Thursday, June 3, 2010

New understandings

Guest blog by Cody Litwiller, PR summer intern

Every May term, Bluffton University students engage in a three-week-long cross-cultural program. I was one of those students this May, and had the opportunity to experience Israel/Palestine along with 29 other students, led by Randy Keeler and Stephen “Tig” Intagliata.

To many, Israel/Palestine is considered the center of the world, so being able to experience this land and its people is an experience which has put my worldview on a new axis.

In preparation for the experience, our cross-cultural class read books from a range of authors on the religious and political conflicts in the land. We visited a mosque in Perrysburg, Ohio and attended a service at a synagogue in Lima, Ohio. A local Palestinian woman also prepared a meal for our group, and we heard presentations from members of Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT).

While in Israel/Palestine our group made an effort to see a variety of sites and listen to presenters representing a selection of political and religious positions. We visited significant biblical sites and read accompanying scripture at those sites. Our group sang hymns in the old domed churches and had chances to meditate by ourselves at a few biblical sites.

During the 16 days of our travels, we stayed in hotels, kibbutzim and Palestinian homes. The Palestinian home stays allowed each member of our group to become immersed in the culture in a way most do not get a chance to experience. These personal interactions with the people of Palestine gave each person a unique story to share and provided a new angle to view the current conflict.

The Palestinian family I lived with for two nights were an older couple who lived in Old Bethlehem. They are one of the few remaining Christian families in Palestine. Their home is a large old house, which used to serve as bedrooms for their eight kids. Now, all their kids have moved out of the house and with the exception of two kids, out of Palestine. These empty rooms are now used to host guests and their grandkids. My Palestinian hosts enjoy this opportunity to host guests, and use the opportunity to share their story.

Our host, Tony, has a rooftop garden which he uses to grow a staggering variety of vegetables, fruits and spices for his family. The roof also serves as the location for his New Zealand rabbits, which they eat, and his large water tanks. The Israelis have siphoned off a large portion of the Palestinian water supply, so families are forced to either store water in tanks on their roof from the rainy season and a bi-weekly water service, or pay extra to use the same water the Israelis use.

Not having easy access to water is something that is hard to imagine in Illinois, where I’m from, but the Palestinians live with that reality. Being mindful of my water usage while I was there was a constant reminder of the lifestyle the Palestinians lead and how resourceful they need to be on a daily basis. This Palestinian home stay, coupled with our kibbutzim and hotel stays, gave us a full spectrum of living conditions in Israel/Palestine.

Our itinerary included the Sea of Galilee, Masada, the Dead Sea, Caesarea Maritima, the Western Wall, Nazareth Village, the Dome of the Rock, the Israel Holocaust Museum - Yad Veshem and many other churches and archeological sites. With the aid of our guide, each of the members of our group came to a new understanding of these historical and biblical sites.

The other major focus of the trip was the current conflict over land. We listened to presenters from the Bethlehem Bible College, Mar Elias School, Aida refugee camp, the US consulate, Operation Dove workers at the At-Tuwani village near Hebron, and heard many other Palestinian and Israeli voices throughout our experience.

This cross-cultural experience has created a new global awareness in my thought process and forced me to positively reevaluate my identity as an American.

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