September 20, 2012

The delegation began the morning with a deeper exploration of the history of the Israeli state and the Jewish people.

The group first visited Yad Vashem, the largest Holocaust Memorial Museum in Israel and one of the largest Holocaust Museums in the world. During the visit, our tour guide explained to us the particular and sentimental nature of the name “Yad Vashem,” taken from a quote from the Book of Isaiah that reads: “Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name (yad vashem)…I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

From this quote, the founders of the memorial decided titled it Yad Vashem, to represent the idea that the memorial would serve as the legacy for all of the victims who had no one to carry on their name after death.

The museum chronicled the human cost and horrific nature of the Holocaust – an incredibly moving experience for the students on the trip witnessing such a carefully curated history of those years and their subsequent effect on the Jewish people.

The museum provided us with deeper insight into the plight of the Jewish people and their desperation to identify and develop a Jewish homeland after the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Touring the memorial added great perspective to the emotional connection of the Jewish community, both in Israel and abroad, to the land.


A man walks near the separation barrier in Jerusalem. Credit: Tasha Locke

Leaving the museum, the group headed to the separation wall that divides Israel and the West Bank. This barrier, often referred to simply as “the wall,” is an eight-meter barrier erected by the Israeli government in 2002 that runs more than 700 kilometers in length.

The Olive Tree Initiative was fortunate enough to have Danny Tirza, the architect of the wall, provide the tour.

During the tour, the group pushed Tirza to answer tough questions about the motives, the makings, and his view of the successes of the wall.  Having already heard many criticisms from the Palestinian side about the erection of the wall, which has divided cities, neighborhoods and agricultural plots in half, Tirza was able to speak to human considerations made by Israeli authorities when plotting the course of the barrier.

Tirza provided the group with very open and honest answers, elaborating on the wall’s security purposes as the main reason for its continued existence. At one point, Tirza touched upon the psychological impact of the wall, namely that, although it could not prevent rockets from entering Israel, it provides comfort to Israeli citizens who see it as visual representation of the Israeli government’s security measures.

One of the most surprising things Tirza said, however, came at the very end of the tour, when he remarked that he wished the wall no longer had to exist, and his hope to be the first one in line to take down the wall when Israel and a future Palestinian state could finally find peace.


Jessica Montell, executive director of B’Tselem, speaks to students near the separation wall in Jerusalem. Credit: Tasha Locke

This tour was closely followed with a tour of East Jerusalem and the wall by Jessica Montell, the executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Montell, an Israeli citizen, was far more critical of the wall than Tirza, and outlined in detail the cost of the wall to the Palestinians.  Because the wall was not built on the 1967 lines, it encroaches greatly into Palestinian land and livelihoods. This, Montell explained, has created far more problems than solutions in the conflict.


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