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Sometimes I find it difficult to explain the things that are group experiences because a lot of it is built up of numerous experiences throughout our time here. Jewish settlements are something I have heard about since coming into Israel, first in Beit Sahour where we heard that Jewish peole take Palestinians' land and destroy their farms to build these settlements. Being absolutely honest, up to this point I haven't heard anything positive about settlements and settlers, so when I saw on my schedule that our group would be visiting the Jewish settlement of Efrata, I felt a bit uneasy but was interested in meeting settlers.
We arrived at Efrata in late afternoon and unfortunately we did not get a tour of the settlement, which I was hoping we would. It would have been nice to see the actual settlement and see how the community works and functions. Instead we went to the Efrata community center to meet with three of the locals.
The discussion time was somewhat helpful for me simply because it taught me more about settlements and settlers. Settlements are communities of Jewish people, both secular and religious. The speakers shared that for the most part settlements were bought officially and individuals were compensated for their land. Settlements are open to anyone who can afford to buy a house in them and part of the reason some Jews are attracted to them is because housing is made cheaper with government funds. Although the settlements are open, the tensions surrounding them have kept Christians and Muslims out. This information presented by the settlers raised some points that could be debated, such as understanding what it means to compensate Palestinians for their farmland.
I have come to the understanding that not all settlements and settlers are violent or hateful and that there is a possiblity of peaceful existence between the two groups, but a lot has to change for that to occur. I don't agree with the harm that some settlers afflict upon Palestinians, but I am not ready to say that all settlements are bad. I struggle with making absolute remarks, especially when it comes to labelling a group of people. So from this particular discussion time I took away a new perspective on settlers and settlements, one that doesn't allow me to group all settlers in the same negative group. I am glad that we had the opportunity to talk with settlers and I look forward to learning even more about the different dynamics to the complicated situation in Israel.
- Rebekah Kratz (reacting to our meeting with Israeli settlers this past Tuesday)
The Old City of Jerusalem is full of cats. They slink about in the rubbish heaps at the edge of public squares, scamper along the rooftops, and occasionally show up inside our dormitory at Jerusalem University College, loudly demanding attention or possibly just milk.
The city itself is well suited to feral felines, possibly even better suited to them than to its teeming human inhabitants. It's a huge stone jungle gym, a maze of twisted alleyways, covered streets lined with shouting vendors, and unexpected monuments to this or that interpretation of God. You could live your life out on the rooftops, which stretch from the Temple Mount to Jaffa Gate practically uninterrupted; or, if sunlight bothers you, in the basements, where the ruins of the past 2000 years lie awaiting discovery.
Sometimes brave drivers venture in with their cars, filling the narrow streets from side to side and forcing pedestrians to line the walls and suck in their stomachs. More often the vehicle of choice is a miniature tractor with a trailor to haul in fresh produce or a new batch of tiles printed with the cheery legend 'Shalom Y'all.' Those who are unencumbered by such large loads prefer bicycles or, far more commonly, foot. Visitors can go to Damascus Gate on a busy market day to see a rare sight indeed: a human traffic jam, the entire marketplace and gate filled with people all pushing in different directions.
The Holy City is full to bursting, and overbuilt, and maddening to navigate, and wonderfully alive. A minimum of two of the four quarters (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian) remain open and bustling even over the weekends, since the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish holy days are neatly staggered. Even a short walk down the street draws offers of food, souvenirs, or clothing, all for a 'special price.' The street vendors have everything anyone could want, from running shoes to gummy worms. Come lunchtime, kebabs sizzle within earshot, and the scent of fresh falafel seeps out of the nearest restaurant. If the meal proves too much to finish (as is hardly ever the case), there are cats near at hand, waiting for scraps.
- Jeremy Yoder (description of the Old City)