More while I’m still here

I’m realizing that in my final days here in Israel and Palestine my words now have a certain weight they will lose later. Me, a random guy trying to learn and see in a totally foreign situation, doesn’t really have much of a place in this mess beyond being a caring human being. I know from experience that especially when I get home, people will qualify my perspective of this place based on my “perceived sympathies.” Though I am more hurt and broken now than before I came in many ways, I feel a certain calm and resolve about my answers to their challenge.dheishieh

The questions I might ask to questions are these: What does a 60 year old refugee camp mean to you? When you walk down the winding streets of a place that really looks quite nice by many standards of the city here, clean streets, pleasant balconies and folks milling through the streets, what difference does it make that signs painted all over the walls still bear the names of the villages these people came from 60 years ago? What do you think about a child who can diligently describe the feel of village life but has never actually been outside the city his parent’s were forced to live in?dscn1272

What do you make of a the son of survivors of Auschwitz whose daughter was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem? What if he shares his story to promote peace beside his “brother in grief,” a Palestinian man whose son was killed by a Israeli settler? I certainly didn’t have much to say to them besides thanking them for their courage.

Am I too optimistic to think these people would just like to see peace? The people I have spoken with here are cynical and sad, to be sure. However, the imagination to look past tragic circumstances to keep working for justice is amazingly inspiring. Everyone has assured my that sympathies and sides are clearly part of the “facts on the ground” but a remarkably large number of them seem basically fed up. May we all reach that tipping point where we become so fed up with violence we decide to lower our weapons. Inshallah

Snapshots on a Bittersweet anniversary

I apologize to all of you who may have expected more regular updates of my travels. It has been all I could do to keep my head up, eyes awake, and heart semi-intact on this journey. This Shabbat evening is the 61st anniversary of the UN mandate that cleared the way for the foundation of the state of Israel. I closed this special Shabbat this evening with a young Israeli family who helped to humanize and recenter the wild mix of experiences I’ve been living.

So short of being able to actually make any kind of narrative conclusion of what I’ve seen so far, let me in instead offer some snapshots from the last few days.

"pheonix"Our group shuffles into a beautiful home in a neighborhood much like a suburb of Pheonix. The roof is made of imported pine and bookshelves full of beautifully bound religious texts line the walls. Our group sits and speaks with two Israeli settlers who live within the occupied territory of Palestine in the South Hebron hills. The men tell us about how they want to follow God’s will in the land, practice civil disobedience if necessary in order to follow His command, and are seeking to keep “their feet on the ground and their heart to heaven” in order to live in their settlement with the protection of a secular military in a land not quite ligitmately theirs… yet.

Just a few miles away we walk across the desert to another settlement. A lush herb garden wafts sweet smellsAid and an aromatic tranquility through the steel fence and across a small collection of tents just meters away. These tents are the site of the village of Uum Khader, demolished just weeks ago by the military. The villagers, their homes freshly piled in twisted bundles of steel and masonry, invite us into a tent that doesn’t even stand up to the small breeze that picks up as we trundle inside. They offer us bread and tea, these people with absolutely nothing but bread and tea, and tell us about their college degrees, how they tell their children this is all a game, and of their faith and hope in God. I weep as they arrange a ride for us home down a road it is illegal for them to travel on.

That’s all I can manage for now, I love you all.


After arriving in Tel Aviv we took a dolmush (my name not theirs) to Jerusalem with several folks from New York and England. I struck up a conversation with the English fellow about what Israel means to him, which is quite a lot. He spoke of the mystic quality of finding his place here in the “countless” times he’s been back, as well as what he calls the the opposite pull within Israeli society to “earthly excess.” I didn’t really probe the meaning of that a whole lot but was very interested to learn he would be headed to Kiryat Arba, the oldest and one of the largest Israeli settlements near Hebron. The man from New York was headed to one of the settlements right inside the city. We ourselves were headed toward Hebron but to see a very different side of it.Hebronfrombelow

The office here is right inside the Old City of Hebron. The old city here, like the old city in Jerusalem, is a tight warren of multi-family living complexes set on very narrow, intentionally twisted streets. On our tour of the city by a rehabilitation committee representative, he spoke of how these houses, all built with a continuous outside facade with little more than differing windows to set them apart, were originally designed to defend again marauding nomads. Defense is an interesting concept now as settlers and Palestinian families occupy building literally walls apart from each other. Soldiers strut above, through and around it all. The tension is palpable as one house that is accessible from one street by one type of person is only accessible on the other side by another type of person. My chances of seeing the fellow I sat next to on the taxi just days before were rendered almost impossible except through razor wire and steel gates.

And this was a big weekend for settlers. A large building complex just outside the old city that has been inhabited by the settlers for a little while was just given eviction orders last weekend that expired on Wednesday. Reports were coming in that some 20,000 folks sympathetic with the settlers came in this weekend to show solidarity. I heard their celebration and saw some parties from the roof of the office, but mostly experienced the affect the long-term presence of the several hundred of them that stay year round has on the Palestinian folks here.

I am not sure how to accurately portray the anguish of the Palestinian residents of Hebron we’ve been meeting with so far. Representatives from various organizations have come to us and we’ve gone to them and all ofbarebone them tell a very similar story of the hardships of occupation. When one man’s house was occupied, he very luckily won the rights to return to it in an Israeli court but was never given the key to open its military-installed gate. One woman took us on a tour of the mosque where Abraham and Sarah are buried. She showed us spackled bullet holes in the walls of the inner sanctum where Baruch Goldstein gunned down worshippers during prayers in 1994 while she was in a back room. As a result of this action the once complete mosque is now one half mosque and one half temple seperated right in the middle by a steel door.

On an even more basic and tourtously slow level, as you walk through the market every other shop is closed voluntary from lack of business and spotty fencing overhead keeps trash and filth thrown by settlers from hitting passers by.

The pace is very fast and I’m taking a lot in. I’ll have to give you all more details as I can find the words to process them. Tomorrow we leave for Al-Tuwani, the village outside the city in the South Hebron Hills.

This is what i’m here for


I’m here.

I arrived in Israel yesterday and began very quickly learning how things work here. After requesting that my passport not be stamped to limit my travels later on, I was red flagged for questioning. I tried to answer as truthfully and as briefly as possible, but suddenly I realized as the answers came out of my mouth that I must sound horribly suspicious to a governement official. My unemployed freewheelin’ life leading to a trip that I genuinely didn’t know the itinerary for raised eyebrows and prompted lots of cell phone calls to various people standing in other parts of the same room. “Did I know anyone in Israel?” Not really. “Did I know where exactly I was going?” Nope. So much for being an unattached golden boy.

And so it began. I detained for about 3 hours. They patted me down to underwear, went through and ex-rayed everything in my bags, flipped through and caressed every page of my journal and wrote endless reams of paper in Hebrew about the experience. Lots of cell phone calls, lots of waiting, lots of lots of the same questions about my life, why I was in Turkey anyway, etc. I felt totally violated and if I ever thought I would slide in here unnoticed, I was totally wrong. I did not matter that I didn’t consent to searches and when they were finished with me I felt totally numb. I never even really told them what I was doing here.

And now I’m here. I am now intimately aware what mentioning any little detail about any aspect of myself might mean and at any time.

So I will keep everyone in touch about my travels for sure to let you know I am safe and sound, but for some reason right now I don’t feel really inspired to offer a whole lot of myself or what’s happened since then up to the maw of the internet. While I know they probably couldn’t care less what I hapless fool like myself is doing in Israel once they turned him loose, they’ve succeeded in making talking about myself seem dirty.

To be a little boy again….

I arrived in Istanbul and have settled in with my host family once again. Sitting by the truck on our way back from the mountain cabin today, my host brother actually complimented my Turkish (“Well it’s not THAT good, but it’s enough”) We’d been talking about how dolphins catch fish and the various attributes of his favorite soccer players and I realized those topics aren’t as basic as they appear in one’s own language.

It feels almost like coming back to a second home when I’m here, albeit a home filled with a language I only 80% understand. I’ve almost let go of that concern though, trusting that eventually I’ll become more fluent and in the mean time feeling remarkably peaceful. I’ve completely let go of the sad and difficult memories of this place now, especially the challenging high school sojourn, which frees me up immensely.

I had a dream of standing beside a house fire last weekend while I was staying in Philadelphia. Just a few days before my aunt and I had discussed the scripture passage where we are promised that God offers beauty for ashes. In meeting the day after my dream, ministry focused on how we can burn away our hangups to be as children again, open and full of wonder. Perhaps our choice to burn away our personal hurts in order to build deeper spiritual connection and recapture child-like wonder is part of God’s gift of beauty.

Staying with my little host brothers, who I’ve watched grow from toddlers to preadolescents, I connect again with the beauty I remember finding everywhere as a child. I’m also eternally grateful I’m not a willful little brat anymore.

Setting up Shop

I’m several days into setting up this blog and still learning how it all works. Not yet fully satisfied with much of what you see here, but that will improve with time.

I would like to give proper credit to the influences and supporters I have to thank for this journey I am taking. My delegation with the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is supported largely through a grant from the Lyman Fund. (More about them through Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s website ) The Fund supports individuals pursuing their spiritual leading and I am very grateful to them for helping make this trip possible.

For those readers who are unfamiliar and curious about Quakers online presence, I must give Martin Kelley ( credit for planting the blogger’s seed in me when I met him years ago on my motorcycle pilgrimage (made possible by the Pickett Fund for Quaker Leadership). It’s taken a while for me to pull together one of my own but I really appreciate the space and encouragement he and others have given me. (whether they were aware of it or not)

I just wanted to share these couple other links to people and resources related to aspects of this trip:

Joy Ellison is the daughter of Friends of Friends on my support committee for this trip. Her “I saw it in Palestine” blog ( talks about her experience as a full time Christian Peacemaker Teams member in the South Hebron Hills. I’ve recently learned that CPT is
closing its Hebron office so I speculate wildly that our delegation will focus more closely on the work Joy and others are doing in the villages surrounding Hebron. gives lots of links to Friend’s online contributions.


I worshiped at Yardley Friends Meeting in Bucks county yesterday, the last stop on my Quaker motorcycle pilgrimage 3 years ago. I’ve been staying with my aunt Nina across the border in New Jersey for the last little stretch here, revitalizing myself and taking it easy. When she suggested we return to Yardley, (she inspired our first visit 3 years ago) I was eager to go.

Walking back into that meetinghouse I was reminded how far I feel like I’ve come since I was last there. At that time I remember feeling disappointed and tired at the tail end of my journey, somehow wishing I could have done more or that the petty struggles of Quakerism would melt away to offer me greater solace. Now I feel comforted by a deeper personal connection with God, a fledgling relationship that wells up in me when I am open to it and holds me when I’m not. Sitting in worship yesterday I did not feel as if all my struggles have been resolved or that life is somehow easier now, but I trust now that things are as they should be. I am trusting that I will grow and that makes all the difference.

(not) Home

I’ve spent the last week floating around New York City. Arriving here is always a chaotic and beautiful jolt. The issue of where to crash and who to see and how to manage my space and comfort is always with me here. Life has been particularly unsettled lately and so as I juke through busy streets or nestle around the subway bars I’m especially alert for unexpected comforts.

I found comfort walking through Brooklyn on a quiet Sunday evening, passing an invisible boundary and finding myself amid the bustle of an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood preparing for the High Holy days. I realize I am at once soothed and nervous amid the sea of black hats, scarves and yarmulkes. I had been asked in Union Square that day if I was Jewish but my furry vest and uncovered head make me a conspicuous outsider here. At the same time I feel a peaceful piousness about activity around me, a sense of community and home that is not mine but is confident in its own identity. My mind wanders to Israel and I am reaffirmed, of course this community deserves a safe place of it’s own. I do to.

I suppose I should introduce the premise of this log and my trip. More will certainly come up as I go along, but I should at least lay out the bare bones of my plans for the next 2 months. I plan to spend the next week or so in the New Jersey/Philadelphia/New York area catching up with friends, visiting family and recharging myself. Beginning the 23 of October, I will spend a month in Turkey reconnecting with my host family, visiting friends and helping my mom settle into her new home there. By late November I hope to begin a delegation with the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel/Palestine. The delegation will last about three weeks and then I plan to wind my way back to the US.

I plan to use this blog as a sounding board for my thoughts and prayers along this journey as well as a way to share my experience. stay tuned.