January Study Tour Report

On March 19, 2017 the GRALTA Foundation reported on our January Study Tour to Israel-Palestine. The four-hour symposium featured presentations, a break for lunch, and audience Q&A.

Speakers included MA House of Representative members Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro) and Denis Provost (D-Somerville), Boston College Professor Eve Spangler and student Ashley Chandrashekar, and others who participated in GRALTA’s 13-day delegation.

Summary Report: GRALTA’s January Delegation to Israel-Palestine

GRALTA’s January delegation to Israel-Palestine was a stunning success. The tour explored both Palestine and Israel and split thirteen days exactly 50/50 between the two. An orientation day included a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial; a tour of Lifta, the ruins of a Palestinian village abandoned in the Nakba and now within Jerusalem’s city limits; and a briefing at OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Six days focused on Palestine, followed by six days focusing on Israel.

The Palestine component included a wide range of experiences organized with help from Beit Sahour’s Siraj Center, the same NGO that leads Harvard Kennedy School’s annual spring-break Palestine Trek. Our hotel stays were inside Jerusalem’s Old City, in Bethlehem, and in Ramallah. Meetings and events also took us to Taybeh, Hebron, three rural villages in the South Hebron Hills, and Nazareth.

We saw the ruins of Palestinian villages emptied in 1948, toured the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, and were hosted by the Tamimi family at their home in Nabi Saleh. We toured Rawabi, the extraordinary but controversial planned city under construction just outside Ramallah and met with its developer Bashar Masri, and visited Arafat’s tomb and newly opened museum. We were briefed by a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiating team and met with Hind Khoury, the General Secretary of Kairos, a Palestinian Christian human rights organization. We observed Military Court proceedings at Ofer Prison and spent a half day with noted British journalist-author Jonathan Cook. Although unable to visit the blockaded Gaza Strip, we observed it when we visited Israeli agricultural communities it abuts.

For Israel, we spent six days with a delegation organized by Partners for Progressive Israel, a U.S.-based NGO that is aligned with Israel’s progressive Meretz party. Based in Tel Aviv, we traveled north for meetings in Haifa and the Galilee, south to visit the Negev and the “Gaza Envelope,” and east to Jerusalem and environs.

PPI provided a wide spectrum of Israel-centric experiences. We visited a Palestinian Arab village Kafr Qasim within Israel’s 1948 boundaries, and we toured the West Bank settlement of Efrat populated mostly by modern Orthodox Jews, meeting with one its settlers in his home. We had individual meetings with many Knesset Members: several from the Meretz party (one a Palestinian citizen of Israel); the only Joint List Jewish member; an MK from the Labor Party (part of the Zionist Union); and with colorful, notorious, right-wing Knesset Member Rabbi Yehuda Glick of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud  party.

In both Palestine and Israel, we received presentations from governments and NGOs, but we took pains to meet and converse with many ordinary people: members of grassroots organizations, people we encountered and engaged at our hotels, at restaurants, in cabs, on public buses, and in the shops that we visited. Sadly in one way or another all are the conflict’s victims, but we learned about their courageous and inspiring efforts to live secure lives, to end the conflict, and to establish a lasting peace.

GRALTA was especially honored to escort two members of the Massachusetts State House of Representative, Denise Provost (D-Somerville) and Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro). As visiting dignitaries, we introduced them not only to Jewish citizens living within Israel or in Settlements within the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), but to Christian and Muslim Palestinians living on the same lands under considerably different circumstances. Their experience contrasted dramatically with typical federal and state government official visits to the region—as Governor Baker, a dozen of Denise’s and Paul’s House colleagues, and a number of MA law enforcement personnel had done just a few weeks earlier. Usually, those itineraries are carefully crafted to conceal what our itinerary illuminated: the stark contrasts in these peoples’ lives based on their religious and/or national identity and their humanity and yearning for peace among all the Region’s people.