What Can Women Do? by Sophie Schor

Since my return from my summer trip to home and family in North America, it has been a blur of re-adjusting to the time zone, cultural challenges, language gaps, and humidity. As I settle back into the rhythm of the work week and proofreading the upcoming journal, I find all my free hours being filled with conversations about women and peace.

I am applying for a PhD next fall pursuing the research I've begun here on the role of women in Israeli and Palestininan societies in the peace process and what agency they have in a conflict zone. My head is swirling from hours spent investigating academic departments and funding and reading abstracts of potential future supervisors' research. Each day, a new school is added to, or crossed off from, the list; a new checkbox added to the to-do list of applications leads to calculating postage of transcripts and panic over having forgotten high-school algebra for the GRE.

Yet, I am constantly encountering things here that seems to reinforce the feeling that this is the work I want to be doing, that these are the questions that we need to be asking. Earlier this week, I attended a conference hosted by IPCRI (Israeli-Palestinian Creative Regional Initiatives) that focused on the current role of women in the peace process and UN Security Council Resolution 1325. In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted the resolution which, 

"reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict." 

This resolution is the cornerstone of the women and peace thesis which claims that women have inherent and important contributions to add to peace processes, based on their gender and based on the facts that historically they have been excluded from national and international conversations and decisions on peace and security.

I had a bumper sticker on my car from high-school from when I worked with The White House Project (an organization that supports women running for public office in the States). It said, "Add Women, Change Everything." While I fear that this saying and the notions behind these resolutions simplifies matters and portrays women in an overly simplified light as being inherently peaceful, I think it also captures a very real discourse that is unfolding around us globally and locally. In cases of violent, protracted conflicts which have been led mainly by men, what would happen if women were involved in the process? Julia Bacha of Just Vision spoke about women's power to transform conflict in Palestine in this phenomenal and highly recommended TedTalk. She highlights that the role of women in the public life and in a movement leads to the adoption of nonviolence as a tenet of resistance. She also remarks on how in many different historical moments, women were present but were invisible in the public sphere or media or narrative.  Just Vision is producing a new film about women in the First Intifada, and I cannot wait to see it.

All of this is just a small example of the research that is being done which reiterates again and again that including women in negotiations, decision making, and post-conflict plans results in more successful and long-lasting peace agreements. This summer's resolution of the brutal conflict in Colombia between the government and FARC was notable for its inclusion of women at the negotiations and for the provisions of gender equality and protection of women in the resulting agreement. The resolution to Liberia's civil war was also paramount in it's inclusion of women's perspectives. For more research on these concepts see the UN's Report on Women's Participation in Peace Negotiations (2012) and the Global Study on the Implementation of Resolution 1325.

Theory is one thing, but how does this apply in real life? The conversation at the IPCRI conference began to ask those questions. There were Palestinian women there from the Jerusalem Women's Center, there were Israeli women from grassroots movements, local organizations, an Israeli Member of the Knesset, and international representation by the Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, and Finnish Embassies. Topics were raised about the importance of creating equality for women in all spheres in Israeli and Palestinian societies in order to empower them to participate in the public and political spheres. Opportunities were discussed, and experiences were shared. The energy in the room felt effervescent, there was so much more that wanted to be said, discussed, asked, and strategized. As the evening drew to an end, and everyone began exchanging business cards and handshakes, I watched as networks were being formed before my eyes.

The next day, I joined one of the directors of IPCRI to attend a forum in Hebrew that was hosted by an Israeli organization (Itaach-Maaki) which is taking the lead in implementing the resolution in Israel. The room was filled--over 40 women and 3 men-- and representatives from many different organizations, experiences, lent their perspectives to the larger questions of how to use UNSCR 1325 as a tool, and how to work together. Representatives from Women Wage Peace, WIPS, Dafna Fund, Minds of Peace, Mahsom Watch, Combatants for Peace, and Forum for Regional Thinking were all present.

The conversation began with the basic questions of Why, What, and How:

Why are women being called upon to participate in peace processes? Why is this important?

What do they have to offer? What work exists, what work needs to be done?

How do we actually take the recommendations of the resolution and implement them in our own lives, work, and societies?

The responses were varied, were challenging, were thoughtful. The 4 hour meeting ended with, yet again, the feeling that the conversation is just beginning.

Later this week, I will be attending the third meeting of the women of Combatants for Peace--a side-project of the organization, and I've been invited to participate. A group of Israeli women and Palestinian women, all members of Combatants for Peace, are meeting to discuss how to insert women's voices into the larger conversations in the organization as a whole and how to create protest actions that more women would be enticed and able to participate in. The conversations are authentic and are questioning how to accommodate a gendered perspective in the very important dialogue work and on the ground activism of Combatants for Peace. Our first meeting was invigorating, and this one should be equally exciting.

Today is international peace day. But, I dedicate this week to women: the rabble rousers, the ground-shakers, the wagers of conflict, and the peace makers.

Palestine Museum of Natural History by Sophie Schor

 "Butterflies of Palestine"

"Butterflies of Palestine"

The home I grew up in was 6 blocks away from the Denver Museum of Natural History and so we visited weekly. I memorized the opening movie at the dinosaur exhibit by heart and I took morbid pleasure at looking at the cautionary-tale-blackened smoker’s lungs in the Hall of Life. The mummy corridor was my area of expertise; I learned to spell my name in hieroglyphics. I learned the behind the scenes secrets (For example, to change the lightbulb in the exhibit of the African watering hole, the museum janitors wore special boots that made animal footprints in the sand) and knew the difference between real gold and fool’s gold thanks to the gemstone exhibit that displays Colorado’s mining history. I know where all of the secret, painted gnomes are located in the taxidermy exhibits displaying local Colorado flora and fauna. The museum was my playground and a formative place of exploration, education, imagination, and discovery for me.

It was with this childish excitement in the back of my mind that I joined a group to visit the Palestine Museum of Natural History in Bethlehem. This museum is only one room; it doesn’t have any flashing multimedia explanations or gift shop. But it has heart.

I read about the museum a few years ago in a fantastic piece in Brownbook, but I hadn’t thought of visiting it until an invitation from the Israeli activist group De-colonizer arrived in my inbox. I excitedly RSVPed to join the carpool to Bethlehem and cross the borders with a group of over 20 Israelis and internationals—a moment of civil disobedience for many Israelis who are prohibited from legally entering Bethlehem (Area A). You can see more photos from the day here.

On a Saturday morning, a caravan of Israeli cars made a sharp turn down a steep hill and there at the bottom was a man waving. Narrow faced, sharp cheekbones, his checkered shirt tucked into blue pants, smiling eyes, Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh greeted us warmly and led us into the air conditioned building.

The museum was founded 2 years ago by Mazin and his wife. A native of Beit Sahour, a Palestinian town next to Bethlehem, Mazin is a remarkable man. An accomplished biologist, educator, and activist, Mazin returned to Palestine after teaching for many years at Duke and Yale in the United States. He raises his eyebrows over his skinny framed glasses and smiles at the group "Ahlan wa-Sahlan, welcome, welcome." He is humble in his speech, but his ideas and his actions speak louder than his words. He has written several books about the biodiversity of the region including The Bats of Egypt (1985) and Mammals of the Holy Land (1996). He also wrote an in-depth analytical history of Palestinian non-violent resistance, and yet another book called Sharing the Land of Canaan. He has published many scientific articles in reviewed journals—several focus on the impact of occupation on biodiversity and ecosystems of Palestine. He has been arrested several times for engaging in protests, activism, and non-violent actions including riding the Freedom Bus. He mentions all of this casually as he introduces himself to the group. After making a grand political statement about justice or mentioning that he was at a pivotal event in Palestinian resistance history, he quickly shrugs his shoulders and remarks in a self-deprecating tone, “But anyways…” 

"The museum was founded on the tenant of respect," explains Mazin. "Self-Respect, Respect for others, and Respect for nature." He goes on to explain how  the Palestinian community needs "a revolution in our way of thinking" and the museum aims to create a space for this change. "The wall is nothing if the people put it in their mind to remove it. We tend to hang everything on occupation. Yes, it is a part of it, but we are also a part of it. Change has to start with our own actions." 

A teacher at heart, Mazin is currently a professor at Bethlehem and Birzeit Universitites. The Museum serves as a center for internships, research, and volunteer opportunities for his students. They have established a research lab and he works closely with students to do research and co-publish papers.

 Happy aquaponic plants

Happy aquaponic plants

One of his students led us on a tour of the surrounding grounds—a large part of the Museum project has been to develop the land around the Bethlehem University campus. Mazin and his volunteers have been planting a botanic garden of native species to the region. Olive trees, fruit trees, sage, thyme, and zatar, each plant will be labeled with its Latin name, and the local names from several different Palestinian dialects. There was an area for beekeeping, and a building for rehabilitating wild birds. The student led us around a bend and there was a small pond which the group had been meticulously cultivating to create a diverse ecosystem of frogs, algae, and plants and had begun to attract kingfishers and foxes. Flanking the pond were several greenhouses--we entered and I was overjoyed to see fully functioning aquaponic systems! Having worked for a summer at The GrowHaus in Denver, it was a familiar sight to see fish swimming in a pool of water next to flourishing plants. The water from the fish is used to water the plants (full of nutrients from the fish's excrement)—the plants then clean the water (nitrogen rich water makes for happy plants)—the clean water is returned to the fish tank. Since the plants are planted in a bed of porous rocks, it is a more efficient way to water them and they grow quicker because they are directly exposed to the water and nutrients. The cycle is a beautiful manifestation of using what you have. 

Hot and sweaty, we were then led through the exhibition room. We pressed our noses to glass cases and looked upon the pinned butterflies, the classified snail shells, the rocks and gemstones, the stuffed birds. There was pride in the labels: Snails of Palestine. Butterflies of Palestine. Scorpions of Palestine. I began thinking about the emotional importance of naming and claiming things. Especially here in a place where existence is a constant competition and narratives are erased, replaced, and proclaimed loudly through shouting matches. This room was a quieter, but definitive stake of ownership, history, and a nexus of knowledge.

We returned to a classroom and Mazin launched into a clear, succinct analysis of the Israeli and Palestinian conflicts. "Let me share with you my view of the world. You can disagree."

He began in a way that was reminiscent of that introduction to the dinosaur exhibit back in Denver, "The universe is very large, we are but a tiny blue dot in the Milky-Way." He then specified, "And this region is but a tiny corner on that tiny dot. Our conflict is but a tiny blip in the history of existence. We are small," he continued, "Yet we seem to think that we are special." After tracing the arc of civilizations in the Fertile Crescent, he arrived at modern day Israel and Palestine. "Conflicts arise when there are attempts to force one idea on people."

 "The Museum"

"The Museum"

 Collection of local turtle shells: visitors to the pond

Collection of local turtle shells: visitors to the pond

He confided in us that he is not a nationalist; he is a humanist, a biologist. The problems facing Israelis and Palestinians are not Israeli problems or Palestinian problems, they are human problems. This is not to say that he is not political and does not support Palestinian national self-determination. Mazin clearly upholds the BDS boycott and refuses to work with Israeli institutions (he does not mind personal relationships with Israeli individuals, but he follows the lines stipulated by the BDS movement). And here he was, speaking to a room full of Israelis. To explain this differentiation, he tells the story of how his family lived on the Jordanian side of the border after 1948. The 1967 war rolls around, the borders shift, and a few days later there is a knock at the door. An older man, a Jew, asks for Mazin’s grandfather. The moment they see each other they begin hugging. The two had been best friends before 1948 and had not seen each other for 19 years. “But anyways…” He continues on with his lecture and the next slide about the water crisis in the Jordan Valley and describes bringing the museum to children in poor areas or unrecognized villages in Area C so that they too could learn about butterflies.

Mazin repeated again and again the importance of biodiversity: both in relation to the natural and human worlds. “A monolithic biosphere is not healthy. Neither is a monolithic society. Diversity is strength.” He launches into a metaphor about a garden of only blue flowers and how boring that would be. "Would you want to live with people only like yourself?" He chuckles, "Hell, I can't live with only myself."

By encouraging science education and environmentalism, Mazin believes that humanism will follow as a side effect. The museum serves as a place to educate and allow students and communities to engage in a way that restores personal and communal dignity. “The way I see it, he concluded, “This museum is resistance.”

I haven't been this excited about a project or an individual in a long time. Please consider donating to keep the Museum going and to help them in their efforts to expand. They also have many volunteer opportunities (here's looking at all my permaculture and sustainable agriculture friends!) To learn more about the museum, visit their website here

Everything is Okay. by Sophie Schor


"Everything is okay"



I noticed this graffiti the other day. The call and response of it captured the schizophrenic reality here these days.

Everything is okay in Tel Aviv. You go to the beach and drink fresh squeezed orange juice or a milkshake made from Halva and dates, and everything is okay. You go to dinner, you laugh with friends. Everything is okay. You order another drink, everything is okay.

You get on a bus that goes straight to work, disappear in your office, answer emails, hit the commuter grind at the end of the day and go straight home, and you can pretend everything is okay.

But it is not okay here. Earlier this month a 15 year old Palestinian boy was shot and killed for being near to a group of boys who were throwing rocks at soldiers. He was just heading home from a pool party.

A 13 year old girl was sleeping in her home inside the settlement Kiryat Arba. A 19 year old Palestinian boy stabbed her to death. (Her family just held a memorial service on Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, which also is shaking the foundations of “okay”). 

Then, less than 24 hours later, there was an attack in Netanya and a drive-by in the West Bank. The entire city of Hebron was put under curfew.

Al-Araqib, an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, was demolished for the 100th time.

A crowd-funding campaign was launched to raise funds to pay the legal fees for the soldier, Elor Azaria, who shot a Palestinian in the head execution-style in Hebron in March. The campaign raised over 590,000NIS (over $150,000)  in 3 days.

And today, the NGO Transparency Law was just passed. While the concept of transparency is generally viewed in a positive light, this law’s underlying aims may be far from benign. This law targets specific human rights organizations within Israeli borders that receive foreign funding. It was promoted at the Knesset by Members Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennet—far right wing members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition. The bill initially required that representatives of the targeted NGOs wear armbands when they entered the Knesset. This was dropped, as it was seen as too contentious a throwback to other times when people were required to wear armbands identifying them. The law that passed requires NGOs to report foreign funding—not private donors—just foreign funding. Who receives foreign funding here?

There are 27 NGOs listed as receiving half their money from abroad and who will be subjected to the new law. See the full list here. The list includes 25 human-rights organizations. (Read “left wing”). My personal favorites (truly, these are some of my favorite organizations):

  • Coalition of Women for Peace (feminism at its finest),
  • Yesh Din (a law organization specializing in legal assistance in the Palestinian territories),
  • Who Profits (an amazing online site that compiles a list of which companies profit from continued occupation),
  • Terrestrial Jerusalem (an organization that maps facts on the ground in East and West Jerusalem),
  • Btselem (human rights watch group),
  • Ir Amim (Jerusalem based organization documenting inequalities in the city),
  • Breaking the Silence (the organization of soldiers which publishes testimonies from service that do not conform to the discourse of the IDF being the most “moral army in the world”),
  • Gisha (an organization focused on accessibility in and out of the Gaza blockade and humanitarian needs in Gaza),
  • and Sikuuy (an organization that promotes full equality and civil rights in Israeli borders).

Many writers are up in arms about this law as the first of many that are embedding fascist principles within Israeli democracy. (And not just writers in Israel. The UN and the US call this law an affront to democracy.)

This begins to feel routine. I turn off the news, I stop swiping through Twitter; it’s too much to read, too much to follow. How do you keep track of the pointless deaths, the demolished homes, the empty political speeches, and above all, the constant violence? The general cyclical continuation of humiliation, violence, suppression, and arrests under occupation continues.

But this routine is not okay. This sly slippery slope into fascism is not okay. The lived reality for Israelis and Palestinians is not okay. The rise in extremism, the rise in violence, the rise in fear, this is not okay. The moment when we begin to simply brush it aside and say "It's normal," that's not okay.

I begin to appreciate the person that wrote “No” in response to that spray-paint stencil: It is takes back the space. That “No” yells at the naivety and sweeps aside the sand which Jews living on this side of the Green Line bury their heads into. It wakes me up from my summertime haze and reverie in which I have hidden in myself, reading books at the beach and doing my best not to be present here. I look around, and all I can think to myself is “No. It’s not okay.”

At least this week, things are happening to push back against all this being routine. The Center for Jewish Nonviolence has officially kicked off their weeklong event “Occupation is Not My Judaism” in which over 50 Jews from 8 countries are currently here and participating in direct non-violent action against the occupation daily. They are working with Palestinian communities to plant, to build, and to reap justice. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

And this Friday is the Freedom March. Marking 10 years of the organization  Combatants for Peace, the march will be big. Come! I’ll be there. I'm thinking of making a sign that says:

No. This is Not Okay.

Oats and Olives by Sophie Schor

 Jibbat al-Dheib

Jibbat al-Dheib

Today I went with the Israeli solidarity organization Ta'ayush to Jibbat al-Dheib, a Palestinian village with land in Area C in the Territories. We joined farmers and shepherds so that they can work their land.

We helped clear a field that surrounds olive trees. I kept remarking how soft my hands are, this lifestyle isn't suited for soft hands. I couldn't keep up with the 70 year old Palestinian man who was grabbing thorns with his bare hands.

A security guy from a nearby settlement showed up. He had a camera and walked into the field recording us. "Pixelization of the conflict," a weathered Israeli activist remarked. He circled us, our cameras circled him. It was one of the strangest dances I've seen. The IDF showed up. 4 jeeps of soldiers. We kept clearing the field. Some were sitting in the shade of an olive tree watching what was happening. The soldiers waited, the Israeli flag on the jeep flapping in the wind. Another car shows up: one of the commanders of the area. He has a notebook with him--it shows what part and parcel of land belongs to whom and who is allowed to be where when. This piece of land, which belongs to the Palestinians who were working it--was declared to not be a problem. But they approached us anyways. A conversation of waving arms and gesturing hands takes place. I watch from afar and feel the smallness of this moment, but also notice the grandiose existentialism of arguing over who's land this is. In the background, I hear the swish and clunk of a hoe hitting the earth and continuing its scraping motion of clearing away the plants and cleaning the field. The argument takes place, the Palestinian man keeps on working.

Guns hit the hips of the young soldiers as they start to weave their way through the wheat to demand our IDs. They took pictures of our posed pictures, wrote down our names. I asked why, the soldier responded "To know who is in the field."

They retreated to their air conditioned jeeps where they kept an eye on us the rest of the day. It's the same feeling as I got from the surrounding 3 settlements: they are keeping their eye on this Palestinian village and land that is located in the middle of the ring that they form. It's directly in their line of expansion. That prickly sensation on the back of your neck when someone is watching you...

We finished one row of the field today. The Palestinian laughed at the foreigners with their good intentions but their bad farming skills. We climbed back into the car, sweaty, dust covered, a bit sore around the edges, but determined.

Jordan الأردن by Sophie Schor

اهلا وسهلا Welcome to Jordan.


Last week during the Pesah holiday in Israel, I travelled to Jordan:  from Bayt Shean and Irbid in the North to Aqaba and Eilat in the South. I saw the Sea of Galilee and the Golan from the other side. I dipped my toes into the Red Sea and waved to Saudi Arabia. My days were punctuated by the call to prayer (from its excellent reverberations in the hills of Amman to the transitory notes of someone’s cell-phone ringing an alarm while on a bus heading South). The experience is already slipping away into a mirage tinted in tendrils of Orientalist sentences that romanticize an exotic and foreign life of deserts and tea and hospitality and tribal connection.

There has been a long-standing joke between my parents, Tina, my best friend from high school and myself. One summer, I was 19 and studying Hebrew in Jerusalem, a friend of a friend was living in Amman and I suggested  that I might travel to Jordan to meet him. The idea was met by outcries from my parents, “No way. You barely know the guy. You can’t go to Jordan.” They then turned to my friend Tina, tall, blonde, of Norwegian descent, looking like a Viking, “Tina,  can go to Jordan. Sophie should not go to Jordan”

Over the years this joke has reared its head again and again, “Sophie can’t go to Jordan.” My friend has even had dreams where she came to visit me in Jerusalem, and then went to Jordan, but I wasn’t allowed to cross the border with her.

As a student of Middle Eastern Studies, I have to confess that this was my first time in a fully Arab and Muslim country. My degrees focus on Israel and Palestine, my languages relate to Israel and Palestine, my experiences are mainly rooted in Jerusalem. My relation to the places outside of this bubble has always been shaped by the Jewish and Israeli identity that held me back. You—with your Jewish curls, your Israeli passport, and your feminine naïveté—you are not allowed to travel alone in “those” places.

This sentiment was echoed again this year as I told people about my plans for the Passover holidays.

“Jordan? Why?”

“Jordan? Alone? Are you sure?”

“Jordan? It’s not safe.”

Surprisingly enough, this time around my parents were not against me going, or at least they knew better than to tell me. At the moment, Jordan is the most stable and safe country in the region. It has turned into the hub of internationally based students of Middle Eastern Studies, NGO workers, volunteers, UN interns, and more. Since the rest of the region is off limits, those who used to go to Cairo, Damascus or Beirut to study Arabic are now all go to Amman. I have 3 friends there currently, including one of my close friends from my undergrad and another from my Masters program.

So with that in mind, I packed my bag, and headed up to the Northern border. There are three land-border crossings between Israel and Jordan. One is up North, the Sheikh Hussayn Crossing, about 2 hours from both Jerusalem and Amman. The main border crossing, Allenby Bridge, is located about 40 minutes from Jerusalem and Amman. This crossing is the only place where Palestinians without passports (i.e. those from the West Bank with laissez-passé documents) can cross in order to use the Amman International Airport. Israelis are forbidden from using this crossing. The third crossing is down South, the Yitzhak Rabin Crossing, where Aqaba, Eilat, and Taba hug the coast of the Red Sea and compete for scuba divers and tourists.

Getting to the border was a journey of its own. After five hours in transit (and three separate bus changes), I found myself in (what felt like) the middle of nowhere in Bayt Shean. I flagged down a cab and asked to be taken to the border. No other options in sight (with a bus that goes from Bayt Shean near the border only a few times during the day), cabbies charge you for your desperation. 5 minutes later, he had dropped me off at this strange strip where I followed mazes of signs indicating where pedestrian travelers are supposed to walk. As I entered the air-conditioned doors of the building, I looked lost and was quickly guided by a man in Hebrew to the proper windows.

"Traveling to the East?" he asked me in Hebrew, scanning over my backpack and assuming that I was making the pilgrimage to India that most Israelis my age make after completing their army service.

"No, to Amman."

"To Amman?" he repeated as if to make sure he heard me correctly. "Amman?" he repeated a second time.

I smiled and walked on to the next window to get a stamp in my passport and move on.

I got on yet another bus that drives across 200 meters and an imaginary line that has been drawn in the sand between the two countries. Jordanian border police greeted us and the regulars (young Palestinians with Israeli passports) walked in a quick diagonal towards the doors of the customs office, familiar with the shortcuts. I exchanged shekels for dinars and paid the entrance fee. Once you emerge, you find yet another cab to take you to the edge of the border. I was squeezed into a cab with 4 young Palestinians in the backseat, a trunk that wouldn't close properly, and a cabbie who looked at me and said "American? America is good." And with that, I walked through the looking glass and into another identity.

The whole week in Jordan, I felt comfortable in my own skin. As an American, as an Israeli, as a Leftist who says the words occupation and Palestine louder than a whisper, even as a woman. The stereotypes and fear mongering that had prevented me from making this journey sooner were quickly dispelled by smiles, rooms filled with cigarette smoke, and cups of black tea with I-don't-want-to-know-how-much sugar. 

The little spoken Arabic I have learned (and the old-fashioned literary Arabic I learned at school) made a huge impact in interactions and I was surprised again and again by just how much I understood. At one point a friend explained their language level perfectly. "I speak dictionary," he responded to a conversation about whether you speak spoken-Arabic or literary-Arabic. Dictionary-Arabic is what they taught us in Jerusalem too: how to break down sentences, how to analyze grammar, how to open a dictionary and translate. But during this week, the words of the dictionary pages came to life. Idioms such as Inshallah, Wallah, Ma-shallah, El-hamdulillah and more entered the gaps in my sentences. Encouraging grunts of "uh" filled the pauses between my breaths. Sighs of contentment and tasty meals soon had new adjectives to describe them.

The adventure truly got underway during my first night. After being scooped up at the border by my friend and his rental car, we braved the lawless traffic and roads of the North. We headed to Um Qays, a hilltop covered in Hellenistic ruins and a Roman amphitheater carved out of the black basalt stone. We ate lunch overlooking the Galilee and the Golan. After a good meander through the fallen columns, we went back to the car to scan through the guidebook and pick a place to stay that night. My eyes landed on a place called Pella, a small town about an hour away that was supposedly surrounded by ruins from every time period extending from Neolithic to Umayyad, Abbasid, Hellenistic, and Byzantine; plenty to explore tomorrow. So we called up the Pella Countryside Guest House and asked for a room for 2.

Along the way, we passed near the border and standing in the dark at the side of the road were three figures with big backpacks: tourists. Before I knew it, my friend had pulled to the side and offered them a ride. Three sweet-faced Germans, volunteering in Israel and on vacation in Jordan, climbed into the backseat.

They smiled warmly as they announced that they were looking for somewhere to camp. We mentioned where we were headed and offered that maybe they could camp in the land near the guesthouse.

Upon arriving to Pella (also known in Arabic as Tabaqat Fahl), after many detours and young children running up to the car and pointing us in the right direction, we turned onto a small road following signs for the guesthouse. A man was standing in the middle of the road, waiting for us it seemed. Turns out it was the owner of the Guesthouse. Hellos were exchanged, we confirmed that we were the ones who called for the room earlier, and we had some more people now, could they camp?

It was quickly and clearly seen not to be an available option.

“My brother. My sisters. You should not camp here. Not with everything going on in these parts.”

One of the Germans timidly looked over at my friend and me, “Does he mean that there has been a murder here recently?”

We laughed and shook our heads. “He’s talking more generally about the Middle East as a whole.” What we didn’t say was that it also was directed at the prospect of having another 3 people take a room at the guesthouse during these times of low tourism—because you know, everything that’s going on around here lately.

The evening was punctuated by intense political, religious, and theoretical conversations with our host. The place was less hotel-like and more personal: “What you eat, I eat. What I eat, you eat. When do you want dinner?” asked our host.

We gleaned a lot of information from him, not only about the current status of political affairs, but also of what life for a Jordanian is like. He had been in the air force, he had seen some horrible things during Black September, he was an ardent supporter of His Majesty King Hussein. He was eager to share universal quips about how all people, be they Muslim, Christian or Jewish, should be treated with equal dignity. He bragged about how Pella was a favorite place of Jesus Christ (who by our host’s version of history had visited four times). He went on about the beauty and the importance of all human life.

“Except for the Saudis. And the Kuwaitis. And the Shi’as. They are not Muslims” he confided.

By the end of the stay we were pretty convinced that he has serious government connections. Our suspicions were confirmed the next day. Over dinner he had spoken of how there was a hidden cave, where Jesus is said to have stayed, and an old Byzantine church that no one ever visited. He took us there the next morning, pointing the route, waving at every person whom we drove by in recognition.

After letting us roam freely among mosaics and Byzantine sarcophagi, he directed the car into town to buy cabbage for his wife. We pulled over and let him into the store. He returned to the car and then said, quite casually, “We’re right across the street from the head of the Municipality’s house. Why don’t we pay him a visit?”

My friend and I exchanged worried glances, but how could we say no to our host who had been so gracious?

So we followed him like sheep into this government building, first my Arabic speaking friend, then me, then the three Germans. We were ushered into a room and as the cigarette smoke cleared, I saw a man sitting behind an impressive desk, framed by a tapestry on the wall behind him with the bismillah embroidered in gold thread. The walls of the room were lined with brown-leather EZboy recliners. Sitting in those chairs were nine men smoking cigarettes, including one man in full Bedouin garb smoking a giant rolled cigarette. Another man was wearing the clean-khakis of casual army wear. They looked as if they had been waiting for us. Our host glided into the room with ease, sat down and took the cup of coffee proffered to him by a young man. Salaam-alaykums were exchanged, and then our host dived into a speech. The Germans and I smiled to each other nervously.

Translations muttered under my friend’s breath alerted me that our host was asking the government official for a road out to the church that we had visited that day. Tourism. Tourism could be a big boon for the district, if only there was a road and someone taking care of this church. Look! These tourists crossed over from the Northern border and arrived here—he gestured at us sitting there. With a proper road, we could have tourists like this all the time.

The man sitting behind the desk listened. He then returned a speech with many gestures and seemed to take the upper hand quickly.

“Who am I to deal with tourism? There are many different ministries that are responsible for that.”

The conversation continued as two little cups were passed around, refilled with coffee, and passed to the next person.

As abruptly as the whole thing began, it ended. We said goodbye and walked out and down the stairs. We paused at the entrance to the building and our host smiled at us: “You did good for Jordan.” And with that we got back in the car and drove off.

The rest of my visit to Jordan continued in a similar strain: individuals opened their homes to me in an incredibly personal way that offered me glimpses into so many different ways of living.

From Amman and my circle of expat friends who cringe as they realize that they are “gentrifying” a certain neighborhood yet can’t imagine living anywhere else in the city, to the warm welcome from my two Jordanian friends who snuck me in as a local resident to see the view of Amman from the Citadel, to the best scrambled eggs of my life in the cave home of our guides in Petra, the week was full of moments of intense hospitality, authentic conversations, and an intimate feeling of trust between strangers. That combined with the spectacular scenery and the strange feeling of déjà vu as we walked through the ruins of several Empires’ histories, while the region around us is collapsing all over again, made the week an unforgettable trip.

On my last day, I stayed behind in Wadi Rum for another hike with our Bedouin guide as my friends from our camping trip returned to Amman. We explored local corners, his favorite spots, climbed up rock faces, and searched for the most impressive views of the 700km of desert around us. He took me to a quiet mountain well, with clear, cold, fresh water and as I splashed the water on my face to wash away the dust, I felt a quiet that I have never yet experienced.

As we left the spring we ran into yet another jeep and two tourists got out. A young woman and I smiled at each other, asked where we were both from, and quickly switched to Hebrew as we realized our homes are both in Israel.

 "You're here alone?" she asked. "You're not scared?" she wondered aloud.

I smiled and shook my head and waved as I walked back to the Toyota, sand in the soles of my sandals.

The day was coming to an end and my Bedouin guide helped me call a taxi and made sure that he would take me straight to the border. I climbed into the cab and waved goodbye to Salem, goodbye to the desert, and hello to air conditioning. The cabbie and I chatted in limited Arabic and English: “Where are you from. What do you think of Jordan. The desert is beautiful.”

We were quiet for a moment and suddenly he reached down and started rummaging around the glove compartment. I got nervous. Here I am, alone in a cab, perhaps being too trusting. I began to think that every fear that had been instilled in my head was about to come true on this curving, isolated, highway road. He suddenly turned around and, smiling, offered me a melting ice cream.

My week in Jordan was a welcome wake-up call. According to the 24-hour news cycle, the world as we know it is poisoned and falling apart all around us: ISIS is hiding behind every turn, every stranger you meet may decide to shoot you, and every man is a rapist. In Jordan, I encountered a different reality: one in which humans are being human. Where good people are living good lives and being kind and recognizing the humanity in one another. It was a breath of fresh air and an important reminder. The world can still be kind.

The Good Ones Don't Make The News by Sophie Schor

Sitting over a glass of cheap red wine in Paris two weeks ago, I shared my life with my old friends from when I lived there. “How are you?” they asked me. Full, I said. I’m leading a full life—full of food and friends and coffee and meaningful work and challenging projects. “But what’s it like to live there?” they ask.“There’s a violent conflict going on,” I answered while shrugging, “It becomes normal...” I sat with one of my mentors. He asked me earnestly, “Sophie, tell me…is anything good happening there?”

The night after the attacks in Jaffa, I went out and it felt like a ghost town. Even the traffic of cars on the main boulevard had lessened—I felt like a specter gliding down the street on my bike alone. But I went out with a purpose: to sit at the local bar with my Palestinian friend from Building Bridges; to toast our glasses of beer together to life, to health, and to the continuation of friendships which are more important now than ever. While it seems small and futile in the face of terror and extremism coming from all angles, these little and powerful moments happen quite frequently in my life. But I've begun to realize that this reality doesn't reach the "outside" world and media. 

Good people are working hard and trying to carve out futures together amidst the madness of this place, and that is constantly overshadowed by hate and fear on all sides.

Like today. Today I went to a march of Jews and Arabs in solidarity against the occupation. This march is taking place the first Friday of every month.

 The march was organized by Combatants for Peace, an organization of both Israelis and Palestinians who have put aside violence in the name of community building and activism, and another group called Standing Together. The march was the fifth organized event that walks alongside the highway of Route 60 to the Tunnel checkpoint near the Palestinian town of Bayt Jala and the Jerusalem neighborhood/settlement Gilo. February’s march ended in arrests of two Israeli organizers. Over 500 people showed up in March to walk alongside the wall and traffic in honor of International Women’s Day. Today we were around 300.

 I walked with friends and held a sign that said: "Standing together against the occupation" in both Hebrew and Arabic. The verbs were conjugated to be feminine. The drum circle was out in all their glory and there was a mix of Israeli and Palestinian flags. As we marched, many people honked their horns and shouted nasty things. But I strolled with a good friend who waved with a big smile to every person who yelled, "Go die" at us and returned a big thumbs up to each and every middle finger that was gestured in our direction. As we stood by the junction, a religious man driving by began yelling at us and we responded in Hebrew and wished him “Shabbat Shalom!” [The colloquial wishing of ‘Happy Friday’ in Jewish Israeli society, which is connected to the religious observance of the Sabbath.]

Soldiers from the Israeli army followed along by the side of the road and at the back of the protest for protection against the oncoming traffic and also to surveil a group of 300 people walking in the West Bank. The few who followed at the back of the protest were wearing balaclavas over their faces. One man walked on the other side of the road waving a huge Israeli flag in opposition to our presence and our voices shouting in unison, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”

It has been months since I've attended a march or protest. Tensions have been so high and things here have actually been quite scary with the methodical demonizing of human rights organizations that criticize the occupation, you don't want to draw attention to yourself as someone who supports an end to the occupation.  It has not been optimal timing to wave signs and hold hands and say words like “Peace.” See this article by David Shulman that captures all that has been happening recently here.

But in March, I joined this group for the protest in honor of International Women Day, and I promised myself that I would be back every first Friday. The day was incredible. I saw a lot of different people I know from activist circles, powerful women from Women Wage Peace who I interviewed for my research, sweet, sweet Palestinian activists who I have met at various meetings (like Tiyul Rihle) and programs (like Global Village Square), people who joined us in Susiya last year, and more. I asked an old acquaintance “How are you?” He said, “Today? Right now? Right now I am good” and gestured at the crowd. “But when I’m not here, when I’m not with my people…hard. It’s hard.”

In March, for International Women’s Day, everyone was holding balloons. On the count of ten, with numbers flowing naturally from Arabic to Hebrew, the balloons were let go. Within moments, a perfectly timed gust of wind had blown the balloons right over the wall. Tied to them were invitations to the march each month. The sight of the brightly colored balloons in stark contrast with the grey and bleak concrete of the wall was overpowering. And seeing them freely glide over the barrier was incredibly moving. It seemed so simple: the power of the people and the cries for justice could just as easily overcome the walls and everything they stand for.


Today, the march culminated in the planting of olive trees. The symbolism is cliché; the discourse of peace is dead. But, the action of breaking dirt and leaving something behind that will grow is not to be overlooked. The march ended and I was left floating on (maybe unreal) hopes and (some say naive) optimism.

I’ll be there again May 6th. It’s good for my soul.

While in Paris people may have gained a new sense of what a violent attack on civilians can do to your personal psyche and your daily life and empathize more with my reality here, it’s not the full story. Here, while many people are promoting policies of hate every single day, there are also those who are building hope. 

Over 500 Israelis and Palestinians took part in march to mark International Women's Day and to call for an end to the occupation and violence, March 4, 2016.

Daily Dose of Violence by Sophie Schor

Today is the day to write. In the last few months I have been silent on the Internet as I settled into a new job, a new rhythm, and poured myself into a new art project. I woke up this morning with a fire in my mind and it has lit a million beacons alight. 


As winter makes way for spring, the daily dose of violence here has become the new norm.

Last night, as I was in yoga class in Jaffa, we heard sirens. One siren, two sirens, three sirens, four. Cars whipped past the windows of the studio and the teacher told us to breathe in and out. Phones began ringing frantically, and having lived in Israel long enough, I recognize the signs of something serious having happened.

There was an attack in Jaffa. A Palestinian man from Qalqilya with Hamas affiliations stabbed 12 people, beginning at the Jaffa Port and then running north towards Tel Aviv. They "apprehended" (read: "shot," "neutralized," "killed") him. As I walked home, I saw that all the surrounding roads had been closed off. And as I read the news, I pieced together that it had been right there, one block from the yoga studio. 

I ran straight to yoga yesterday upon returning to Tel Aviv from work in Jerusalem. I literally ran from bus to bus to catch the one that would bring me to this space where for one hour I could find quiet and turn off my brain.

Because all day there had been sirens. 

I had purposefully gone to yoga because I was trying to decompress from the imaginings of bloodstained stones near Damascus Gate from the morning when a 50-year-old woman was shot and killed before being apprehended because she attempted to stab Border-Police. The constant sirens rushing towards the Old City framed our morning meetings and were still echoing in my mind as I stood up to give a presentation. 

I went to yoga because I was looking to find a way to turn it off and breathe for a moment instead of thinking about how that death could lead a young man (rumors say that it is her son) to responding similarly and going back to Damascus Gate and shooting two policeman in the afternoon. He was also killed.

At the same moment, there was an attempted attack in Petah Tikvah as well. The assailant was killed.

This morning, there have already been two attacks in Jerusalem and one attack in another city. Sitting on my balcony, I hear more sirens. The cracks are showing.

Israel is responding to the recent surge in attacks by closing down the villages in the West Bank where the attackers came from and by declaring that they will officially finish building the Separation Wall and by shutting down newspapers that are inciting stabbing attacks. All this is dramatized and politicized further by the fact that U.S. VP Joe Biden is currently in town.

It definitely feels as though suddenly violence is on my doorstep in Jaffa—but none of this is new. Since October this year, over 200 people have died (at least 188 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israelis. Many were accused of committing attacks, or attempted attacks, which have left at least 28 Israelis dead). This is all framed in the recent domestic political context whereby Arab Members of Knesset have been isolated in the Knesset for visiting the grieving families of Palestinian attackers, where more settlements have been built, and human rights organizations are being ostracized and penalized.

For me, intermingled with last night is all interconnected with having spent a week in the West Bank. I spent last week co-leading an Extend Tour of American Reform Rabbis (I was a participant last year, you can read my observations from that trip here). Every seven years, the Rabbis have a conference in Israel, and several of them decided to “extend” their stay and come with us. We spent 3 days driving on curving roads framed by white and pink blooming almond trees seeing the realities of occupation. We met with Palestinian activists, Israeli activists, Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals and writers, and a settler from the YESHA Council. We explored Hebron with Breaking the Silence—where we were accosted by settlers who screamed and yelled and threatened us. We entered Ofer Military Court with Salwa and Gerard of Military Court Watch and sat in court as a 13-year-old boy was brought to trial. We saw again and again how this occupation is not only an occupation of land, but it is an occupation of the mind.

 Extend Tour in Hebron

Extend Tour in Hebron

 "Have A Good Time" in Hebron.  

"Have A Good Time" in Hebron.  

 The Wall at Bil'in

The Wall at Bil'in

Upon returning to Tel Aviv, as always, I felt nauseous. The whiplash of going “there and back again” was disorienting. I can’t get the image of martyr posters of the 22 year old student from Qalandiya Refugee camp out of my mind. Or the selfie sent to me by a Palestinian resident of Bil'in with tears pouring down his face after this Friday's protest was met with tear gas. Violence is a daily affair in the West Bank. It only becomes newsworthy when it hits close to home in the center of the country, or when an American is killed.

This is all to say welcome to the Unholy Land. I’ll be unleashing my new photography project in the next few weeks. Subscribe to the newsletter, or follow me on instagram, to be among the first to see it when it is unveiled.

 #unholyland stay tuned.

#unholyland stay tuned.

You Can Take the Girl Out of Colorado by Sophie Schor

   But you can't take Colorado out of the Girl

 But you can't take Colorado out of the Girl

I've been back home in Denver for the last week; it's been a trip. I told myself that I would keep it short in order not to open Pandora's box of existential crises that plague a first-world problem filled world.  Where is home? Where are my roots? Where do I belong, where do I go next? Is career more important than family at the moment? Is Tel Aviv home? Is Denver home? Is some new, as of now, unexplored city home? Yet, a week doesn't seem to stiffle those wonderings; rather it's intensified and processing has to happen at light-speed. 

Denver is still the perfect space to recharge with the clarifying mountain air. I've never fully appreciated towels that have been through the dryer and are fluffy clouds that envelope you as you get out of the shower. Or instant hot-water that does not depend on the sun or the flick of a switch 30 minutes before you plan to take a shower. I overhear two high school girls in my favorite coffeeshop discussing my favorite literature teacher. Everything has the taste of nostalgia as I drive around this town which is growing and changing faster than I can keep track of. I glance at the Ha'aretz update about someone being stabbed, I turn it off. Just for a moment.

Yet, everywhere I turn, I run into the Middle East.  

I listen to the news, and every other interview is translated from Arabic. I go to my favorite old thrift-store and it's next to Zam-Zam Middle Eastern Market. I show up at St. Mark's coffee-shop in Denver, and my favorite barista is wearing a shirt with the name of my favorite Denver bar in Arabic. I meet with our sister organization in Denver, they can't wait to see what we're doing in Jerusalem. I share the stories I want to produce for radio, I pour more coffee for my friends. I describe the regulars who come into our coffee-shop in Tel Aviv, I try to translate idioms from Hebrew into English and fail. 

A helicopter flies overhead while we're in the mountains, but it is simply surveying the area and keeping an eye out for avalanches. It turns into a calming background noise. I hear choppers in Israel, and my heart begins beating faster as I wonder what has happened. Here, I nod to the giant insect shape in the sky and feel comforted. We drive through a tunnel that cuts through a mountain and it simply connects point A to point B, instead of Zone A to Zone C (unlike the Gilo Tunnels on Highway 60). I marvel at man's determination to shape nature rather than how it seems to be human nature to oppress others. I take a breath, and find I can't breathe. But this time, it's not due to fear or stress, but rather due to the high altitude. I crack a smile.


I saw my family, my dog, my best friends, and I felt my heart expand with love. I ate Mexican food till I was close to bursting, I drank the finest micro-brewed beer Denver has to offer, I bought new film for my camera, I found new bands, and now it's time to pack up again. I find that my heart has two homes, and that pull to be in one or the other will never go away. It feels good to be rooted in my rootlessness. Heading back to the Middle East and holding onto the Wild West. I'm Jaffa bound and I'm still figuring out how to pack snow in my suitcase...

Broken Camera by Sophie Schor

My iPhone camera is broken and I'm out of film so I can’t use my trusty old Nikon.

The phone’s broken camera is reflective of my own inability to process all that is going on here right now. I keep sane by being able to take quick snapshots while I’m walking down the street and capturing a moment of perfect symmetry; carrying a camera makes me aware of the way the afternoon sun hits the building under renovation, or of the energetic flurry of bikes on the streets, or the juxtaposition between the mosque and the skyscraper. It allows me to step away and watch my surroundings. So instead of taking photos, of creating the frame, of adjusting the exposure, I am left to absorb my surroundings passively.

My friend came by the café to visit and we talked about current events. She asked me how I’m handling it. I simply told her I’m not. I’m trying not to read the news. I’m trying not to hear the stories. I’m trying not to feel fear and heartbreak. Yet even while hiding away in a cozy corner of Tel Aviv where my path follows a pretty specific route between a few local places where I can get by foot or by bike in less than fifteen minutes, I can’t avoid it.

Since the beginning of October, ten Israelis have died in stabbing incidents (and or shot); meanwhile, 48 incidents of Palestinians who stabbed or tried to stab Israelis resulted in the assailant being shot and killed.

I woke up this morning and the first thing I saw was an update from a friend that a 21-year-old Palestinian who was shot in the West Bank died this morning. Our apartment’s Thanksgiving plans shifted when the 20-year-old brother of a friend was stabbed near Hebron while on his army duty. The country feels small. Earlier this week a regular came into the café and just said, “You heard there was another attack? Right around the corner from here. Two Jewish Israelis were stabbed and died near that synagogue.” Mahene Yehuda Market, the heartbeat of West Jerusalem, turned into a panic when two young Palestinian girls (14 and 16 years old) used scissors to stab a 70-year-old man. One of the girls was shot and killed, because all the police force was unable to subdue a 16-year-old girl with scissors. An Israeli undercover operation went awry as soldiers snuck into a hospital in the West Bank where they abducted a patient (who had previously that week been injured post-attacking an Israeli) and killed his cousin in the process. Kerry came for a visit this week; no one listened. Netanyahu’s government has proposed more settlements and developments of separate settlement roads that bypass Palestinian areas. The sound of sirens puts you on immediately on edge.

But my camera is broken. So I quickly shut the open window. I don’t click that link to that news article. I avoid Twitter. Instead, I research pecan pie recipes and wonder whether or not Martha Stewart would approve of Israeli pecans and pretend that it is Thanksgiving in Tel Aviv.  It’s hard to do though with the temperature over 80 degree (27C) weather. I write a list of what I’m thankful for; I try to find the little slivers of humanity amidst the madness. I save up money to fix my phone, I order more film.


Up and Up: Haifa by Sophie Schor

Just keep climbing...
Just keep climbing...

I spent the day walking up flights of stairs in Haifa.

After glancing at the map and seeing that it was only a 30-minute walk to my destination, I told myself that I was up for the adventure. But as the hill kept getting steeper, I felt more like someone climbing the mountain in order to learn the meaning of life from a monk; I was not disappointed.

I met today with an amazing woman at the Haifa Women's Coalition Center, the building that several feminist organizations call home. Sarai Aharoni  had become my “academic crush” while I researching women’s peace and feminist movements in Israel. Aharoni has written a lot on feminism, women, peace and security, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She put into words perfectly my discomfort with the academic boycott of Israel (read it here). To my pleasure, she responded to an email I had sent and invited me to Haifa to visit her and peruse the Women and Peace archives. It was a treat. She's part of the group that is establishing the Haifa Feminist Institute--giving an "official name," she explained to me, to something that already exists.

The center is home to organizations Kayan and Isha L'Isha, two of the most interesting feminist groups in Israel and Palestine. Isha L’Isha is one of the first feminist grassroots organizations and was founded in 1983. Kayan emerged from conversations amongst women in Isha L'Isha and is the Arab Feminist Center in the North working for equality of Palestinian women in Israel. The two organizations pursue many different activities, educational projects, and initiatives to promote women’s rights, women status, and women’s equality in Israel and Palestine. The Coalition is special because it is a space where Jewish and Arab women work together under one roof supporting women and victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

So here I was, sitting in this space that has been created for women by women and sharing methodological challenges of feminist theories with this brilliant woman sitting across from me surrounded by books and archives, an academic-dream-come-true.

 Me excited to ride the funicular. Public transportation is fun(icular)! 

Me excited to ride the funicular. Public transportation is fun(icular)! 

Haifa is a fascinating city in the North and one that I have not explored enough. It extends all the way to the seacoast and then the city rises up to the hills and the Carmel Mountain. I left the meeting and wandered around the rest of the day, heading to destinations that my friends had recommended to me. I stumbled upon a café where the waiter was originally from Lebanon and settled myself into a corner: cozy and happy with my laptop and my work. It is what is called a “mixed” city, one that has a vibrant Jewish and Arab population. As I sat in the café, I felt like I could breathe deeply. People were just living and being people here. It didn’t matter what your ethnicity was, where your allegiances lie, or where you were from originally. This may be too idealistic and just all assumptions and superficial judgments. It is definitely a city that I want to know better. My mom lived in Haifa for a stint when she lived in Israel and as I was trekking up and down the stairs and venturing out to find the funicular (called the Carmelite!), I felt strangely at peace with my life. That feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.

Update from Israel and Palestine: attacks inside Israeli borders have slowed down with the arrival of the rainstorm and winter .Yet things sound far from calm within the West Bank, a young soldier, who was stabbed at a famously tense junction (Tzomat Tapuah) in the territories, died today. Six other Israelis were  injured in other attacks in the West Bank in the last several days including a particularly nasty drive-by. Settlers supposedly opened fire on farmers near Nablus. Soldiers killed a 72-year-old Palestinian woman after an alleged car attack. Clashes have erupted near Ramallah, protests in Gaza continue, shots are fired, people are dying, and from the perspective of Tel Aviv it feels like it’s being swept under a rug.

As Aharoni and I were talking today, a question left unanswered is haunting me. War and violence can be used as a catalyst to transform a society (with negotiations and compromise on the other side of the spectrum). The question facing us now: how much more violence is necessary to transform this one?

On the Ground in Jerusalem by Sophie Schor

I got into the cab this morning and as I told my driver that I was heading to Jerusalem, he looked back at me in the rearview mirror. “Be safe,” he said, as his way of remarking on the recent stabbings and heightened tensions. “Don’t think about tomorrow. Just think about today. You can only live in the moment, if you start worrying about what will happen to you…that’s not living.”

I’m working with a radio-show/podcast called Israel Story. We’re the Israeli rip-off of This American Life (even Ira Glass says so in the first episode). The Ira Glass of Israel Story is called Mishy and he lives in Jerusalem. So while the rest of the team lives in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, every two weeks we trek to Jerusalem to meet. 

The creative team that I am now a part of, produces documentary journalism and tells stories about life in this crazy place. The first programs were produced in Hebrew but then after gaining a lot of attention began, we’re also producing programs in EnglishThey produced an amazing piece on the radical vegan movement in Israel, which you can listen to in this episode called Holy Cow!, and another one on a massive Yiddish bookshop hidden away in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. The second English season begins tomorrow!

 {You can find us any way that you normally get your podcasts:   iTunes  ,   Stitcher  , or listen   online  .}

{You can find us any way that you normally get your podcasts: iTunesStitcher, or listen online.}

The morning was productive and exciting as we prepared the finishing touches on the first episode of the season and discussed the episodes to come. 

And then I walked out of our innovative and thoughtful corner where we were sitting in the neighborhood of Nahlaot in West Jerusalem, and out into the world outside.

The “situation,” as Israelis call it, is not simple. Nor is it fine.

I walked quickly. I put my phone in my pocket and tried to be aware of my surroundings rather than the many conversations I was having elsewhere.

My face adopted the frown of all the other people around me. I felt all the tension that I’ve been working so hard to release through yoga return to my shoulders. I walked rather than taking buses or the light-rail because the anxiety of being enclosed in a public space with a crowd was overpowering.

There were police on almost every corner. I saw a woman banging a prayer book against the hood of a car and it seemed as if she was cursing it. A siren cried nearby and I stopped breathing. I crossed a street with a blind man. I saw pairs of nuns walking around wearing head-to-toe black outfits and watched as people’s heads turn checking that it wasn’t a hijab. I didn’t see anyone in a hijab. I went to pay the property tax on my apartment and was pointed in the right direction by a man in Palestinian-accented Hebrew. I passed a burger joint that was laying out rows upon rows of checkered-patterned, paper wrapped burgers on tables to feed the police for free. I ate sabich (a sandwich of fried eggplants and eggs with humus and salads) and watched as 25 kilos of eggplant were delivered, but the man forgot the 2 crates of tomatoes. Two soldiers came in to eat; the man fixing up sandwiches shouted to his help to fill up these soldiers’ food well so they can have a good meal. The streets felt quieter.

Collecting all of these little episodes felt immensely meaningful; Jerusalem tends to do that, it adds a sense of mystified meaning and a layer of “pre-ordained-ness” to every little thing. But at the same time, it was all scattered, disjointed, and colored by my search to make meaning from the madness.

I let out a huge sigh of relief when I was finally sitting on the bus headed back to Tel Aviv (after darting through the silent Central Bus Station through the side entrances rather than the main entrance). It might all be in my head.

But my friends living in Jerusalem told me that they ordered their groceries to be delivered to their house this week rather then venture out into the market. Last week, another friend of mine was 2 meters from a stabbing attack in the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem where a 70-year-old woman died. Two nights ago, there was a stabbing in Be’er Sheva and in the frenzy, and Eritrean man was beaten to death. Tensions are high, the violence and the seemingly randomness of it all is real.

These attacks don't emerge in a vacuum. In the West Bank in the last 2 weeks alone, I can't even keep track of how many people have died. There have been tons of stabbings, shootings, protests, rocks thrown, arrests, detentions, home demolitions, and raids. Today alone, 9 Palestinians were injured with live fire, and there were several stabbing attacks in the settlements of Gush Etzion and Kiryat Arba, and in Hebron.  In the neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, the Abu Nab family was evacuated and their home was replaced by settlers. The "wave of violence" that's spreading into the borders of Israel are occurrences when the reality of the occupation in the West Bank and the disenfranchisement of Palestinian-Israeli citizens within the borders bleeds into mainstream Israeli society. It's mind boggling to try to see any way in which this desolate situation won't get worse.

Yet amidst it all, there are moments that make you pause and smile. An article is making the rounds on Facebook about a hummus place that is giving 50% off the meal to tables that are both Jewish and Palestinian. On Saturday night there was a demonstration of over 2,000 people in Jerusalem, Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis, who came together to call for an end to hate and violence. And my friends at the Center for Jewish Nonviolence have organized an important week of actions coinciding with the World Zionist Conference that is taking place now in Jerusalem. They have plenty of events taking place such as picking olives with the Palestinian community in Susiya, meeting with families who have been evicted, and posting flyers near the conference area asking what the representatives are doing to end the occupation.

Amidst all the crazy, there is always a grain of hope. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. My grain of hope is that this Thursday, I am meeting with my team from Building Bridges to work on our plans for the next year. My team is comprised of an Israeli woman my age and a Palestinian man, also my age, who lives in a refugee camp in the West Bank. Knowing that we’ve created a space for these worlds to interact, have meaningful conversation and work to build something together—that gives me hope.




They say... by Sophie Schor

This morning I walked. I walked down a street until it ended so that now I can say that I know where it goes; it's been added to the mental map in my head of my new surroundings. I walked till the backs of my heels burned, alerting me that these were not the appropriate shoes for such an adventure.

I sat down at the edge of the sea. I watched the day awake before me and three men gathered at the edge to fish—they stood there, pole up, line in the water, shaking hands. One man, suddenly I noticed, was walking at the edge of the sea—thigh-high in the water. I hadn’t realized that it was that shallow. He was stalking schools with his net. And in one quick and practiced movement, he flung it from his shoulders into the water. As he lifted it, the silver-bellies of the fish glittered in the morning sun.

I sat, observing as one, two, four army helicopters headed South. Gaza? I wondered. But who am I to know for sure.

It’s the 3rd Intifada, they say. It’s nothing new, others say. Terror returned to the streets of Israel, they say. Terror continued in the West Bank, others say. A settler couple killed in front of their children, they say.  27 Palestinians dead in 2 weeks, they say. Most under 18, they say. She wasn’t even close to the soldiers and got 10 bullets, they say. People stabbed just because they are a Jew, they say. Gaza is rioting near the border, they say.  It’s all about religion, they say. Must return to a state of security, they say. It’s because of the occupation, they don’t say.

My stomach sinks and my brain turns off. Too much, I say.

I can’t keep track, I can’t process, I can’t write, I can’t update. So instead, I go to work. I make coffee. I fill brown paper bags up with the beans we roasted from Bali. I consider taking up smoking—to cope with the stress. Seems to be what most people do here. I think of what my parents would say. I squash the thought like an imaginary cigarette butt in an ashtray.

I went to the meeting with All That’s Left last Thursday. It was hard to stay focused. That day, there had been stabbing attacks in Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Jerusalem, and Afula. As the news says, the Palestinian attackers were “apprehended”—which in most cases means shot dead on the spot.

As we sat in the living room of a friend’s apartment in Jerusalem, we kept hearing the rise and fall of nationalist chants and cheers from the nearby park. A huge protest was happening that night in Jerusalem—people were marching from the park to the Old City demanding “security” from the government and waving Israeli flags. Helicopters flew overhead and Jerusalem activists had been placed on-call to go out into the streets to counter the nationalist fervor and prevent/witness/record any potential attacks against any Palestinians who might be walking the streets of Jerusalem and isolated in this crowd.

The sound of the yelling and chanting echoed over the rooftops and kept crashing in through the open windows of the living room where we were trying to organize. It was a strange collision of reality and theory: here was a room of activists strategizing, and here was the hateful reality that we are trying to fight colliding into us. The meeting ended abruptly as an alert was sent out to the group that many of those participating in the demonstration had ran off from the cordoned path set up by the police and were roaming the streets pumped up on the energy of the crowd. The meeting dispersed, many went off to be present at a counter rally. Others walked in groups and escorted Palestinians off the streets of West Jerusalem and away from chants of “Death to Arabs” and “The Country Demands War.” 

Since then, it’s been a frenzy of protests, counter protests, more stabbings, more arrests, more helicopters flying overhead, more political analysts adding their two-cents. Demonstrations here in Tel Aviv have been held in Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square, infamous location for rallies in Israel). Rallies demanding an end to violence and intolerance. Rallies demanding that the government takes care of the security of the country. Rightists, Leftists, everything in between; they fill the square taking different shifts, never once hearing the other's demands.

And here, my phone goes off with an alert about another stabbing this morning in Ra’anana and in Jerusalem. Too much, I say.

Unlike the new street I meandered this morning, this is a road we have been down before, and it goes nowhere.

Coffee instead of Conflict by Sophie Schor


I traded my past frantic  life of running around Jerusalem and the stress of the conflict for a new life of coffee.

I now work at a neighborhood café and, for those of you who know me well, it is a dream come true. I come home from work smelling like Ethiopian dark roast; I have already learned to use the espresso machine. Next up—making hearts in  my cappuccinos. 

The café is a minute walk  from my new apartment, tucked away amongst quiet streets and facing a little square and playground. The place is definitely the community hub; neighbors who come daily victoriously receive the honor of the “Neighbor Cup” with their own name on the bottom and their own spot on the venerable shelf of glasses. A familiar face walks past the glass window, and the barista has already begun to make their drink. Keys are left at the counter for someone else to pick up, and kids run in and ask right away for one of the jelly filled, dusted with powdered sugar, flower-shaped cookies.

A bubble has begun to envelope me as my daily rhythm shifts. I wake up early, go to work, drink two, three, four coffees, and then come home and write papers (4 down, 5 to go!), or go to the beach. All in all, this is not bad at all.

But, it’s weird. While I’ve been learning Hebrew words to describe the taste of coffee (with a hint of cocoa, smooth, bitter, acidic, full-bodied), Jerusalem has been erupting in a renewed cycle of violence. (See this article that lists all that happened over the last few weeks). Notably:

  • “Israeli police armed with stun grenades and tear gas clashed on Tuesday with Palestinians throwing rocks and barricading themselves inside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque.” More here at NYTimes.
  •  “Thirteen Palestinians, including children, and four policemen were slightly injured in violent clashes which erupted over the weekend between settlers and Palestinians in the neighborhood of Batan al-Hawa in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem.” Read more at Ha’aretz
  •   An Israeli died after a rock was thrown at his car in East Talpiyot, a neighborhood in the southeast of Jerusalem. Here at Times of Israel.

The Old City of Jerusalem feels really far away. Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, which I used to see every morning cresting over the walls as I rode the bus to university, feels really far away. Rocks thrown at the train, (I used to trace the cracks they made in the train windows as I sat in my seat) feel really far away. The Qalandiya checkpoint connecting Jerusalem to Ramallah, which was only 20 minutes from home, feels really far away. Tel Aviv is only 45 minutes from Jerusalem,  but it is truly a bubble; people even call it the State of Tel Aviv, noting its exceptionality from the rest of the country. People living here live in a completely different world. And I’m falling into it. All my focus has turned westward to the sea, and my back is towards the West Bank (in the East).

I made the conscious choice to move to Jaffa because I wanted to be further from the conflict. I was burnt out, exhausted by the constant interactions, the inability to hide under your covers and ignore the scary political mess unfolding all around you. Living in  Tel Aviv/Jaffa, I can instead choose my dose of anxiety about the occupation in the West Bank and the  violence in Jerusalem as it suited my own mental health. I am learning to create a world where I can take care of myself and be recharged with enough energy to give back to the work I am engaging in. In doing so, I am turning a blind eye to the processes of gentrification happening in Palestinian areas in Jaffa, to the crises in South Tel Aviv with the asylum seekers and foreign workers, all in the name of living five minute walk from a yoga studio. Occupation doesn’t stop just because you choose to ignore it. The luxury of being able to turn on or off oppression is a privilege, yet one that I am grappling with how to handle it.

Elia Suleiman's The Time That Remains: Chronicle of a Present Absentee (2009)

There’s an addictive quality to conflict: the high adrenaline of constant events, political tension, and stress. I’ve begun to replace it by watching all the documentaries and movies about Israel and Palestine that before I couldn’t even glance at for fear of overdose. I spent a good few days re-watching and analyzing the incredible film The Time that Remains, directed by Elia Suleiman, for a paper. Think Wes Anderson whimsy, absurdism, quick dialogue and fantastical attention to details mixed with the history of the 1948 war and the psychological effects on a Palestinian family in Nazareth.

And I also spent a night watching The Gatekeepers, a chilling documentary that features interviews with six heads of the Shin Bet (or the Israeli intelligence agency) as they recount the Israeli policies since 1967. Powerful and moving to hear a retired intelligence man say that the current policies of occupation are untenable and corrupt everyone, or to hear that the future is dark unless Israeli politicians begin talking with anyone from the other side. Both films are highly recommended.

 What's incredible is how in so many places, whether it's Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Ramallah or New York City or Paris or Denver or Ferguson, reality and perceptions can change so quickly based on location. It's easy to get caught up in a world that is all consuming and difficult to extract oneself far enough away to gain perspective of conflict and oppression in the face of lived realities.  I don't know if by living in Jaffa I have gained distance and perspective, or if living on the southern border of Tel Aviv, I'm just living in a world that pretends that these other realities don't exist. 

Neither Jerusalem nor Jaffa is perfect, the question now is, where is the best place to gain a vantage point in order to understand the nuances?

Several events are coming up in the next few weeks. On September 29, there is a learning tour in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem that has been the site of many home demolitions and evictions. Then on October 1, Breaking the Silence is taking activists on a learning tour to the areas surrounding Ramallah. I’m also looking forward to the next few weeks as the Jewish high holidays end and my dear friends in All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective return and we get booted up for plans for future actions. The least I can do is bring the coffee to our next meeting.

Culture Shock by Sophie Schor

 Center of life in Jaffa revolved around the Clocktower. Photo from 1914. (Matson Collection from  Palestine Remembered )

Center of life in Jaffa revolved around the Clocktower. Photo from 1914. (Matson Collection from Palestine Remembered)

The Jerusalem versus Tel Aviv debate is a ferocious fight amongst young Israelis and internationals. Where is the best place to live? The sides are fierce and this conversation can end friendships.

Is Jerusalem really close minded and boring? Do you feel as if you are force-fed religion on the bus? Is Tel Aviv really only a vacation destination? Are people only concerned with knowing the hottest new restaurant before anyone else?

I've often engaged in these arguments, playfully, but stubbornly. Jerusalem is where it is at, I would claim. Jerusalem is full of pockets of artistic, avant-garde creation, I argue. Good food, wonderful people--you just have to know where to find it amidst the intense world of religion and politics that dominates daily life. But, Jerusalem is where life is most meaningful. Ramallah and Nablus don't exist in Tel Aviv--Tel Avivians live in a bubble and ignore the occupation. In Jerusalem, you can't overlook the toll of Israeli policies. 

But more than anything, there is a certain magic to Jerusalem. The way that every building is constructed of white stones from the same quarry, it creates this blurring of past and present; the building you're walking by could be from 2015 or 1015. Those breezes that turn into the chill Jerusalem wind, which are a blessing during hot summer nights. The narrow streets, the winding pathways, and the shortcuts that end in stone stairs--it always feels as though Jerusalem has a secret. She's just waiting for you to discover her around the next corner.

However, it is a hard city. Only 18% of the Jewish population is secular, and for a non-religious woman, I feel that tension everyday. I have a Jerusalem wardrobe of loose, flowing, longer sleeved shirts, and longer skirts so as not to draw attention. I do not wear shorts in Jerusalem. Never. And if, one day, I decide to risk it, I feel eyes following me all day as I surreptitiously try to pull my shorts down lower.

For an activist, Jerusalem is constant duel between naive optimism and utter disillusionment and depression. You live it, you see the wall everyday (if you choose to notice it), you observe racism and ignorance constantly. But you also are immersed in a struggle that impacts the real lives of real people. Sending an email alert about an impending eviction or demolition of a home in East Jerusalem can feel like wielding a sword of justice. And one rude, racist, nationalist comment can feel like a punch in the gut. People walk quicker in Jerusalem. People push to get onto buses and trains as if every step is a battle between the aggressor and the aggressed. People have more frown lines. Or they simply ignore the conflict and hold to their belief that "It's all for the Good" and God has their back. 

At the end of the day, I was struck with the feeling that even though I love Jerusalem, Jerusalem doesn't love me. 

So here I am, a self proclaimed Jerusalemite living in Tel Aviv. But I'll wave my hands in the air and say, "It's not Tel Aviv! It's South Tel Aviv! It's North Jaffa!" And for those Jerusalemites who know the slight difference a few streets make will nod their heads in appreciation. "How's the beach?" They'll ask. 

Jaffa is considered, since 1950, to be a part of the larger Tel Aviv district. However, it is a unique entity of its own.

Jaffa pre-1948 was a cultural and economic hub of the Eastern Mediterranean. It was the largest Palestinian city under the British Mandate. In the 1930s, Jaffa was famous for its oranges and exported them all over the world. Culture flourished: theater, arts, cinema, music, literature. The main newspapers of Palestine were published in Jaffa including Filastin and al-Difa’. 

Sami Abu Shehadeh, a PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University, focuses on the history of Jaffa in the 19th and earlier 20th century. He writes about the impact of the establishment of the State of Israel on Jaffa and the local Palestinian residents. You can listen to him talk about it here or read about it here.

After the war in 1948, over 95% of Jaffa's Palestinians were displaced and most of Jaffa's (75%) Arab section were destroyed. Only a few neighborhoods of Palestinian Jaffa remain: al-'Ajami, the Old City, and small part of al-Mansheyyah. From 1948-1950, Palestinians were kept in al-Ajami and the neighborhood was ghettoized while the surrounding areas of Tel Aviv expanded and flourished to become the Jewish city on the coast. Furthermore, through application of the Absentee Property Law (passed in 1950), the Israeli government was able to confiscate homes and many Jaffa residents were unable to return home. Shehadeh writes that Jaffa is, "the story of the transformation of this thriving modern urban center into a marginalized neighborhood suffering from poverty, discrimination, gentrification, crime and demolition since the initial wave of mass expulsion in 1948 to the present day."

The military rule over the Palestinians within the 1948 borders was abandoned in 1966 and the Palestinians who remained (only 4,000 of the population of 120,000 Palestinians who had lived in Jaffa before 1948) became Israeli citizens. Overcrowding in Ajami, and the poor conditions, led to many Palestinians also moving to the nearby coastal neighborhood Jabaliya. The 1980s and 1990s saw "the Palestinian community... become an active and effective player in the life of their city." (Shehadeh)

Jaffa today remains a center for Palestinian life within Israeli borders. Already, I've heard more Arabic on the streets than I did all year in my Arabic class. Plus, the novelty of going to the beach everyday (only three minutes from my apartment!) is set against the backdrop of the warbling call to prayer from the nearby mosque.

Today, Jaffa is undergoing an intense process of gentrification. The Old City has been converted into a tourist destination, the old flea market has become a vibrant restaurant and bar district, and the Palestinian Ajami neighborhood is kept "out of sight out of mind" for the causal Tel-Avivian who comes South to have dinner and drinks.

Jaffa may not be Jerusalem, but as Sami Abu Shehadeh says, it is the "living heart of Palestine." It certainly isn't just Tel Aviv either. 

Stay tuned! More adventures to come.