The Cultural and Educational Exchange Mission to Palestine is one of many committees within the AFRP.
Our Mission takes Americans to Palestine to learn about the Palestinian people, their land and culture, and seeks to educate them and show them how the people of Palestine live, work and play, all while showing life under occupation.
The typical group size is 5-8 participants, plus the leaders.
Our main goal is to let these participants experience for themselves what Palestine is about in the short time they are there.
This is our 3rd year of taking groups to Palestine and we do this two times a year, usually between May-November.
Our latest trip was August of 2017.
There were 5 participants on this trip.
Kris, a documentary filmmaker.
Mary, a sociology professor.
Youssef, a foreign language professor.
Ted, a director of music education.
Erik, psychologist and media consultant
Even though we spend only one week in Palestine, we really make the most of it and experience every day to the fullest possible.
While spending all evenings and nights in Ramallah, we travel very extensively throughout Palestine.
We visit Bethlehem, Hebron, Jalazoun refugee camp, “The Wall”, the Jordan valley, and of course, Jerusalem.
While in Bethlehem we visited the University of Bethlehem and had a great presentation and discussion with the students.
They explained the aspects of the school, faculty and the mix of students. The shared their hopes and aspirations.
Some expressed their hardships of getting to school if traveling from outside of Bethlehem.
While in Bethlehem we visited a wonderful exhibit of Palestinian art that was being hosted in the Bank of Palestine building.
That was a pleasant surprise for all of us and was happy to be hearing the presentation of the art collector.
Next, “The Wall”, so imposing, so “in your face”, it’s right there. Boom, right there! The “Separation Wall”.
What can be said about this?
We saw it almost everywhere, but we were in close contact with it in Bethlehem. There, many people from all over the world have made their artistic mark on the wall to tell the world “this is not right”. Some, really clever. Do an Internet search of “the separation wall, art” or “the separation wall, Banksy”
While in Hebron we visited and walked through the old city and visited the Ibrahimi Mosque, sanctuary of Abraham.
Hebron is a very large Palestinian city and in the old part of the city there is a large Israeli military presence there around the Mosque.
The military is there to protect the Israeli settlers that are close by and within the city.
On what used to be a major street close to the Mosque, the Israeli military does not allow Palestinians to have access to, drive on or even walk on these streets because this street leads to a settlement that is within Hebron. This used to be a busy street with shops and business. Because of the closure all the business have shut down, the storefronts are closed off and the residents of the buildings, the few that remain, have to enter their homes through the rear of the building by ladders leading to the 2nd story of their buildings, where the living quarters are.
While visiting the Jalazoun camp, where over 10,000 people live within, to me, what seems like 4 acres, was quite active.
The UN provides some services, schools and facilities for the people of the camp.
While we always say “camp”, as it used to be, has become and is “home” to many people and several generations.
The older people have now lived the majority of their lives there; have raised their families’, their sons and daughters, their grandkids, and great grandkids there, many generations.
We were greeted with hospitality and friendliness while roaming through the narrow streets there.
The little children were playful and friendly, and curious as to why we were there. We clearly looked like typical tourists with cameras in our hands and a look of amazement while gazing at everything. Everyone had a friendly smile and waved at us. All these smiles and felling of warmth from people that were forced from their ancestral homes and lands, how amazing.
There were many other sites we visited: Birzeit University, The Mahmoud Darwish Museum, Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, The Yaser Arafat Museum, Al Haq Law Organization, Al Kamandjati Music School….All worthwhile visits.
Jerusalem, what a place. A mix of old and very old….Muslim, Jewish, Christian…Peace and Strife…Religious, Secular…Holy, and Business….
We also do take small trips within Israel, visiting Nazareth and Haifa and in the past we have visited also visit Akka and Jaffa.
All our participants expressed that their “eyes were opened” experiencing the wonderful people and places of Palestine, and at the same time stating how it is incredible that all Palestinians that they met, students, those living in the camps or the common person, was not, in any way,
They came to understand the facts about our people and their situation and they were a witness to truth.
Many stereotypes, miseducation and misconceptions quickly vanish once these participants experience the hospitality and graciousness of Palestinians, and get to know our people on a personal level. All came away thoroughly enjoying their experiences and were grateful to have been selected for this trip.
They saw the settlements…they saw the injustice…they saw…
They saw art, music, and museums….
The most important part was interacting with the people, everyday people, business people, students, kids…
We had so many great dinners with many, what are now, friends. The people of Ramallah are such great hosts!
We heard many Palestinians, on many occasions; tell us “To Exist is to Resist”.
They do love having visitors there, knowing that someone is seeing what is really happening.
When our participants return to the US, they speak to others, they write blogs, and they interact with many people.
Having, first hand, witnessed these things with their own eyes, they do become good ambassadors of the Palestinian people.
We want to thank our sponsors: Taawon, The Bank of Palestine, and the United Palestinian Appeal.
We want to thank the Municipality, the Mayor and the Governor of Ramallah, the people of Sirreyyah, and the people of Ramallah and our many friends that help us while in Palestine. Also thanks to Tala and Abdullah, our guides with Taawon while in Palestine.
And our many supporters here in the US and in Ramallah that make this mission possible, especially those members of the AFRP.
We thank our team leaders, who take the time to do this while paying their own expenses for these trips.
All have been very generous and make this possible.
These contributions help us show others:
The Beauty of the Land.
The Graciousness and Hospitality of its People.
The Joy of its Music.
The Richness of its Culture.
The Importance of its Higher Education.
The Aspirations of its Young People.
The Impact of the Occupation.
The Limitation of Movement.
While in occupation, The Absence of Liberty and Justice.
But, we need your continued support.
We also need very qualified candidates for these trips.
We have been fortunate so far by having good people recommended to participate in these trips, but please keep us aware if you can recommend others that may have good influence and positive impact for this mission. It does make a difference.
We’ll look forward to our upcoming trip which is scheduled this October, with the exciting part of this experience partly involving the Olive Harvest, central to the lives of most Palestinian farmers.