19 days in Israel and Palestine, eight members of the UJS team and two itineraries: 52 students recently returned from one of three five- and seven-day trips with UJS.
With one Let’s Talk Business trip (16 participants) and two The Real Deal trips (36 participants) taking place across a two-week period, students from all religions, backgrounds and cultures were able to visit Israel and Palestine, with access-all-areas passes to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank. Participants on The Real Deal visited the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Rawabi as well as the Jewish settlement Efrat, whilst Let’s Talk Business added Bethlehem and Nazareth to their itinerary too.
Let’s Talk Business focused predominantly on start-ups and entrepreneurship, visiting companies, organisations and enterprises in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Bethlehem. Some of these include:
- Energiya Global, an Israeli company that develops affordable solar energy worldwide
- Jasmine, an all-female initiative ‘dedicated to promoting social and economic change for businesses owned by Jewish and Arab women from all sectors, religions and socioeconomic strata.’
- iAngels, which matches start-ups to angel investors from the start up nation.
- Presentense, an NGO working to help incubate businesses, especially among disadvantaged communities, where the group learned about projects geared at encouraging business partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians as a way of creating economic bonds that could lay the groundwork for peace
- Bethlehem Business Incubator, a financial incubator for start-ups in Palestine
- Rawabi, a Palestinian city that is the only privately built funded city in the world, where the group also met the funder of the project
- e-Zone, an NGO incubator in Palestine
Natasha, a student at the University of Law, said: ‘meeting with Presentense helped me to understand the diverse ethnic background of Israel and the organisations that are available to help them, such that the country moves towards peace and equality.’
J-Soc Officer Grace Diamond and Campaigns Officer Sam Gold, who co-led Let’s Talk Business, said after the trip: ‘Looking at a region in conflict with the focus of business and economic development provided an eye-opening experience. Accompanying the participants of Let’s Talk Business to experience Israel and Palestine for the first time, and from a business and development perspective, allowed us to see the region in a completely different way; we look forward to reflecting on this as we continue to develop our #BridgesNotBoycotts campaign and other activities in this area.’
Meanwhile, The Real Deal focused on various aspects of the region, from geography and politics to social issues and culture.
They ascended Masada to learn about the historic siege that took place there in 73-74 CE and descended 1,412 feet below sea level to the Dead Sea; examined the hidden messages of graffiti in Florentin and attended a beachfront Shabbat service that fostered an inclusive, participatory approach by fusing traditional liturgy and Israeli culture with progressive practice. Ellen, of the University of Edinburgh, said that her first ever Shabbat experience ‘was amazing.’
They walked through shelters in Sderot and listened to the stories of Israelis and Palestinians involved with Roots, who are actively working together on coexistence projects in the West Bank. They visited Israel’s borders with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt; participants found the visit to Mount Ben-Tal, just 800 metres from the Syrian border, particularly sobering.
Adrien, from the University of Aberdeen, said that ‘hearing explosions from atop Mount Ben Tal was one of the most heartbreaking experiences ever’, whilst Sophie from Heriot-Watt University said that it was ‘a very sobering reminder that no matter how safe we felt in our little part of the Middle East, life is still very different there for so many people.’
In Jerusalem, both trips toured the Old City, visiting the Kotel (Western Wall), Al Aqsa mosque on Temple Mount / Haram el-Sharif and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Nelson Jarvis, a University of Birmingham student who participated in Let’s Talk Business, said: ‘I loved exploring Jerusalem, both in the Old City with Jeremy [our tour guide] and during our free time in the evening – it is a beautiful place.’
The Real Deal also visited Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, where the geography of these sites played an important role in developing an understanding of the birth of the State of Israel in the years following the Holocaust.
The itinerary also took in sites of religious significance in the Christian tradition, including Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes and Tagbha. Kayla, a Christian student from the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘The trip made me reevaluate my understanding of what makes a place holy. Could not the air-conditioned tour bus where a heartfelt prayer is offered up in worship be holy? A cramped hotel room buzzing with thoughtful and meaningful conversations with new friends? The falafel shop where you first sensed the visceral presence of God since arriving? My reflections during the journey home solidified a sense of awe and a quiet reverence for the holiness of all places, and all peoples who hold them sacred.’
Reflecting on The Real Deal, Arthur, of the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘the trip was wonderful in terms of how holistic an experience of Israel it gave, ranging from more serious matters of great interest from an intellectual point of view to other experiences you would enjoy in a more touristy way.’
Liron Velleman, UJS Campaigns Manager, and Kathryn Rose, J-Soc Officer, who co-led The Real Deal Bus 2, said: ‘The diversity of the participants on the trip created a unique environment which allowed fascinating discussions to take place. Each student engaged with the content of the trip in a different way that contributed to the richness and depth of our conversations. We were consistently impressed by the mature way that they approached difficult and controversial topics, asking challenging and thought-provoking questions both to each other and the speakers we met. Many of them described the trip as a “once in a lifetime experience,” and we can’t wait to see how they use their journey to continue to learn and make informed opinions.’
At UJS we are excited to support the students who participated in both The Real Deal and Let’s Talk Business in bringing their experiences back to the UK, as they continue to learn, engage and develop their understanding of the many topics we visited, from the shared spaces of politics, conflict and religion to social issues through lenses like art and history; and to see them share their experiences during the trip with their peers back at universities across the UK. We also look forward to developing further trips and bring new opportunities to many more students too.
Interested in joining future trips? Let us know and we'll keep you up to date!