The reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hit home when a Muslim woman from Santa Clara was separated from her group of travelers and interrogated for three hours when she arrived at Israel‘s Ben-Gurion International Airport.
“Traveling to Israel and Palestine as part of the Interfaith Peace-Builders‘ Delegation, changed my life forever,” says Jennifer Lee, a Santa Clara wife, mother of four, and experienced social worker who was born in Fresno and had never before traveled outside the U.S.
“It made me appreciate the people in my life and what I have. When I came back, I hugged my children and husband and called my parents in Fresno,” says Lee. “The trip opened my eyes to loving people more and enlightened my consciousness.”
Lee, a multi-racial woman who converted from Christianity to Islam in 2009, made the two-week trip October 23 through November 4, returning just days before the November escalation of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Lee was part of an African Heritage Delegation of 14 professional people of different faiths from around the U.S.
“I went to the Holy Land to holy sites. I walked into those places, and it‘s sad to see that a lot of what we hold dear to our hearts is being destroyed. There are bullet holes in the Church of the Nativity [south of Jerusalem in Bethlehem, where Jesus is believed to have been born].
“I walked to the Wailing Wall [in the Old City in Jerusalem] alongside Jewish people and Christians. We walked straight ahead down the same road, but we made different turns. Christians turned right. Muslims turned left. The Jews walked straight. We walked peacefully. We were all trying to go and pray.
“But there were soldiers with guns everywhere you turned. It seemed traumatizing to me as an American. Why is this necessary?” says Lee.
Lee became interested in learning more about Israel and Palestine through a social studies class she took at San Jose City College in 2008.
“The purpose of our delegation was to speak to the Israeli and Palestinian people and obtain their accounts of the situation in Israel and Palestine, as well as obtain our own accounts through our personal experiences during this travel,” Lee writes in an e-mail.
Lee observed firsthand the “enormous amount of physical, social, environmental, emotional, psychological and financial suffering in the Holy Land, of which many people are unaware.” She details her observations on her trip blog: www.simplesite.com/Palestine-myexperience.
“My hope,” she states, “is that once people are equipped with knowledge, we can remember others around the world—especially in places that we celebrate at Christmas time—and take steps to alleviate the suppression and oppression, via empowerment, involvement, advocacy and taking the initiative to utilize effective and peaceful tools that contribute to social justice.”
“I hope that each and every day, we remember to celebrate each other and not just celebrate a holiday,” she writes in her “Hope for Humanity” blog entry.
Through its travel delegation programs, Interfaith Peace-Builders (www.ifpb.org), established in 2000, introduces North Americans to ordinary Palestinian and Israeli citizens and to dedicated activists for peace. It asks delegation members to share their experiences within their diverse home communities in the hope of fostering more peaceful relations between Palestine and Israel.