Over spring break, a group of four Palestinian students from HKS led the largest student trek – The Palestine Trek! Countless hours of hard work came to a close as 96 Harvard graduate students departed for a quick visit to our troubled homeland. We organized a mix of educational and tourist experiences. Nine days flew by and we had exceeded our expectations and provided a life-changing experience.
Yes, we had some hurdles: A Gaza-born American student was denied entry at the border, and some dozen trekkers were delayed for hours at the airport in Tel Aviv. But once we were united in Jerusalem, the ball started rolling and it was a great joy to see it go.
A combination of speakers from across the spectrum provided perspective. A UN representative, non-government organizations, top business leaders, refugees, religious leaders, nonviolent resisters, foreign journalists, activists, diplomats, Bedouins, Palestinians, Israeli and Israeli-Arab officials and anti-officials, offered a mosaic of opinions that are a testament to how complicated the politics can be.
A tour in the old city streets of Jerusalem, where historical sites of three monotheistic religions stand together, was symbolic and humbling. We soaked up the history as we heard about all the greats that walked these alleyways, and watched locals from various backgrounds side by side in what was always a shared city of peace.
When we journeyed to the West Bank, we were met with Israel’s thirty-foot concrete wall. Crossing the Bethlehem checkpoint on foot, we saw the other side of the wall, covered with murals and messages of despair and hope. We saw a plethora of hilltop settlements throughout our trip through the West Bank, visiting Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, Jericho, and east Jerusalem. Crossing the checkpoints and traveling to Israel, we visited the Negev, Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa, and Tel Aviv.
Great food, great fun, and great hosts were reflective of the resilient people of Palestine, whose love of life shined through despite the harsh realities witnessed and experienced by us all. This was the greatest asset for the organizers: the rich sources on the ground that made it all so effortlessly wonderful, the habibis, the Palestinian people.
We had home-cooked meals that despite all the walking made us gain weight. We had freshly brewed beer from the tap of the Taybeh Brewery. We ate the best Knafeh in the old city of Nablus and sat at the amphitheater of the newly planned city of Rawabi. We walked the streets of the refugee camps and had a video conference with fellow students from Gaza. We cycled through the town of Jericho and climbed the Mount of Temptations before floating in the Dead Sea for hours. We had a talent show and a party and wrapped up this spectacular journey. We had the time of our lives!