We had such an intense day today. I hope you find this as fascinating as I did.
We began our day at the Knesset, which is the Israeli Parliament. We had to leave everything behind because of security so I couldn’t take in my camera or notebook. After we left I quickly wrote down everything I could remember from the tour and then asked Raed about the things I couldn’t remember or didn’t understand.
We first visited the hall where the legislative sessions take place. There are 120 members of the Knesset. Knesset members are elected every four years and each party chooses its Knesset candidate. The election process is similar to ours in the U.S. The president, however, doesn’t serve in the same capacity as ours. Their president is more of a figure head. He doesn’t actually make any decisions. He’s like the Queen of England, Raed told me.
We also saw the room where important ceremonies take place. This room was really beautiful. It was designed by the Jewish artist Marc Chagall. You should Google him. I can’t even describe the artwork in that room. It was breathtaking.
It was a short and sweet tour, but it was very informative. Since I’m talking politics I also wanted to mention our visit to the American Embassy yesterday. We met Frank Fendberg and Bonnie Gutman from the Consulate General’s office.
They’re goal is to help get the message across about what the U.S. is trying to do to promote co-existence between Israel and Palestine. They help people learn how to live more peacefully in their own neighborhoods and teach people how to form community coalitions.
“This is a conflict that should have been solved years and years ago,” Fendberg said. But, he said, they remain optimistic because “we can’t afford not to be.”
Basically they work with the media to get their message out, they have outreach programs and have educational and cultural exchange programs. They also work to bring American artists to Israel to promote American values. For more information on this go to http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov.
Raed and Maha had a special surprise for us after we left the Knesset. We stopped by The Israel Museum, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was so exciting, especially since we saw Qumran, where the scrolls were discovered. The museum was really interesting. The room that has the scrolls is built like the inside of a clay jar because that’s what they were found in. It was very cool.
Today we also went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. I don’t even know how to describe how powerful this place was. I don’t think I can talk about it yet. I will say the most intense part of the museum is the end. The Hall of Names. It’s this huge circular room that is filled from floor to ceiling with books that contain the names of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Raed said Yad Vashem means “New Beginning” or “New Hope.”
After an intense hour at the museum we traveled to Jaffa, which is right next to Tel Aviv. We had lunch then Raed told us all about the history of the city. Jaffa is an old city that served as a port for goods that were delivered to Jerusalem. We then explored the old streets of Jaffa. By explored I mean we shopped. There were lots of cute antique shops and all of us ladies found beautiful jewelry that we spent forever trying on.
We arrived back at the hotel around 5:30 p.m. and listened to a lecture by a woman from the Hotline for Migrant Workers. It was really fascinating. I’m aware of the issues we face in the states, but had no idea what other countries deal with.
For years, Israel has had a binding agreement, which states that migrants can come here for five years with a work visa. They have to work for the same employer the entire time and if they quit or get fired they are immediately illegal. This causes lots of problems here because 50 percent of migrant workers become illegal.
The law was also created without thought to what would happen if these people had children or got married while in Israel. Children born to illegal immigrants are not given citizenship like in the U.S. There are some children who have grown up here, speak Hebrew, attended schools and are now facing deportation. This is the only country they have ever known.
Shelly said the reason for the laws here is because there is a collective trauma that the Jewish community has in Israel. They are in fear of becoming the minority so they don’t want strangers coming in and potentially becoming the majority.
The problem is these migrant workers and illegal immigrants are doing the work Israelis don’t want to do. It’s just like the U.S. The migrant workers and illegal immigrants do work for very little money. They are willing to do it because wherever they came from they were worse off.
Shelly said this wasn’t really a problem here until the 1990s when conflicts with the Palestinians grew worse. Palestinians were employed in agriculture, health care, construction and industry. But when the West Bank and Gaza Strip were closed the Palestinians were no longer there to do the work. The Israeli government quickly ordered thousands of migrant workers from Russia to come fill the positions.
Now the country is dealing with the problems from their binding agreement laws. It’s all really fascinating.
Tomorrow is another intense day. We will visit the Augusta Victoria Hospital, which provides services to Palestinian refugees, and we will visit a refugee camp in Bethlehem. We will also tour Bethlehem and see all the holy sites there.