A Sport and a Palestine: Roaming through Ramallah

Ramallah

Have you heard the one about a Jewish student at a Jesuit university travelling to Ramallah? This is no Scheherazadian tale: against the advice of my summer program and my parents (love you, Mom and Dad J), two friends and I decided to visit Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the West Bank.

Beneath my J. Crew sweaters, Sperry’s and standard Georgetown swag, I am pretty badass—remember this when you see me on a Friday night in Lau 3 proudly sporting my watermelon-patterned retainer! Besides a twenty-one-year-old’s futile attempts to cling onto some semblance of a teenage rebellion, I felt strongly about overlooking the program’s warning and visiting the Palestinian city. While studying at Hebrew University, I have mostly interacted with the Jewish-Israeli population. Even if I didn’t plan on discussing politics with any Ramallans, I, as a diplomatically minded Georgetown student, aspired to at least relate with an alternate perspective.

The bus echoed with the penetrating trill of Arabic music and the whispers of my Palestinian-Milwaukeean friend preparing us on what to expect at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Entering the West Bank is easy: after we left the bus at the checkpoint and passed through three revolving doors similar to the ones at the exit of the Metro, we immediately were greeted with black-charred rocks and a putrid smell. My friend explained that soldiers spray “skunk-water” to disband protests, particularly repulsive for Muslims who fervently wish to maintain cleanliness in the final ten holy days of Ramadan. (It should be noted that only upon leaving the West Bank did we have to show our IDs and undergo security checks.) After passing through the checkpoint into the West Bank, a group taxi dropped us off in the middle of a fruit market. As we mingled between cars lurching forward in insurmountable traffic and fruit vendors hocking their mangoes, it hit me that I actually was in Ramallah.

The craziest part of my experience in Ramallah was the city’s apparent normalcy. Under overhanging lights, narrow streets, passable to two lanes of cars, merged into larger roundabouts; men and women, many of whom didn’t wear head-coverings, shopped in stores like Nike, which lined the street. Loud, overwhelming, yet simultaneously alluring, Ramallah has the atmosphere of a SAC fair (admittedly, this is hyperbolic, but you get the point).

Initially, we went to the Stars and Bucks Café. Replete with red velour and crescent-shaped couches, the café takes Starbucks to the next level: let’s see when Starbucks offers cheeseburgers, hookah and a view of Al-Manara Square. After our bout of touristic fervor, we went to a local clothing shop to pick up my friends tailored Abaya, a long dress for women. She even let me try hers on: putting on the black and red embroidered gown, I envisioned myself looking fly at Dip Ball. To wrap up our speed Ramallah tour, we tried Arab style ice cream: basically ice cream without milk, Arab style ice cream stretches and sticks more. Any ice cream that offers a Nutella flavor falls under a win in my book.

After we survived—aka made it back through the checkpoint and bus to campus— I sat in my Jewish history class, finding it impossible to concentrate on our lesson about nineteenth century rabbis. Pulling up Time magazine (because surfing the internet during class always seems better when you are not on Facebook), I stopped at an article about violent rioting at the Qalandia checkpoint, or the place I had just been two hours before. Not going to lie: this freaked me out. Looking back on the experience, I probably should have done more planning before I just YOLO’ed a spur of the moment trip to a politically volatile area. Yet, especially considering that we encountered no security issues, I am still glad I visited Ramallah. To understand a different group’s perspective, it’s essential to walk a mile in their Abaya.

Photo: cjournal.info

Coping with Conflict in Israel

Coping with Israel Conflict

“Would you like your drinks before or after we go to the bomb shelter?” With unwavering calm, a waitress coolly inquired after our drink orders as incoming rocket fire compelled us to flee our oceanside table for the local Tel Aviv bar’s shelter. To quote the 2003 cinematic classic “Bad Boys 2,” shit just got real.

After growing up in the Midwest and spending two years of college in the Georgetown bubble (where the greatest threat to my survival was Tuscany’s closing), I have found the gravity of the conflict in Israel difficult to fully fathom. While rockets have sporadically threatened Jerusalem, warning sirens echoed through Tel Aviv at least five times a day in the past week. Even in the relative safety of Jerusalem, I still consider the blaring of the alarm bells terrifying. I am not alone: Fearing an escalation in conflict, many universities have evacuated their students from Israel.

Unaccustomed to such a threatening environment, many students in my group have turned to humor in order to cope. From setting a picture of the Iron Dome demolishing a rocket as a Facebook cover photo to complaining that the bomb shelter doesn’t have Wi-Fi, humor provides the best medicine. By jokingly thanking Hamas for timing their missile firing during class time, we conceal our greater fear that the classroom — our supposedly sheltered cocoon of learning — cannot escape the looming menace of the outside conflict.

Yet, I wonder if this treatment of the crisis unfairly diminishes the suffering and fear both sides have experienced. Since I am a foreigner staying in Israel for only a short period of time, I can brush off the frightening moments I have confronted as an adventure, which will impress the SFS hotshots when I get back on campus. For most people, however, this is their home: Innocent civilians in Gaza have been killed and displaced, while various Israeli cities experience continued rocket attacks. We must remember this is no laughing matter. In order to reduce hostilities and begin to mend the widespread mistrust, it’s going to take more than a few one-liners: Both sides need to express a commitment for peace.

Jessica Tannenbaum is a rising junior in the College. Check out her other posts about her experience at Hebrew University this summer.

Photo: rt.com

From the Hilltop to the French Hill

Georgetown in Israel

​After two semesters of trekking to Lau and whining about Leo’s food, summer provides a much-needed escape from the Georgetown bubble. Yet, even while exploring Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, Mount Scopus—my new campus home for the summer—I have begun to put Georgetown in perspective. Located in its nation’s capital, world-renowned and buzzing with cafés and students lounging on the lawn, Hebrew University is actually a lot more like Georgetown than I would ever have thought. Here are some surprising similarities:

1. Call Animal Control
Let’s be honest: no one came to Georgetown for the rats and squirrels. I intentionally bypass Old North to avoid mice Mecca. At Hebrew University, however, cats prove an inescapable presence. Not only do cats roam the library and the student center, but students also maintain an area on campus specifically to feed the cats. Maybe if we took some cats to Georgetown, we’d at least lose one problem.

2. Dead Man Walking
While Georgetown houses a cemetery for Jesuits between Harbin and the ICC, Hebrew U actually boasts two: the British War cemetery and the American Colony cemetery. Nothing like looking at graves for some encouragement on the way to class.

3. Satellite Struggles
If you haven’t heard of the infamous and much-bemoaned proposal to introduce a satellite Georgetown campus, then you probably were living in Hebrew University. Although Hebrew U retains six different campuses depending on subject area, Georgetown students would universally protest the Mount Scopus layout. While the dorms sit on one side of the campus, students have to walk twenty minutes to the library and the academic buildings. Forget about waking up five minutes before class.

4. Campus on a Hill
Both Georgetown and Hebrew U are situated on one of the highest points of their respective cities. What a geographic sense of superiority!

5. The Village People
Rooming in VCW and Village A, I have always lived in some sort of village. Out of all the Georgetown idiosyncrasies, I considered this the most peculiar. Instead of being super confusing to visitors and new students, can’t the university just find some rich people to buy the name and then use the money to put treadmills in some common rooms? Yet, in Hebrew University, my dorm is number 7 in the Student Village. I guess some seemingly unique eccentricities really supersede countries and customs.

Before arriving at Hebrew University, I considered my summer to be a very different, if not completely opposite, experience to my first year at Georgetown. But I guess it just goes to show that no matter where you go as a Hoya, memories of the Hilltop will always travel with you.

Jessica Tannenbaum is a rising junior at Georgetown. Thanks, Jessica!

Photo: horizon2020projects.com