Aqaba one chilly morning to teach a high school class about sustainability.  I ended up being cajoled into staying all day and mostly chatting with the students, since they really just wanted an English speaker to come in and talk to them.  In the end, they offered me a job teaching Biology starting in September!  We had another intense trip over Christmas, this time to Jerusalem.  The trip included Gilo, a "settlement" within the green line, Efrat, a real contested settlement (where we spoke with Rabbi Riskin, a leader in the settlement community), a talk with Ir Amim, an Israeli social justice watchdog, including a trip through Arab East Jerusalem, and finally a trip into a refugee camp in the area.  Needless to say, tensions were a little high and the practice of "compassionate listening we've been working so hard on broke down not a few times.  This was all followed by a well-deserved weekend doing whatever we liked in Jerusalem, and many of us spent Christmas in Bethlehem (imagine!).  Right now I'm working on some projects, but I'll fill in the details as much as I can soon!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Angelic Arava Alumnus

Here is a recent article in the Jerusalem Post about Ilana Meallem, maybe the most charismatic and positive person I've ever met.  She graduated from the institute a couple years ago after doing some award-winning research on Bedouin health issues.  She now does an insane amount of work on peace-building and environmental activism - all from her home/peace van.  Her friends call her a techno-Bedouin.  It's inspiring to me that such a person exists, and a bonus that I've met her and am in the same program she went through.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


That's right, it rained!  No dust in the air, the ground soaking wet, and a rainbow to boot!  It smelled so good around here.  But wouldn't you know it, 48 hours later and it's like it never happened.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Arna's Children

The gloves really came off tonight.  First we had our environmental leadership seminar, where we watched a short movie about direct, non-violent action against the felling of old growth forests of Australia - essentially holing up in trees, lying under bulldozers, holding satirical dramatic protests in the streets.  The discussion after this was fairly moderate, mostly centered around the ethics of civil disobedience to accomplish particular goals.

Then came a voluntary viewing of the film "Arna's Children", which follows the lives of a few Palestinian children from the Jenin refugee camp. All of the children were involved in the project of a woman named Arna, who brought an educational program to the camp involving art and theatre.  This part of the movie is truly inspiring, if a little bit disturbing - this woman is incredibly political, but she tries to help these hurt, frustrated, and angry children channel their anger into something beautiful.  Even through her efforts though, their art and their theatre often remains centered around the "resistance", and in one scene, following the demolition of one of the youth's house by the IDF, she encourages them to act out what they would do to a soldier if they saw one.  Slowly, throughout the movie, you see glimpses of what happens to these children - one becomes a suicide bomber, a few are killed in the fighting during the siege of Jenin.  Through conversations with many people in the camp you get a sense of the general attitude of the people - the resistance is ingrained into their very sense of self.

So then we got to talking.  It really surprised me, but many of the Palestinian students were very reluctant to denounce the form of resistance demonstrated by the boys later in their life, even the suicide bombings.  To be sure, they all said explicitly that they were personally against these attacks, but they also said that they could understand the motivation.  For many people, growing up in the culture of martyrdom, this is "the only way"  Many of them have lost friends and family members to the conflict, and to them whether or not a death is "collateral" or not, or whether it was intended or not, they feel that resistance is justified, that if the IDF comes with violence that they have a right to respond with violence.  The Israelis and Americans of course emphasized the fundamental difference in the ethics of what the IDF does (ie minimizing civilian damage, trying to be as precise as possible) and what a suicide bomber does, but of course things on the ground never are as clear cut as that.  All I can say is that for a Canadian boy who's only experience with violence was a playground fight in third grade, I can only superficially understand.  The night ended with hugs and crying, and then we stood in a circle and held hands, and reminded ourselves that we're not here to trip over the past, but to try and build a better future.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More on the way!

Wow, it's been two weeks!  Sorry for those coming to the site and leaving disappointed.  I do assure you though, more is on the way - midterm season is a bit rough no matter where you are :-).

In the meantime, here are an amusing picture from the old city in Bethlehem: