Tent of Nations [7]: Travel Blogs (Tel Aviv, East Jerusalem)

10:20 pm, July 11, 2019, Dulles International Airport


I’ve told lots of people I love them today.

The plane is moving, but it’s actually circling back so that the owners of some bags can claim them off the plane because they last-minute couldn’t get on. 

I’m impressed and a little confused about how calm I’ve been since leaving Richmond. Since leaving Williamsburg, I mean, but as I left Williamsburg I was kind of a mess.Now it’s just an adventure until the 29th, when I’ll be a mess again. [this was an accurate prediction–except I was a mess because of Israeli security at Ben-Gurion International Airport this time!] I’ve begun to see that this is real now–everything I’ve planned is actually happening and it’s kind of wild. 

We still aren’t off the ground, so I’ve got a fair amount of time. I hope this doesn’t affect our arrival time in Frankfurt. 

Grace’s [my traveling companion to Tent of Nations, Grace] friend was full of some wisdom and wit, and brought me a lot of joy and thought before he dropped us off at Dulles. He is a Lebanese-Palestinian immigrant to the US. He worked at summer camps for children in his community in Lebanon since he was 14 years old. He acted as a counselor, and then eventually ran his own camp. He rented a facility with an indoor rock wall, a large playground, and more for five weeks, and served 120 campers one year, and about 90 another year. He through this made enough money to move to the US. 

I wonder, how popular is the summer camp paradigm in the Middle East? I am thrilled that it seems to be a popular institution there because there is so much power in camping. I’ll have to ask Daoud about this when I’m there. Soon! I’ll write more of Grace’s friend’s words later. 

Plane’s still not off the ground and it’s currently 10:56. Soon we’ll be airborne. I will pray tonight for safe travels for myself and Grace; for a reasonable layover in Frankfurt; for the farm and the volunteers, for the children, for whom I will cross oceans; for peace, someday, and justice. 

[At this point, I am rereading my journal in August, and I am thinking I must have been quite bored while writing the next several paragraphs. Stay tuned for a lot of my all-over-the-place thoughts.]

It’s 23:15, but it’ll soon be noon in Germany for us. The pilot says it’ll be 20 more minutes before we take off. At least I am quite tired! When he said ATC, I thought of the belay device and I think it’s hilarious that ATC stands for air traffic control in both scenarios. 

I can’t find my “When Helping Hurts” book, which is a damn shame because a book would knock me out right now. 

Air Alaska has a great logo; I’m seeing it from the window right now. Oh! Pilot says we’ll be departing. It’s 11:19 now and off we go, for real. 

There’s a childlike wonder about the window seat in seat 42A right now, where I’m pressing my nose up against the window. How incredible. The Big Dipper is very visible despite all the lights we left behind. 

[This is a good place to put a conversation unrelated to my research, but a beautiful place a conversation I had around a campfire as I sat with all the international volunteers who told me what they called the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is a pretty American name for it, although some cultures call it that in their respective languages; some called it a shopping cart and some called it a funeral procession. Seeing it despite the light pollution of all of the settlements gave me so much joy, as it’s the easiest constellation to spot when I’m home in Southwest Virginia, seeing it above the line of the mountains. It made the nights feel like home to see it looking down on Tent of Nations.]


10:27 pm, July 13, 2019, Tent of Nations

What a day! My phone says I have taken 24000 steps today and I think it’s probably a little more. 

I woke up at 6:50 am. We left the hostel at 7:20 and struggled to rent bikes, and then we gave up. The bikes to rent in Tel Aviv are not intuitive. We walked to Jaffa through beachfront Tel Aviv, and while I for the most part dislike Tel Aviv, I LOVE Jaffa. The gardens and ancient architecture were stunning. We bought juice from a man with a stand in Jaffa (mine watermelon, Grace’s mango) and drank it as we walked to see the bell tower (pretty but not as pretty as old Jaffa from an angle where you can see the whole port). It made Tel Aviv feel more human, seeing Jaffa. WE then walked back and I bought a toothbrush at a convenience store on the way. 

Our roommates were not up when we finished breakfast (delightful pancakes with date syrup, peanut butter, jam, and toast with hummus made at the hostel). We packed quickly so as to catch a sherut to Jerusalem. The sherut filled rather slowly, as the driver shouted “Jerusalem!” at any passers-by. 

Then we took our wild ride to Jerusalem, where we were dropped off at Damascus Gate (the entrance to the Muslim Quarter and one way to the Western Wall). We walked down the stairs to enter Damascus Gate, ignoring a yelling Christian evangelist telling people (unwilling people) about fire and brimstone before their entrance into Damascus Gate. Then we walked the streets of Jerusalem full of shops in narrow gaps between storefronts, elbow to elbow at times, looking at all the cloth, toys, jewelry, postcards, and food. This entire time I had my duffel and my heavy school backpack I had borrowed from my partner. I don’t regret the duffel (saved a lot of time, didn’t it?) but life must have been much easier for Grace with her backpacking pack. 

We proceeded to the Western Wall. We were checked by security because of our luggage, and I don’t blame them for checking so thoroughly, of course, given the significance to Jews and to the state of Israel of this location. We washed our hands and sat in front of the wall, and then touched it to pray. I don’t know why it was so powerful but it was hard to describe just how powerful it was. 

We at lunch (I had some super good falafel) after a failed attempt to get to the Dome of the Rock. We saw it, of course, over the Western Wall, but not very closley. Then while spending a long time searching for Jaffa Gate, where our driver would come get us, I found two anklet’s for my sister’s birthday. I negotiated for them and bought them for 15 shekels. 

We got in the car with our driver after having a rather deep conversation in a coffeehouse on the Jewish side of Jerusalem, where they sell tasteless tourist T-shirts. We had a hard time finding Tent of Nations on Google maps, so when we found it, it was a very sudden stop in front of the first roadblock (unbeknownst to us). Another cab rolled up with our new Catalonian coworkers, with whom we proceded to get lost in the valley parallel to the farm and had to go all the way back up. At that point I seriously regretted my duffel (although I recognize that there was no way around it with all the money I brought as donations for ToN). 

Daoud and his son met us at the roadblock where we walked to the farm. Daoud gave us a tour and let us rest before putting us to work squeegeeing the solar panels. We had a lovely spaghetti dinner provided by Jihan, Daoud’s wife. Jihan and Daoud are a fantastic pair and Jihan is brilliant. She came up with the Malala theme for the play this summer camp year.

We went to bed after watching the most magnificent sunset over the orange bus and listening to the distant sounds of the call to prayer from the local mosques. The dogs on the farm bark at the dogs on the settlements and dogs in the valley all night long. Distantly in the night, I heard a bulldozer, and looked out the window–a construction team was working on the settlement to the west–which is so close to the farm! They can certainly hear us, or maybe see us, when we use the compost toilets. It’s truly unreal that these two very different things (Tent of Nations and the settlements) exist so close together. 

[Surveillance in East Jerusalem, just like throughout Israel and the West Bank, is what leads Palestinian activists to call Israel a surveillance state. While we walked, I wasn’t aware of any surveillance, apart from the checkpoints I walked through and cameras above the markets. What I wasn’t aware of was how highly sophisticated the surveillance was. Combined in East Jerusalem are the huge Israeli police presence, incredibly powerful corporate sponsored surveillance and tracking of individuals (complete with predictors of individual crime), and tracking specific households. This is all to facilitate further settlement structuring and population control over the largely Palestinian majority in East Jerusalem.


Next I’ll be discussing the travels after Tent of Nations and then in Tel Aviv the day of my flight back to the US.]


12:55 pm, July 29th, UA85, Over the Mediterranian 


I hate the security at Ben-Gurion. I think my passport confused them because it’s entirely blank. They questioned me 3 times. First, with a woman who was training a man to question people, then she turned to him and pointing to something on my passport, started speaking in Hebrew and walked away with my passport. A stern looking woman came to speak to me and question me next. At one point she told me I looked like I was about to cry. I did not, and she was either lying to throw me off or she cannot tell when people are going to cry. She took my passport to a man who pulled me into a corridor where he opened my bags to look inside. He asked to see my phone and scrolled through my pictures (and perhaps more, I couldn’t tell). 

He questioned me harshly and I told the truth the whole time, but he still didn’t like my answers. “Why, of all the farms in all the world, did you go to this specific farm in Israel?” was a frequently asked question of his. I thought this question was ridiculous. Why would anyone go to any farm? Was his assumption that all farms are the same? I had explained to him about the summer camp and that it took place on this farm, and that I was sleeping at the farm, and he didn’t love that. 

I was sent to sit by the wall until the United check-in gate was open. I still didn’t have my passport; a man held it and walked with me–escorted me like a prisoner–to high security screening. A woman then x-rayed me and went through all of my luggage. ALL of it. Dirty underwear all in plastic tubs, kefiyah in and out, zata’ar in the garbage. She even pulled out my menstrual cup from the bag, looked at it, put the pouch back. My pillow and laptop waited for nearly forty minutes to be x-rayed. Finally I got my passport back but I left my phone in the high security screening area, so I ran back to get it before passport control. At least I wasn’t one of the poor African guys who were in security while their flight was scheduled to leave in ten minutes. But I went to the bathroom and with all my luggage inside the stall, I cried a little. There was no dignity at all. 

Whatever. I am on my flight now, so I can keep writing about Nablus later.