Archive for category Ally Collender

Our first interview

Today has been stressful, exciting, humbling, and heartbreaking.

Lukas and I started off the day super early to travel to meet with the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign. It was a whirlwind of an adventure – we took the bus from Jerusalem to Ramallah, then another bus from Ramallah to Nablus, then a taxi from the Nablus bus station to the Nablus taxi station, then finally a shared taxi to Tubas, a small city outside Nablus. From there we met with two people from the Campaign, and we drove out to the Jordan Valley. (Stress – check!)

The Valley itself is absolutely gorgeous. Everywhere you look there are beautiful mountains, and it was nice being away from a city from a bit. Lukas and I both want to see as much as the region as possible, and I am so glad we had the opportunity to come here. I’ve always been more of a fan of mountains than the ocean, and even though it was incredibly hot, I loved this region of Palestine. (Excitement – check!)

The Jordan River Valley

The Jordan River Valley

To the untrained eye you wouldn’t think that water was such a big issue here. And from reports, water shouldn’t be an issue. If there’s one area within Israel and the West Bank that should have plenty of water, it’s the Jordan Valley. Yet, for the 60,000 – 80,000 Palestinians living in the Valley, water is a scarcity that is quickly driving people from the region.

We had the opportunity to meet with one family and get our first interview! This family was so incredibly welcoming, and didn’t even bat an eye when we rolled up to their home. There were two young girls, around the ages of 2 and 3, who were eyeing us suspiciously at first, but by the end of our visit we were able to get them to smile and high five us. Even though they were celebrating Ramadan, they made us lunch, and made sure we had plenty of coffee, tea, and water to drink. After being with them for over 2 hours, I was incredibly sad to leave, but so thankful for the opportunity to meet these wonderful people. (Humbled – check)

Unfortunately, the good vibes did not last very long. As soon as we returned home to Jerusalem, we learned that the bodies of the 3 kidnapped Israeli teens were found in a ditch north of Hebron. As of now, Lukas and I are keeping an eye on the news, and staying in Jerusalem until tensions die down. As always, we are hoping for the best for all parties involved. (Heartbreak… check…)

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Rethinking our strategy

It’s been pretty difficult establishing contact with organizations or individuals in Israel and the West Bank. Lukas and I have reached out to so many organizations (at least 40 so far) that somehow deal with water issues, and only a small handful of those have replied. An even smaller amount has offered assistance. Needless to say, it’s been a little frustrating. There are so many groups affected by water, and there are so many problems surrounding water itself. People in East Jerusalem have a very different story than those who live in Area C in the West Bank. But the core issue is that many people aren’t receiving enough water. We’ve been told multiple times that there are 2.6 million people in the area with water issues. So where do we begin?

So, now we are back to square one, kind of. We’re going back through the list of organizations that we’ve contacted, and are planning on showing up to their offices and asking to speak to someone. The worst they can say is no. But with the organizations spread out over Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv, it’s a little difficult. And finding street addresses in the West Bank is nearly impossible. But we’re slowly working through it all and I feel confident with the direction we’re going. Regardless of what happens, at the end of this journey I will walk away having learned a lot about research, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and most importantly, myself.



A view from the Old City of Jerusalem. This city is absolutely beautiful.

A picture from one of our adventures traveling into  Ramallah. The concrete wall separates Israel from the West Bank.

A picture from one of our adventures traveling into Ramallah. The concrete wall separates Israel from the West Bank.

Even though we’ve had some bumps in the road, we have had some good news as well. Lukas will be writing a blog post in a little bit sharing some of our successes.

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All I buy is water…

Every time I go outside, I am constantly thinking about when and where to buy a water bottle. I feel like all I buy here is something to drink.

Surprisingly, for a place that has so many issues with water, I can buy a water bottle for less than $3. Everything else here is expensive, especially food – average meals cost about 50 shekels (about $15). But water seems to be in abundance everywhere we go.

Today, while walking around Bethlehem, I stopped in a supermarket and grabbed a 1.5 liter water bottle, and when I went to the register the cashier told me I only had to pay 4 shekels. That’s about $1.15. I was floored – I knew water was cheap, but I wasn’t expecting it to be that cheap. Most places charge around 8 shekels for the same bottle.

We’ve heard stories from various people talking about how difficult it is to get water. People go months on end without having access to running water in their homes. They have to buy water off the black market just to be able to wash their dishes and take a shower. They spend time and money towards building illegal cisterns, only to be forced to destroy them when caught.

Yet all I have to do is spend a few shekels for a large water bottle. I can return to my apartment and know that I can brush my teeth before I go to sleep tonight. I can wake up in the morning and shower without thinking twice.

It’s amazing how traveling a couple of miles can so drastically change your access to such a precious resource.


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Comfort in the Midst of Conflict

Today marks two weeks since Lukas and I have arrived in Israel. It’s so weird typing that out… It feels like no time has passed at all. To think that 1/4 of this trip is already completed intimidates me. There is so much work we need to do research-wise, and there is so much more I want to experience. I swear, it feels like we arrived just a couple days ago.

It’s so strange how quickly I’ve become adjusted to this place. The other day while in Ramallah, we were trying to find a place to eat. It was overwhelming trying to find a place with hundreds of people walking around, and everything was in Arabic making it near impossible to find a place to sit down. My immediate response was, “Let’s go back to Jerusalem to eat.” Eventually we found a shawarma shop where one of the men working spoke English, and we were able to sit down and enjoy a good meal. But looking back, my reaction startles me. I haven’t been here that long, and when I’m in Jerusalem I still feel lost most of the time, yet I’ve become so comfortable here. Jerusalem has become my safety net.

This week has been the Festival of Lights in the Old City. All around the Jewish and Armenian quarters there are light projections on the walls and interesting art pieces around the streets. It’s so beautiful seeing the City lit up like this. The streets are filled with people, and there are even more carts than normal selling popcorn, cotton candy, and light-up toys. It’s been a lot of fun walking along the streets that we’ve become familiar with and seeing them in a new light (no pun intended… okay maybe that pun was slightly intentional).

Here is Damascus Gate all lit up during the Festival of Lights. Isn't it beautiful?

Here is Damascus Gate all lit up during the Festival of Lights. Isn’t it beautiful?

While things seem fairly calm in Jerusalem, conflict is swarming around us. Earlier this week, 3 Israeli boys have gone missing in the West Bank while trying to hitch-hike outisde Hebron, and Israel believes that they have been kidnapped by Hamas. As I’m sure you gathered from Lukas’ post a few days ago, Hebron is already a very tense city – I cannot begin to imagine the energy moving through there now. In between football matches, Lukas will turn on the news to see if there are any updates about the missing boys. We are seeing this conflict evolve before our very eyes, and as a conflict analyst I am thrilled to be here experiencing it first-hand. But we are also very cautious – we’ve already decided that going back to Hebron would not be a smart decision at the moment. For now, we are staying informed, and hoping for the best for all parties.

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Adventures in Jerusalem

Over the past few days, Lukas and I have had the opportunity to do even more sight-seeing!

Yesterday we spent time at the Garden Tomb, which is where some Christians believe that Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. The other well-known location of where the burial might have taken places is located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which we have been waiting for Pushpa to arrive for us to visit. The Garden Tomb was incredibly peaceful. Like the name suggests, is a very large garden on the outskirts of the Old City. They also offer free tours, which was great because most of the sightseeing Lukas and I have done has been on our own. It was nice for someone to tell us stories, rather than rely on our memories of our previous visit.

This morning, we decided to go on the Rampart Walk, which is a catwalk that goes around the perimeter of the Old City. There are technically two different sections of the Walk, but unfortunately one end was closed off, but we still enjoyed ourselves. We ended up making friends with 3 couples who were on a tour group together, and had some free time before the left to explore the Old City. After we finished the Walk, we showed them some other areas of the Old City they hadn’t seen before, like the overlook of the Western Wall. It’s really surprising how quickly Lukas and I have learned our way around the place. Okay, maybe I haven’t really gotten the directions sorted out, but I can always rely on Lukas to figure out the right way to go! Below is a picture of us on the Rampart Walk.

Lukas and Ally

This evening, Pushpa arrived to visit us! After grabbing some falafel for dinner, we decided to give her a mini-tour of the Old City. Like we did with our friends before, we took her to see the overlook of the Western Wall. Shabbat, the Jewish holy day, began tonight at sundown, so there were so many people at the Western Wall praying. And while we were watching, the Muslim call to prayer began to play as well. I cannot begin to describe how amazing it was to experience both of these religious ceremonies occur at the same time. Israel has such a wide array of culture, but it’s often divided amongst religious sects. It was beautiful to see these two religious groups overlap one another.

Tomorrow we will be going to visit Bethlehem, where we will see the Church of the Nativity and walk along the Separation Wall and see all the graffiti. The graffiti is absolutely incredible, and I am sure we will have some good pictures and stories to share from that trip.

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Day 2 in Jerusalem

It’s Day 2 here for Lukas and I in Jerusalem, and we just got in from exploring the city and our surroundings. There is so much to see here, and we are trying to take it all in and learn our way around the city.

After Lukas and I arrived in Jerusalem yesterday afternoon, we spent the evening walking around the Old City and reminiscing on our previous trips here. Lukas knows his way around the city better than I do, which is incredibly helpful because I am terrible with directions and navigation. Our apartment is in the perfect location – we can see Damascus Gate, one of the entrances into the Old City, from our apartment window. We didn’t spend too much time exploring, because we both had a hectic day of travel, and I am adjusting to a seven hour time-zone difference. Today, we spent the morning exploring Ben Yehuda and Jaffa Streets, which have loads of restaurants, bars, and places to shop. After taking a break this afternoon, we found ourselves back in the Old City, where we explored the areas we weren’t as familiar with. At one point, we found stairs that led to the roofs of some buildings, and there was a gorgeous view of Temple Mount. Later on we found ourselves lost and walking along the outside wall of the Old City, and eventually we made our way home. Tonight, we are going to be meeting with one of Lukas’ friends for drinks.

The average person probably would have no idea that there are issues concerning water here. No one seems in desperate need, and its fairly easy and cheap to buy a bottle of water. Of course, we aren’t in the West Bank, where the issue is more prevalent, but if you look closely you can see some divides here in Jerusalem. Some homes in certain neighborhoods have black water jugs to catch rain water. From some of my background research and my previous visit, I’ve been told that these neighborhoods are mostly Arab. While walking around today Lukas and I didn’t even notice them at first – but once you see them, they become hard to miss. These jugs clearly show divides between people within Jerusalem.

Tomorrow we are hoping to go into Ramallah and start contacting some organizations for our research. Hopefully we wont get too lost along the way, but with my lack of directional skills, we will probably get at least a little confused.

Here are some pictures from these first couple of days!


This first photo is a view from our apartment. It’s hard to make out, but on the right side you can see Damascus Gate and the Old City. We got so lucky with our apartment. The location is perfect, and we don’t have to walk very far to see famous sites, go out to eat, or go shopping.


This is the Western Wall with the Temple Mount (the gold building on the left). These are two of the most iconic images of Jerusalem and Israel. Jerusalem in general is gorgeous, but when we were on this overlook looking out at these two historic sites is one of my favorite parts of Jerusalem.


Another picture of the Temple Mount. Lukas and I found ourselves lost in the Old City, and somehow ended up on the roof of some buildings. We hope that we can find this place again, because it is so peaceful looking out above Jerusalem.

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Prepping for the Middle East

Sitting in front of me is a growing checklist of everything I have to get done before I leave Virginia in 5 days and embark on my journey to Israel and the West Bank. I cannot believe how quickly time has passed since I first found out I was going to be a Peacebuilder’s Fellow, and now that I’m just a few days out from my trip, I can’ t help but feel overwhelmed and excited. I’ve been spending what little free time I have researching issues related to the water crisis in the region. Like every other issue involving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, it is a very complicated problem, but for me that is what makes this research even intriguing, and I know we will learn some amazing, heartbreaking, and inspiring stories from the Palestinian people.

This isn’t my first journey to Israel and the West Bank. In March 2012, I had the opportunity to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a study abroad program sponsored by my undergraduate university, and it was during this time I fell in love with the region. My experiences encouraged me to pursue a career in conflict resolution and international diplomacy, and since then I’ve been dreaming of the time that I can return to the land that I fell in love with. I’ve just dug up my journal where I kept a daily log of everything I experienced when I was there before, which has made me even more excited to begin this two month adventure.

Planning this trip has been a whirlwind, to say the least. Like Lukas mentioned below, there were a few hiccups that made prepping for our adventure more stressful than anticipated. But we’ve got our tickets booked and an apartment reserved (and it’s super close to the Old City, which was my favorite place in Israel when I visited previously), so it’s just a matter of packing and traveling to Tel Aviv.

While this blog will be updated regularly with our research and the stories we obtain,there are so many places to see in Israel and the West  Bank, and Lukas and I plan on taking advantage of every opportunity presented to us. I will be creating a personal blog sharing these experiences, check out or follow me on twitter – @allycollender



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Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.