Day 13 - Tel Aviv ➡ Istanbul ➡ New York ➡ Syracuse

What a long, loooooooooooong, day of travel. Here’s the itinerary, all on Wednesday, March 20, 2019:

The leg from IST ➡ JFK.

The leg from IST ➡ JFK.

  • Depart Tel Aviv 1 a.m.

  • Arrive Istanbul 4 a.m.

  • Depart Istanbul 8 a.m.

  • Arrive New York JKF 12:30 p.m.

  • Arrive Syracuse 8 p.m.

That comes to about 6,000 miles - again, in one day.

When you travel that far, a key survival strategy is avoiding jet lag. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. To do it, you have to stay awake for as long as you can and then get back on the regular time schedule at your destination. This mean staying awake not only on the flights but also during the layovers.

Mixed success staying awake while we waited in Istanbul.

Mixed success staying awake while we waited in Istanbul.

But, all in all, a pretty event-free trip half way around the world home.

Arrived to JFK a little bleary (blurry)-eyed.

Arrived to JFK a little bleary (blurry)-eyed.

Students file off the bus at Newhouse.

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Review:

The students rose to the occasion. They were professional in every sense - punctual, polite, positive, inquisitive. This kind of trip can only be successful if the aspiring journalists take control and do the work on their own. The professors are there to help, but it’s the students who must take the initiative to explore a new country and issues that are foreign to them. They did.

Here are some of the stories we’re looking forward to reading and watching:

  • Physical borders and their societal consequences

  • LGBT issues

  • Progress of Israeli-Arab women in society

  • Ethiopian community

  • Greek life on university campuses

  • Non-governmental organization support of sexual violence victims

  • Roles of minority women in society

  • Women in sports

  • Orthodox Jewish women in higher education

  • Water - technology and supply

  • Orthodox vs. secular Jews; Jerusalem vs. Tel Aviv

  • Religious tourism and security

  • Elections

  • Water issues across borders

  • Architecture - 100 years of Bauhaus; reuse of abandoned buildings

  • Ethiopian migration and integration

  • Effects of politics on art and culture

  • Food - customs and recipes

Well done #newhouseinisrael 2019.

Day 12 - Tel Aviv

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Students spent the majority of the day working on their stories, traveling across the country to get final interviews. But we started the day with a common nickname for Israel: Start-up Nation.

Start-Up Nation Central is a non-profit in Tel Aviv that works to connect multinational companies with Israeli startups. Intel, Oracle, Microsoft, Facebook and Google are some of the companies that have decided what small Israeli firms are producing is worth buying.

Rinat Korbet , macro analyst at Start-Up National Central, talks to Newhouse students about entrepreneurship in Israel.

Rinat Korbet, macro analyst at Start-Up National Central, talks to Newhouse students about entrepreneurship in Israel.

The fact that Israel has no natural resources and the fact we have to defend our lives here and the immigration ... all that together creates something that’s very unique.
— Rinat Korbet, of Start-Up National Central, explaining why entrepreneurship takes off in Israel
 
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin assassination memorial in downtown Tel Aviv.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin assassination memorial in downtown Tel Aviv.

This photo is a great example of how complicated politics and peace can be in Israel. The memorial marks the spot where former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. He was pushing ahead with a peace plan with the Palestinians when he died. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think a person from the other side of the negotiating table committed the murder. After all, it’s only with your enemies that you try to broker peace. But it wasn’t. Instead, an Israeli, who believed Rabin was giving away too much to the Palestinians, pulled the trigger and put an end to Rabin’s peace efforts.

People live out on the streets in Tel Aviv. Not only at the beach, but also in town. Fun markets pop up a few days a week. Here’s some of the good food you can get at the Nachalat Binyamin market.

Jerusalem Press Club leader Tal Bouhnik, center, reviews the 10 days in Israel with students.

Jerusalem Press Club leader Tal Bouhnik, center, reviews the 10 days in Israel with students.

We wrapped up the working part of the trip with a discussion on what went well and what could have gone better. The students all wished they’d had more time to work on their stories. Our jam-packed schedule made it difficult to set up and complete interviews. After all, people have jobs to do. Still, the students were hard pressed to think of anything they’d eliminate from the itinerary to make more time for reporting. Moreover, several students said their stories would not have been as good without the perspective they achieved by visiting so many people and places. The conundrum: how to make more time without giving any up.

Newhouse students make it happen. Cameras on the plane, without the camera cases.

Newhouse students make it happen. Cameras on the plane, without the camera cases.

So then it was off to the airport for the crazy flight home:

  • Depart TLV at 0100

  • Arrive IST at 0420

  • Depart IST at 0815

  • Arrive JFK at 1245

And while our flight here was uneventful, the capriciousness of Turkish Airlines (all airlines, really) in enforcing the rules made our trip back more complicated.

For some reason, this time the Turkish Airlines folks decided our camera cases were too big and could not be carried onto the plane. The cameras simply cannot leave our possession, so we pulled them out and carried them on by themselves.

Then Murphy’s Law kicked in. The telescoping handle of one student’s suitcase wouldn’t collapse. The bag wasn’t allowed on the plane unless it did. So the group did its best to try to shove the handle back into the suitcase. In the end, Professor Joel Kaplan figured out a better way: just break the darn thing off. Sure, the suitcase is much more difficult to pull along now, but it got on the plane.

Professor Joel Kaplan holds up the remains of the student suitcase he “fixed.”

Professor Joel Kaplan holds up the remains of the student suitcase he “fixed.”

Some other photos from the day:

Video camera ready for action.

Video camera ready for action.

Looking out at Jaffa, the old part of Tel Aviv. This view resembles Coit Tower in San Francisco.

Looking out at Jaffa, the old part of Tel Aviv. This view resembles Coit Tower in San Francisco.

One last one, before we leave:

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Day 11 - Tel Aviv

Today was a series of press conferences where students got to ask questions about politics, journalism and the military.

Former Israeli Air Force Commander Eitan Ben Eliyahu, left, talks to Newhouse students in Tel Aviv.

Former Israeli Air Force Commander Eitan Ben Eliyahu, left, talks to Newhouse students in Tel Aviv.

First up was Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a retired Major General in the Israeli Defense Forces who was the Commander of the Israeli Air Force. As has become customary with nearly everyone we speak to, he began with a history of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Then he dropped the most provocative theory we’ve heard yet: the Palestinians don’t really want their own state, they want to become part of Israel, to eventually take it over. This snapped the students to attention, and they, as good journalists should, immediately asked for proof. Eliyahu affirmed this is his personal opinion, and not one of the Israeli government or military. And, he admitted he wished he didn’t think this way. Still, he offered an example of how he reaches this conclusion:

  • Just yesterday a Palestinian stabbed a soldier, stole his gun and shot a rabbi, killing them both.

  • This focuses the attention of the Israeli public on security.

  • Security is the main issue of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. With elections coming in three weeks, the attack plays into his campaign.

  • Conservative Netanyahu is considered less friendly to the Palestinian cause than liberal candidates.

  • But, Netanyahu in power allows Palestinians blame a lack of peace on him, rather than disagreements over peace proposal details.

  • Without a peace agreement, the Palestinians can wait out the Israelis and eventually get to a point where their numbers are so great, they can take over.

  • So, rather than push toward a solution where they can have their own state next to Israel, Eliyahu believes the Palestinians are sabotaging two-state proposals in favor of a long-term one-state solution where they’re in control of the entire area.

They don’t want their own state. They want Israel.
— Eitan Ben Eliyahu, former Israeli Air Force Commander
Israeli journalists take questions from Newhouse students.

Israeli journalists take questions from Newhouse students.

Next, up, two Israeli journalists talked about how they do their jobs. Everyone in Israel seems willing to talk, but that also means everyone is giving his or her own version of events. Journalists here, they said, must check and double check their facts. That’s the only way to sift through the deluge of interpretations of what’s happened. Of course, that’s good advice for journalists, no matter where they work.

“Israel is made of minorities ... You have to come with previous knowledge.”

Amit Eshel, Haaretz newspaper

Amit Eshel, left, newsdesk chief for Haaretz and Nadav Glick, Channel 13 investigative reporter, talk to Newhouse student Sarah Tietje-Mietz about accuracy in journalism.

Our third speaker was IDF Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the face and voice of the Israeli military to the foreign media. Interestingly, despite the fact he deals with the likes of the Washington Post and CNN every day, he asked students to not shoot his PowerPoint presentation on camera; he did allow us to record his voice. But, by the time we got to the students’ questions, he relented and agreed to let us record him, both audio and video.

IDF Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus talks with Newhouse students.

IDF Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus talks with Newhouse students.

He explained there are three audiences his public affairs department is trying to influence: domestic, international and potential enemies. Each of those audiences receives messages differently, and sometimes they are in conflict. For example, Conricus said he might deliver a particularly aggressive message about future Israeli retaliation to the potential enemy audience, that he knows ahead of time will not go over well with the international audience that is frequently critical of Israeli military maneuvers.

In the end, he said his job is to explain as best he can the singular mission of the Israeli Defense Forces - protecting Israeli citizens.

Unfortunately, many people around the world have a different regard for the murder of Israelis.
— Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, IDF Spokesperson
Boaz Bismuth, editor in chief of Israel Today, talks to Newhouse students about journalism in Israel.

Boaz Bismuth, editor in chief of Israel Today, talks to Newhouse students about journalism in Israel.

Our final stop of the evening was the Israel Today newspaper offices. We spoke with Editor in Chief Boaz Bismuth. He, and many other journalists in Israel, make no bones about their biases. In this case, the paper and its message are unabashedly conservative. If you’re a consumer, you know where the paper is coming from. In fact, one of the employees we spoke to said his team knows it’s doing a good job because conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has remained in power ever since the paper opened. This happens at the other end of the political spectrum, too. The Haaretz reporter we spoke to earlier clearly said, without hesitation, she’s a feminist activist who roots for the little guy in her reporting. This is a new concept for our students, who learn from me and Magazine, News and Digital Journalism Professor Joel Kaplan our job is to present the facts and let the audience decide.

Some other photos of the day:

Aspiring photojournalist Dog Steinman, left, gets professional (fashion) tips from Israel Today photojournalist.

Aspiring photojournalist Dog Steinman, left, gets professional (fashion) tips from Israel Today photojournalist.

Lots of cats enjoy the relaxed Tel Aviv vibe.

Lots of cats enjoy the relaxed Tel Aviv vibe.

Day 10 - Dead Sea, Sderot

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. The water that flows into it only leaves by evaporation. That means the minerals carried in by the water stay, getting ever more concentrated by the century. This has a few consequences:

From this view, it’s easy to imagine the millennia that have passed since water began pooling here.

From this view, it’s easy to imagine the millennia that have passed since water began pooling here.

  1. Israel’s number one export is the minerals found in the Dead Sea: potassium, bromide and phosphates. China is a big customer.

  2. Nothing can survive in this concentrated toxic soup. That’s why it’s called the Dead sea.

  3. You don’t sink when you swim in it. It’s the strangest feeling. In the water, you can put your hands by your side and touch your feet together and you still float vertically, like a fishing line bobber.

We were at the blue dot, a few hundred yards from the border separating Gaza and Israel.

We were at the blue dot, a few hundred yards from the border separating Gaza and Israel.

From here we headed east toward the Gaza Strip. This was the final border we visited, after the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. (The only other border Israel has is with Egypt, but that’s too far south for this trip.) The border with Gaza is unpredictable and violent. When we visited in 2018, we casually hung out with two young Israeli soldiers - no threats at all. Two weeks after that, violence erupted and 15 people were killed. So today, we stayed farther away, but all in all, still pretty close.

On this clear day, the homes and businesses of Gaza City are easy to see. In between our spot at the Black Arrow Lookout and the border lie three barriers. In order from west to east:

  1. A trench. The dirt is piled up to create berm behind which Israeli soldiers strategize.

  2. A fence. This is the typical Israeli security fence that is able to detect when someone touches it or it’s breached. The sensors then pinpoint the potential danger and troops can be sent to investigate in that specific location.

  3. Another security fence with sensors.

Looking across the open farmland from Israel toward Gaza.

Looking across the open farmland from Israel toward Gaza.

Sharon Shelly talks about live in Sderot.

Sharon Shelly talks about live in Sderot.

The Israeli towns near the border with Gaza are frequently subjected to rocket attacks. One of those towns is Sderot. Therapist Sharon Shelly told us many children who live there suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because they are so often roused from bed or the classroom and have to scramble to a bomb shelter. When the bomb sirens go off, Israelis have about 30 seconds to get to safety. In fact, on the bus as we were approaching the Black Arrow lookout, we had a briefing on what to do if we heard a bomb siren.

Shelly spoke to us in a children’s park filled with what seemed to be colorful playground equipment. Instead, these structures also double as bomb shelters, decorated in a way that makes them appealing for children to enter.

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Above: Playground sign: “When the red alert sounds, get into the shelter.”  Left: Park welcome sign.  Below: children’s bomb shelter.

Above: Playground sign: “When the red alert sounds, get into the shelter.”

Left: Park welcome sign.

Below: children’s bomb shelter.

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Israeli bomb shelters near the Gaza Strip are decorated to be friendly to children.

We are now in the home stretch, staying in Tel Aviv for our last two days. These are the last opportunities for students to conduct interviews, gather video and put the final touches on their stories.

Some other photos from the day:

Sign on the road leading up and out of the Dead Sea. Strangely similar to the Snowmobile Crossing signs in Central New York. Unless you’re from there, you don’t expect them.

Sign on the road leading up and out of the Dead Sea. Strangely similar to the Snowmobile Crossing signs in Central New York. Unless you’re from there, you don’t expect them.

But then you see this:

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If they didn’t know before, they surely know now. Broadcast journalism means lugging equipment everywhere you go. Here the students head out of the Dead Sea hotel to the bus.

Students at sunrise at 5:45 a.m. More clouds than we’d hoped for, but great colors anyway.

Students at sunrise at 5:45 a.m. More clouds than we’d hoped for, but great colors anyway.

Day 9 - Tel Aviv, Tel Sheva, Dead Sea

Instead of planned activities, students spend most of the day working on their stories, heading out to conduct interviews and shoot video. There wasn’t a whole lot of sightseeing to be done anyway, with the blustery winds and soaking downpours. Certainly not the beachy, Mediterranean city we’d hoped for. Perhaps we’ll get another opportunity to enjoy the Tel Aviv sand when we return in a couple of days.

Wind, rain and overcast skies….

Wind, rain and overcast skies….

… means no one’s at the beach.

… means no one’s at the beach.

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So we packed up and headed south and east to Tel Sheva, in the middle of the Negev Desert. The population gets more and more sparse as you head south out of Tel Aviv and past Jerusalem. Our focus today was on the Bedouin community in Israel. This group has been in the area since the 1700s and practiced its nomadic ways without much problem. But as Israel became more established after 1948, the idea of wandering around and setting up camp on other people’s property didn’t fly. So there’s a serious tension between the Bedouins and the Israeli government.

Beyond that conflict, we also heard about the disconnect between traditional Bedouin life and the expectations of the 21st century.

Sohayla Abobkeek told us about her battle with Bedouin traditions as she worked to establish her own businesses. She’s an entrepreneur at heart, but has more problems than just finding startup money. Her husband doesn’t like the idea of her making her own money, much less getting a driver’s license and making deliveries. She has set an example for her daughters that hard work can make dreams come true, but that has also been met with resistance from the male members of her community. She pushes on despite that.

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Newhouse student Doug Steinman photographs Sohayla Abobkeek as she answers questions from students.

Newhouse student Doug Steinman photographs Sohayla Abobkeek as she answers questions from students.

Tomorrow we have high hopes for better weather so we can enjoy floating in the Dead Sea.

Some other photos of the day:

Students enjoy a Bedouin dinner.

Students enjoy a Bedouin dinner.

Nightime call to prayer in Tel Sheva in the Negev Desert in Israel.

Day 8 - Metula, Nazareth, Tel Aviv

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Metula is the northernmost city in Israel, a peninsula jutting into southern Lebanon. The fact the village of 2,000 has been attacked before and is vulnerable to attacks from all but one side is visible everywhere. A few examples in the photos below.

An Israeli security wall separates fertile farmland from sometimes hostile forces in Lebanon.

An Israeli security wall separates fertile farmland from sometimes hostile forces in Lebanon.

The security wall goes on for miles and miles, criss crossing the landscape.

The security wall goes on for miles and miles, criss crossing the landscape.

Israeli Defense Forces fortifications are nearby and civilians are limited on where they can go,

Israeli Defense Forces fortifications are nearby and civilians are limited on where they can go,

Signs of spring, and of conflict.

Signs of spring, and of conflict.

Mother Earth Jeep Tours guide Yaniv Elhadif.

Mother Earth Jeep Tours guide Yaniv Elhadif.

This constant threat weights heavily on the people who live here, such as our tour guide Yaniv Elhadif. His voice is decidedly pro-Israel and he doesn’t hesitate to place blame on Hezbollah in Lebanon. He claims Israel has done nothing wrong and only wants to live in peace. He told many stories of sniper fire coming across the border to strike close to farmers in the field and soldiers on patrol. He pointed out how vulnerable Metula is because the positions across the border in Lebanon are higher and, thus, more strategically advantageous.

We are not that welcome [in other parts of the world]. If I decide to move, who will accept me? ... Here we can defend ourselves. We don’t rely on others.
— Yaniv Elhadif, Metula resident

He reported Hezbollah announcements and threats made toward people in his community, including the Metula mayor. And after all this, the simple question is, why not leave? The answer is one we’ve heard many times on this trip - for Jews, being in Israel isn’t just a place to live, it’s a calling, a destiny.

Newhouse student Saniya More asks about reconciliation in Metula.

Some might say Elhadif sounds a little paranoid. Are people really trying to attack him from all sides all the time? Even though he’s a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces, he said the IDF thought he was crazy when he claimed Hezbollah was building tunnels under the walls and under Metula. He insisted he and his neighbors heard strange sounds in the night underneath their houses. But no one would listen. Until three months ago. The circle of vertical concrete barriers in the middle of the photo below are shielding workers from potential sniper fire as they pour concrete into a tunnel that crosses under the border wall from Lebanon into Metula.

View over border wall from Metula to Lebanon. Israeli crews work to fill a tunnel.

View over border wall from Metula to Lebanon. Israeli crews work to fill a tunnel.

After Metula, we headed south and west toward Nazareth. This is one of many religiously historic cities in Israel. Here is where the angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to the son of God, Jesus; you might say Chapter 1, Page 1 of Christianity. As is typical in Israel, you can go to right where that happened. In the bottom level of the Church of the Annuciation crowds gather to see the cave where Mary and Joseph lived, and where she got the message.

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At left, the crowds file by the original home of Mary and Joseph. Above, a closer look inside. The first church on this site was built in the 400s. The current church, with modern, towering cupola, was built in the 1960s.

At left, the crowds file by the original home of Mary and Joseph. Above, a closer look inside. The first church on this site was built in the 400s. The current church, with modern, towering cupola, was built in the 1960s.

We wrapped up the day with a welcoming, filling Shabbat dinner. This is the weekly traditional meal that Jews share with family leading into the day of rest, the Sabbath.

Of particular pleasure was sitting down with Sonia, who fled to Peru during the Holocaust, but is now able to spend time with her extended family in Israel.

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Other photos of the day:

Apples are a big crop in northern Israel, just as in Central New York. These are Pink Lady trees. The security isn’t about people stealing apples, it’s about crossing borders.

Apples are a big crop in northern Israel, just as in Central New York. These are Pink Lady trees. The security isn’t about people stealing apples, it’s about crossing borders.

Our fleet of old-school Land Rovers for a tour of Metula and the countryside.

Our fleet of old-school Land Rovers for a tour of Metula and the countryside.

The jeeps were so old, they had these strange things in the doors.

The jeeps were so old, they had these strange things in the doors.

Lunch in Nazareth - hummus with meat.

Lunch in Nazareth - hummus with meat.

Day 7 - Naharayim, Sha'ar Ha'Golan, Golan Heights, Majdal Shams, Metula

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The headline tells you we did a lot of driving today. Before getting into the details, notice on the map how small Israel is and how it’s in a congested neighborhood. Lebanon to the north has Hezbollah elements that don’t think Israel should exist. Syria to the northeast is in shambles and its civil war can be heard from Israel. Directly east is Jordan, the most friendly neighbor Israel has.

Much of our drive today was along the Jordan River, which forms the border between Jordan and Israel. Our drive east out of Jerusalem and then north along the river was a scene right out of Lawrence of Arabia - chalky dunes and mountains for as far as you could see. Suddenly the terrain turned tropical. Miles and miles of rows of palm trees growing dates and avocado trees and banana trees. One student remarked it reminded him of Thailand.

Our first stop was Naharayim, where we got a close up look at the Jordan River. Surprisingly unimpressive, but only because both Israel and Jordan have diverted so much water to other needs. Water is the source of life in the desert and many conflicts and treaties are based on how to share this most precious resource. Israel and Jordan have come to many agreements on how to manage the water that runs from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea. One solution has been Israel’s ability to take the salt out of sea water from the Mediterranean.

The Jordan River is more creek than river as it runs along the border between Israel and Jordan.

The Jordan River is more creek than river as it runs along the border between Israel and Jordan.

Adam Waddell, of Ecopeace Middle East, talks about the importance and future of water here.

Adam Waddell, of Ecopeace Middle East, talks about the importance and future of water here.

Kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) date back to the early 1900s, when Jewish Marxists came to what’s now Israel to set up their utopias. These were communities that lived by the socialist rule - from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. That meant anyone coming to the kibbutz had to give up everything to the community. A week after arrival, one might find her piano in the house of a neighbor or his favorite hat sitting on the head of a new friend. This worked for a while, until human nature took over. When people figured out they didn’t have to do much work and still received “according to their needs,” the system collapsed under spite and recrimination. Current kibbutzim are a little more capitalistic.

Man rides bike through peaceful Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’Golan.

Man rides bike through peaceful Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’Golan.

On to Mount Bental lookout at the Golan Heights, a crucial strategic outpost in the ongoing tension between Israel and its neighbors. This is a high spot on the border between Israel and Syria, which means whoever controls it has the military advantage. Israel has occupied this area since capturing it in 1967. Unfortunately, today’s weather didn’t offer us dramatic views into Syria. We were stuck in the middle of a cloud.

3,822 feet above sea level.

3,822 feet above sea level.

Directions from the Golan Heights.

Directions from the Golan Heights.

A foggy lesson on the history between Israel and Syria.

A foggy lesson on the history between Israel and Syria.

Afeef Shofi, left, and Majdy Shaer

Afeef Shofi, left, and Majdy Shaer

North of Mount Bental is Majdal Shams, a city that used to be in Syria until the border moved and it became an Israeli city. The Druze live here, a group that traces it origins to Syria but is quite happy being in Israel. We learned about Druze life from Afeef Shofi and Majdy Shaer, two 26 year olds. A defining characteristic of the Druze religion is a belief in reincarnation. Like many cultures, Shofi and Shaer said there is tension between older and younger generations, with the elder Druze disappointed their children don’t continue adhering strictly to traditions.

We believe in souls ... the soul transfers from one body to another body.
— Afeef Shofi, Druze

We ended our day in Metula, looking forward to a jeep tour of the border with Lebanon in the morning.

Day 6 - Bethlehem, Gush Etzion

Tour guide Daniella Gefen explains geography.

One of the main reasons this place is so confounding is the cartography. Maps have been drawn, ripped up, re-drawn, discarded and then drawn all over again. It keeps changing, seemingly without end. Sometimes it’s a United Nations resolution that resets the table. Sometimes it’s a colonial power that picks up and leaves. And sometimes, it’s the Israeli government building walls that forces people to change their lives.

We started the day heading south out of Jerusalem towards Bethlehem. These two cities are now divided by a wall. From the Israeli point of view, it’s a security barrier designed to make it more difficult for terrorists to move and carry out their deadly attacks. And it worked. Here’s a graphic from the Israeli Security Agency showing the number of suicide bombings. The barrier was built in 2002.

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Barrier wall seen looking south from Jerusalem towards Bethlehem

Barrier wall seen looking south from Jerusalem towards Bethlehem

Tour guide Mustafa al Araj shows students the Palestinian side of the wall. He picked up several spent tear gas canisters.

Tour guide Mustafa al Araj shows students the Palestinian side of the wall. He picked up several spent tear gas canisters.

For the Palestinians, the wall means something else. It’s a big pain. A pain to get to work, to the store, to visit friends in other parts of the country. But beyond the logistics, the wall represents humiliation and discrimination. Being forced into checkpoints at wall openings reminds each Palestinian who is forced to go that way someone else is in charge.

But there is a bright spot regarding the wall from the Palestinian perspective. When it first went up, graffiti was painted over. The Palestinians wanted to keep the wall as gray and ugly as when the Israelis first erected it, our tour guide Mustafa Al Araj said. But, they soon realized tourists would show up in droves to check out the artwork. This became an opportunity to spread the word about the Palestinian plight to many more people. And they were just showing up on their own. Now, much of the graffiti is pro-Palestinian. Some of the messages are uplifting, others are crass, several criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump.

From the Bethlehem wall we went to the main draw of the town, the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born. Built in 335, the church has lasted for nearly two thousand years. But barely. In 614, the Persians invaded and destroyed most of the rest of the town, but when the got inside the Church of the Nativity, they saw images of the Three Kings. Thinking they were depictions of important Persian figures, the pillagers spared this building.

The entryway to the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born.

The entryway to the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born.

The nondescript doorway is on the right, where the tourists are standing.

The nondescript doorway is on the right, where the tourists are standing.

Students inside the church, along with hundreds of other visitors.

Students inside the church, along with hundreds of other visitors.

Newhouse students interview Shaul Judelman, left, at Roots, a group that promotes peace in Israel.

Newhouse students interview Shaul Judelman, left, at Roots, a group that promotes peace in Israel.

From here we traveled to Gush Etzion, a collection of settlements near Bethlehem. A group called Roots is working to bridge what seems to be an intractable divide between Palestinians and Jews. We heard from Shaul Judelman, who said today’s young people in Israel are even less trusting than previous generations because they’ve grown up on social media, which distorts the reality of what’s happening in the country.

Anger plus fear equals hate and I think it’s got a lot of us trapped.”


”I belong here, it doesn’t belong to me.
— Shaul Judelman, Roots Co-Director

Our midday eating installment, courtesy of our friends at Al-Sufara Restaurant in Bethlehem.

Restaurant owner Hatem and me.

Restaurant owner Hatem and me.

Professor Joel Kaplan documents.

Professor Joel Kaplan documents.

As good as it gets: street-fried falafel.

Some other photos of the day:

Newhouse BDJ student Sabrina Maggiore shoots a standup for Gilat Melamed at the Bethlehem barrier wall, in front of the Walled Off Hotel.

Newhouse BDJ student Sabrina Maggiore shoots a standup for Gilat Melamed at the Bethlehem barrier wall, in front of the Walled Off Hotel.

A long view of the graffiti on the wall separating Bethlehem from Jeruslem.

A long view of the graffiti on the wall separating Bethlehem from Jeruslem.

Orthodox Jew walks on his side of the barrier wall in Bethlehem.

Orthodox Jew walks on his side of the barrier wall in Bethlehem.

Palestinian girl walks on her side of the barrier wall in Bethlehem.

Palestinian girl walks on her side of the barrier wall in Bethlehem.

Day 5 - East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Rawabi, Psagot

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After being in Jerusalem for a few days, we crossed into East Jerusalem and the West Bank to hear a more Palestinian perspective on what life is like. Crossed is the appropriate verb, because to get there, you have to pass through a checkpoint. The approach reminds you this isn’t fun and games. Watch towers loom over the area where you actually pass to the other side.

Then, the scene changes dramatically, from relatively clean streets and order to disarray and confusion.

People weave their way through traffic ...

People weave their way through traffic ...

… down half-finished sidewalks …

… down half-finished sidewalks …

… and along paths lined with fences and barbed wire.

… and along paths lined with fences and barbed wire.

Checkpoint traffic jam.

Checkpoint traffic jam.

Once beyond the wall and checkpoint, you enter a no-man’s land. There is no organized government here. The area is claimed by Israel, but the government doesn’t govern it. It’s populated by Palestinians, but the Palestinian Authority doesn’t oversee it. The result is general chaos. There are no building permits. Our guides said the many apartments and businesses that line the main street could all collapse in minor earthquake. Cars and garbage line the streets, but, nevertheless, thousands of Palestinians pass through every day on their way to work in Jerusalem. The traffic backs up for hours because of the bottleneck at the checkpoint - a real sore spot for Palestinian leaders, who say this lowers the quality of life, by adding what they see as unnecessary hours to the commute.

Car covered in dust. Appears not to have been driven in ages.

Car covered in dust. Appears not to have been driven in ages.

Sidewalk in East Jerusalem beyond the wall and checkpoint.

Sidewalk in East Jerusalem beyond the wall and checkpoint.

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It doesn’t take long before you notice the roads pockmarked with potholes turn suddenly smooth. We’re now in Ramallah, the financial center of the West Bank, and an area governed by the Palestinian Authority. Back to civilization, not governmentless territory.

We visited the offices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which now forms part of the Palestinian Authority.

Former Minister of Water Shadad Attili told us the history of the area from the Palestinian point of view. That view: the Israeli government is responsible for much of the suffering on the West Bank. Students quizzed him about the upcoming Trump administration Middle East peace proposal and how next month’s Israeli elections might affect the peace process.

Newhouse students talk with Bashar Masri, right, about his vision for Palestinians.

Newhouse students talk with Bashar Masri, right, about his vision for Palestinians.

Not all Palestinians are waiting around for the Israelis to change. One who’s taking the lead is Bashar Masri, an Virginia Tech-educated Palestinian businessman who is building his own city in the West Bank called Rawabi. The goal is to create a place for 40,000 people to live and work, complete with hospital, school and local government. It’s an expensive proposition - overhead is about $8 million a day - but worth the example of being able to show the world what Palestinians are capable of, Masri said.

There are a lot of injustices in history, and we are just one of them.
— Bashar Masri, Palestinian developer of Rawabi
Rawabi rises from the hillside, about a 30-minute drive north of Ramallah in the West Bank.

Rawabi rises from the hillside, about a 30-minute drive north of Ramallah in the West Bank.

Newhouse students reporting during a talk by Yisrael Medad.

Newhouse students reporting during a talk by Yisrael Medad.

The last stop of the day was at Psagot, where we spoke with New York transplant Yisrael Medad, a research fellow at the Menachem Begin Center and a settler who believes much of what’s now the West Bank is land promised to the Jews. This, of course, is a controversial statement, because Palestinian leaders see the settlements as a major obstacle in the peace process. But these Jewish outposts, where they live among Palestinians in the West Bank, are more than just places to call home. They are called here to perpetuate Jewish presence in what they feel is their rightful place on the planet.

We’ve been here before. We’re just coming back.
— Yisrael Medad, Jewish settler

Some other photos of the day:

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Group dinner in Jerusalem.

Group dinner in Jerusalem.

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Palestinian flags fly atop Rawabi.

Palestinian flags fly atop Rawabi.

The #newhouseinisrael crew at the amphitheater at Rawabi.

The #newhouseinisrael crew at the amphitheater at Rawabi.

Day 4 - Jerusalem

Three interesting and different perspectives on what it’s like to live in Jerusalem and Israel today.

First, Tzippy Yarom explained the life of the Haredi community in Israel. The ultra-orthodox groups pay strict attention to and precisely follow the teachings of the Torah. These ultra-traditional traditions include:

Orthodox Jewish man on a bike in Jerusalem.

Orthodox Jewish man on a bike in Jerusalem.

  • not marrying non-Jews

  • not touching a member of the opposite sex who’s not your spouse

  • married women covering their hair

  • men dedicating their lives to studying the Torah instead of working outside the home

  • women working outside the home to support the family

  • getting exemptions from compulsory military service

  • men wearing black and white

 
Newhouse students Gabrielle Caracciolo, Sunny Tsai and Tyler Lowell interview Tzippy Yarom.

Newhouse students Gabrielle Caracciolo, Sunny Tsai and Tyler Lowell interview Tzippy Yarom.

 
Nobody should think about the other gender outside of the family. It’s not a rule, it’s just something you do.
— Tzippy Yarom

Yarom said the orthodox community takes great comfort in following the ancient rules of the Torah. As our tour guide explained it yesterday, religions such as Christianity are built on faith, there’s not a whole lot of practice that happens every day. But Judaism is all about the practice, and it’s on display, all day, every day, in the orthodox neighborhoods.

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Yad Vashem means “a monument and a name.” And that’s what the holocaust museum in Jerusalem is - a monument to the names of the victims. The goal is not only to tell visitors about what happened, but also to whom it happened. Our tour guide, Liz Elsby, did a great job explaining how such an atrocity doesn’t happen all at once; there are incremental steps.

Students absorb the display of shoes collected from Holocaust victims.

Students absorb the display of shoes collected from Holocaust victims.

In the darkness, there were spots of light.
— Liz Elsby, Yad Vashem tour guide

Elsby also reminded us there were some people who risked everything to help. She called them “spots of light.” Each tree represents one of those people who decided not to stand by while people were exterminated because of their religion. A plaque marks each one.

The most hopeful moment in the museum is at the end. Hope doesn’t come in large quantities when you consider there were about nine million Jews in Europe before the Holocaust and some 1.5 million today. But the purpose of the place is to ensure all the people who died aren’t just remembered for that. They had families and jobs and dreams. Their photos help visitors visualize that.

We spent the afternoon exploiting the Newhouse Mafia, which is a real thing. Before we left Syracuse, I emailed Newhouse Master’s Broadcast and Digital Journalism grad Oren Liebermann, and he jumped at the chance to show the students around the CNN studios in Jerusalem where he’s a correspondent. He told students what it’s like to report from a conflict zone.

Newhouse Broadcast and Digital Journalism master’s student Ashtyn Hiron.

Newhouse Broadcast and Digital Journalism master’s student Ashtyn Hiron.

Newhouse BDJ Master’s grad Oren Liebermann shows students the gear he uses as Jerusalem CNN correspondent.

It’s possible to report with the gas mask on. The helmet is really heavy.

It’s possible to report with the gas mask on. The helmet is really heavy.

Our food installment of the day - lunch at a Kurdish restaurant that serves shamburak. Good? Judge the reactions for yourself.

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Day 3 - Jerusalem

Our first full day was a day full of trying to grasp the depth and complexity of the history here. It goes back thousands of years and has nearly as many interpretations. Who was here first? Who conquered whom? What religion takes precedence? All these are questions that take time to answer - and sometimes there are several answers.

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We began on the Mount of Olives, with a spectacular view of the Temple Mount’s golden dome, that stands out among the arid, stone landscape.

And, as is typical here, each place has a story - a story most people have heard. But what’s so striking is to be able to hear about what happened thousands of years ago and see it now. Like this:

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From the Mount of Olives, down one side of the valley and up the other, for a close up visit to the Temple Mount, pretty much the holiest place on the planet. Muslims, Jews and Christians all consider this spot sacred. Our Palestinian tour guide Noor A’wad gave us the historical rundown of how one piece of land can be so important to so many people of so many religions. At the moment, Muslims are in charge at the top, and the Al Aqsa Mosque is considered the third most holy place in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

Panoramic view of the Temple Mount plaza with the golden  Dome of the Rock  as the centerpiece.

Panoramic view of the Temple Mount plaza with the golden Dome of the Rock as the centerpiece.

Even though Jerusalem bears the weight of the history of all three religions, some places are more important to some believers than others. That’s the case of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In Jesus’ time, the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by a wall. Executions and burials took place in an open field on a hill beyond the enclosure. Now, there’s a church built on and around the place where Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb. You can actually touch the cracked stone where his cross stood, and the stone where his body lay before being buried and the stone floor of the cave where he was buried. No doubt, this, along with Bethlehem, are the holiest sites for Christians.

Believers pray at the stone where Jesus’ body lay after he was taken down from the cross.

Believers pray at the stone where Jesus’ body lay after he was taken down from the cross.

Temple Mount for Muslims, Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians. For Jews, it’s the Western Wall. Because they’re no longer allowed to practice their religion openly on the top of the mount, Jews now pray on the western wall built to support the mount. Everyone, no matter your religion, or not, is allowed in to pray, take photos and contemplate. But men and women are separated.

Some of the day’s other experiences:

Days 1 and 2 - Syracuse ➡ Jerusalem

We’re off again. For the second year in a row, Syracuse University professor Joel Kaplan and I are taking 15 students to Israel to explore the country, its culture, its politics and its relationship with Palestinians and the broader Middle East. We’ve been invited by the Jerusalem Press Club, which has organized our lodging, guides and itinerary.

Yes, the first two days are combined into one post because, good grief, we traveled non stop from 4:30 a.m. Syracuse time on Friday until 1:30 p.m. Jerusalem time on Saturday.

Our students all showed up on time for our pre-dawn bus ride from Newhouse to JFK, to catch flights to Istanbul and then Tel Aviv. And punctuality is a big thing with the Press Club. Last year, a student apologized for getting on the bus late and the reply from our guide was: “Don’t be sorry, be on time.” Bam! These guys don’t mess around - and with reason. Our schedule is jam packed.

Don’t be sorry, be on time.
— Jerusalem Press Club motto

Traveling that far is exhausting, but we made it through customs with all of our equipment, safe and sound.

Before: on the bus to JFK.

Before: on the bus to JFK.

After: at Tel Aviv airport.

After: at Tel Aviv airport.

Newhouse students setting up the video camera.

Newhouse students setting up the video camera.

We came all this way, might as well hit the ground running and see the sites, and maybe even get in a little reporting. After checking into the hotel, and only semi-coherent after negligible in-flight sleep, we headed out into town. Here are the students working together to make sure the shot is right.

Along the way we had the most wonderful, typical Syracuse University experience. Newhouse Broadcast and Digital Journalism student Sabrina Maggiore was shooting a standup and a woman came up to me. Here’s how the conversation went:

  • Woman: What are you guys doing?

  • Me: I’m here with journalism students from Syracuse.

  • Woman: Get out! I’m from Cicero!

Jacqueline Smart, of Cicero, N.Y., and Sabrina Maggiore, Syracuse University student, meet in Jerusalem.

Jacqueline Smart, of Cicero, N.Y., and Sabrina Maggiore, Syracuse University student, meet in Jerusalem.

One of the best things about traveling is the food. And this trip provides us plenty of opportunities to try new delicious things.

Already a Middle East favorite -  shoarma .

Already a Middle East favorite - shoarma.

Bartering for beautiful bread in historic Jerusalem.

Bartering for beautiful bread in historic Jerusalem.