As I look back over the past two months, I can divide the time pretty neatly into two categories of activity: traveling and studying. In November I took two trips to Dublin. The first was with my fellow MA students to meet with various Irish officials and politicians as well as the British Ambassador and an official at the U.S. Embassy. These were by and large interesting meetings in which we learned more about the role of the Irish (and British and American) government(s), and the interests of various Irish political parties, in the peace process in the North. It was also a nice opportunity to get to know my classmates better and to hang out with some of the Dublin Mitchell Scholars (let it be known that Daniel and Adar are excellent chefs!). At the end of the month I returned to Dublin for an enjoyable Thanksgiving celebration with fellow Mitchell Scholars and an unexpected reunion with Marcus Weisner, a Mitchell in 2005-2006 who lived across the Lawn from me at UVA and had just returned to Dublin on his way back to the States after a summer spent backpacking around Africa. We saw the new Bond movie together, which I really liked.
Aside from a weekend in London, most of the rest of November and the first half of December were spent reading and writing essays for my classes. I had to write two essays, one on the peace process in Northern Ireland and one on United Nations peacekeeping. While I found both topics quite interesting, I spent a considerable amount of time learning about UN peacekeeping. Two books I’d highly recommend are Roland Paris’s At War’s End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict, on the effectiveness of international peacebuilding missions in the 1990s that promoted political and economic liberalization in order to build the conditions for sustainable peace in societies emerging from civil conflicts; and Samantha Power’s “A Problem from Hell:” America and the Age of Genocide, on the generally ineffective response of the United States to a number of genocides in the 20th century.
After finishing my essays I was treated to a visit by my parents, who spent several days in the third week of December touring in and around Derry before we headed first to Belfast and then to Dublin together. Despite the stresses of the end of the semester and the very foggy weather, it was really good to see my parents and I think they enjoyed their first visit to the island of Ireland.
When my folks headed back to the States, I set off on a 20-day journey to Cyprus (via Prague) and Israel/Palestine. In many ways this was a Seeds of Peace reunion trip for me, as I spent much of my time in both places visiting former campers and co-workers from my three summers as a counselor at Seeds of Peace (SOP) International Camp. [SOP runs two three-week coexistence programs each summer for teens from several international conflicts (including Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and other Arabs; Greek and Turkish Cypriots; Indians and Pakistanis; and Afghans) at a camp on Pleasant Lake in Maine.] In Cyprus, I spent four nights in Nicosia at the home of a Turkish Cypriot camper who had stayed in my bunk in 2004. He showed me around some gorgeous parts of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (including Kyrenia, Salamis, Famagusta, and the stunning Kantara Castle). We also met up with a number of other campers from the summer of 2004 in Nicosia, which was really special for me. I spent Christmas touring both the Turkish and Greek sides of Nicosia, crossing back and forth through the UN-monitored Green Line that runs through (what I believe is) the only divided capital in the world. The last half of my trip I was based in Larnaca. In addition to visiting with many Greek Cypriot campers from 2004, I also managed a day trip to Limasol and a nearby archeological site, and a long (approximately 85km) bike trip up the coast to Aiya Napa (a summer beach destination) and then back to Larnaca through Pyla, the only town in Cyprus that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots have continued to share since the occupation of the northern part of the island by Turkish troops in 1974. Overall Cyprus was great; I loved the sunshine (after so much rain in Derry) and really appreciated the hospitality extended to me by my old campers.
From Larnaca, I flew to Tel Aviv for 11 days in Israel/Palestine. I had visited Israel once before, in August 2000 (just before the second intifada began and just after the failed Camp David summit), with my family and a group from our synagogue. This time, I was on my own and arrived in Israel with a list of friends and family I wanted to see but no set itinerary. It worked out brilliantly. My first day in Tel Aviv I bought an Israeli Sim card and got in touch with some of my relatives, who were undoubtedly surprised to learn that I was in Israel. Nevertheless, two of my cousins met me for coffee that afternoon (after I had walked around Tel Aviv and visited the square where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995) and two more took me to a Shabbat dinner with other family in the evening. It was an unexpected and greatly appreciated warm welcome! I spent the next three nights at the apartment of a friend working for SOP in Tel Aviv. I attended an SOP event in Haifa and spent an afternoon touring the Old City of Jaffa. SOP friends and I rang in the New Year at a club in Tel Aviv and a great little bar called Norman.
On the first of January I traveled to Jerusalem, where I spent the next six nights at the home of another friend and regional SOP employee who lives in French Hill, a well-established Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. I really liked being in Jerusalem, where I spent a day walking around the Old City and also had the opportunity to meet up with a number of friends (from SOP, UVA, and home). I had a surreal experience one afternoon when, after spending most of the day at a conference on the psychological barriers to peace in Israel/Palestine hosted by Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, a joint Jewish-Arab village in Israel proper, I learned that an undercover Israeli military arrest raid in Ramallah had gone wrong and left 4 Palestinians dead and approximately 20 injured that same afternoon. It really hit home for me how unpredictable and insecure life is for Palestinians living in the West Bank. On the other hand, the second-thoughts I had riding Israeli public transportation and going past security guards into cafes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem made me reflect on how Israelis also must internalize such a perpetual feeling of insecurity. Having worked at SOP and also studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for several years, my trip reinforced for me just how complex and taxing the conflict is on the ground for both Jews and Arabs living in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
My trip ended with a wonderful family reunion in Tel Aviv and then a day-trip with relatives to Haifa and Acre. After 26 hours of travel I returned to Derry, where exams loom on the horizon before another shorter break and then the new semester. Hopefully I’ll have many more adventures to report next time around.