This spring, I faced a dilemma. Should I stay another year in New Orleans? I would be able to volunteer at a different service site, meet new people, and partake in all the festivities this city has to offer....one could do worse.
To recap, year one was amazing. I led groups of volunteers to rebuild and paint houses that were damaged and flooded five years ago. I loved my co-volunteers. I think we achieved a balance that few college graduates find in their first year out. We were working for a city in need, but New Orleans is also the happiest place I've ever known.
New Orleans was option one. Option two was Palestine. I've been planning on working there since I studied abroad in Jordan and learned about the occupation. I met Jordanians my age who have roots in Palestine but aren't allowed into Israel. I met a teacher at my school who, before working with American students last year, had never seen a Jewish person without a gun. From there I set about learning from Jewish intellectuals who support the existence of the State of Israel but oppose the occupation of Palestine, e.g. Norman Finkelstein, Uri Avnery, Gideon Levy, Noam Chomsky, the late Howard Zinn, Rabbis Brian Walt and Brant Rosen...I've watched, read, and learned a lot in the last two years, but I figured it was time to put more walk in my talk.
A community center and school in Nablus called Tomorrow's Youth Organization sparked my interest in working in the West Bank. The more I learned about the impact it had on refugee children in the West Bank, the more I wanted to be a part of that cause. The more people asked me if I was going to teach kids how to make bombs and kill Jews, the stronger I felt about going and proving them wrong. One of my friends told me to take my time, that Palestine wasn't going anywhere. Oh God!
So...I could have been in Palestine right now. Instead I'm in a new house in Uptown New Orleans, thinking about my lesson plans for next week. I'm working at a charter middle school, doing literacy coaching and helping to start a choir. Turns out, despite my parents working in education for decades, I never really thought about what makes a successful school. What I've learned in a week has already shaped my future, and I'm beyond excited to implement this pedagogical know-how on the other side of the globe.
So I didn't just choose New Orleans. I learned a few things in the last year that made it possible for me to choose both. 1) New Orleanians generally don't know a lot about Palestine 2) New Orleans and Palestine have a lot in common. This blog will be my way of bridging the gap. I plan to go about this in the following ways:
I'm taking a trip to Palestine/Israel over my winter break, so this is a pre-travel/travel blog. The theme of my trip is education, and I'll be touring schools and universities in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Jenin, Al-Aqaba, and a few other cities. Living in a city that is considered a Mecca of educational reform has me wondering what education looks like in Palestine. I was amazed to learn that there is an IB school in Ramallah...!
I get a lot of e-mail updates from Interfaith Peace-Builders, CODE PINK, New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity, JStreet, skip schiel, Rabbis Brian and Brant....and stopping short of forwarding those e-mails to everyone, I wanted to make the information available to anyone who is curious about the conflict/wants to hear from sources that aren't in the mainstream. I'll also be posting news articles, book and film recommendations, etc...
I'll be documenting the bridging process. There will be advertising, an interfaith dialogue group, a peace walk is actually scheduled for October 9th, and on a smaller scale I'll be talking to a lot of people. My Salaam/Shalom/Peace shirt has already been a great conversation starter, so I think I'll try Free Palestine and see how that goes...
Comments are welcome, but they should keep in mind the following:
My love for Palestine does not imply a hatred of Israel. I love my country, and I criticize my government because I want my country to be better. If I criticize the Israeli government, it's because I know it can try harder for a peace that will benefit Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community. And if my tax dollars are contributing to a foreign country's military budget, I have the right to criticize how that money is spent. If you don't believe I have that right, then I don't know what beacon of democracy you are defending. I understand the sacrifice of being in a constant state of emergency, but our Bush years are over and I think we're done being afraid.
Ahlan wa sahlan, welcome to FilisteeNola.