Adventures at home, abroad, and online

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This Year in Jerusalem

I planned a trip to Israel with my mother, who had never been. She was so upset at the wars in the 70s that she swore not to go until they “made peace” with their neighbors. In the 40 years since, it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, and so we are here together for Mothers’ Day.

To Jerusalem

On the drive from Amman to Jerusalem, we shared a taxi with Jacob from Souktel.

Allenby with Jacob

They’re the best mobile aid provider in the region, have mostly palestinian programmers, but was co-founded founded by this canadian HBS graduate. We’ve talked briefly before, but we had a several hour conversation on the complicated nature of work in this area. After arriving at Damascus Gate he left us to return to Ramallah, and we met Jared at Al-Ayed chicken restaurant.

Since it’s Jeff’s first time here, we spent the afternoon trekking around the old city. Did the standard holy sites tour: Church of the Speulchre, Western Wall, Dome of the Rock. Couldn’t actually get up to the mount because it was Friday, but did see some exuberant dancing at the Kotel plaza for the second night of Hannukkah. Then walked along the eastern edge of the wall, overlooking Silwan, a Palestinian village under threat of destruction, and the Valley of Jehosphat, where the dead shall rise when Gog and Magog battle and the Lord returns in glory. Or at least that’s what wikipedia tells me.

Dome of the Rock
Jerusalem with Jared
Ladder of the Status Quo
Pillar of Absalom and Cave of Jehosephat
Nose picking at the Church of St Mary Magdalene

Jeff bought some “computers”, which are really knock-off nintendo boards from china, on the street for $20. The first immediately broke upon plugging in to the TV, but I think we can fix it when we get back to the lab. The intention is to develop educational software for this platform, perhaps using the Contiki OS, but I think he just wants to play Duck Hunt.

Unique Educational Computer

On Research

Today marks the end of the research portion of my trip, and the beginning of a small vacation with Ruth. As such, I thought it suitable to write some thoughts on my progress so far.

Over the last three weeks I conducted ten interviews, meeting with representatives from B’Tselem, Souktel, Ma’an News Agency, The Center for Peace and Economic Cooperation, Birthright Unplugged, Waze, a conscientious objector, and various activists. I gave a talk to the Decolonizing Architecture collective in Bethlehem, gathering critical feedback on my research direction. I assisted briefly with the Voices Beyond Walls youth video project, and learned how children too are affected by the Occupation.

I rode the bus from Ramallah to Jerusalem nearly every day, subject to the same dehumanizing experience at the Qalandia checkpoint as the Palestinian population. Last week, an old woman noticed me speaking english, and upon learning that I am an American (although I haven’t been telling people that I am jewish), reiterated the importance of bring the story of their suffering to my country. During the long wait in the screening line, she said again and again that we must resist, in our hearts if not with our bodies.

I learned more about the non-technical coping mechanisms that already exist. The status of checkpoints can be relatively easily ascertained by asking taxi drivers, or by calling people who pass through them daily. The prior existence of this literal social network, and the understandable reluctance of the population to submit information that might be misused, could severely limit the utility of a mobile checkpoint reporting tool.

Other tools I had considered, a transit map and bus tracker, also have functional non-technical systems already in place. While as a tourist, I don’t know the detailed routes of the service taxi network, the men who congregate at the bus stations all do, and will tell you where to go even without much Arabic language skill. As there isn’t a defined schedule, buses simply depart when full, a full transit tracker isn’t entirely applicable. Aside from tourists, of whom there are very few, this system would duplicate the already present network, with little added functionality.

I heard again and again from Israelis that the reality of the occupation isn’t widely known by the populace, either due to a lack of information, or more likely, the pervasive dehumanization of the other side. How to tackle this issue is probably outside the scope of what I can achieve in the next year. Maybe the most valuable contribution I can make to the process is to enable some sort of empathy on both sides. Both traumatized populations are in dire need of understanding and discourse. This sounds more like a job for art and literature than science and engineering.

How exactly to do this is left as an exercise to the reader…

The Bottom of the World

Tooled around Bethlehem, saw the very rock on which Jesus was born. I find it hard to believe that a pregnant woman trudged to the top of a hill to give birth, but I guess it would have been cooler in the church. Good thing it was there.

I made Hannah ride a camel at a truck stop, which was hilarious or humiliating, depending on your point of view. Went to the Dead Sea at night, which was only slightly less oppressively hot than it would have been during the day. Floating in the fetid water under the stars was pretty magical, until it was time to rinse off the bromine stew. On our way back, we were stopped by a friendly soldier who reminded us that we were on the road to Ramallah. I was inclined to ask in mock horror, “oh no, are there Arabs there?” But that would have blown our cover. We promised we would be careful, and traveled on into the night.

Jerusalem Graffiti

Met a young conscientious objector at the Nocturno Cafe, which is graced with some excellent graffiti.

Googly-eyes Ghandi
Shomer fucking Shabbos
No legs, no problems

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