Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12/22/11: O Ethnic Ambiguity! Ahlan Akko!

Getting ready to enter Al-Jaza Mosque 

Today was yet another riveting day in the life of a graduate student in the Middle East. All of us MAMES (Master's in Middle Eastern Studies) students enjoyed an amazing field trip to the city of Akko, which is quickly jumping the ranks as one of my favorite cities in Israel. Unfortunately, due to insurance issues, I was not allowed to bring my sister along for this trip, but I was very happy she was understanding of the fact that this was an academic opportunity I didn't want to miss out on.  The amazing thing about Akko is that it is one of the few completely integrated cities in Israel where Arabs and Jews coexist side by side. Arabs serve in the government, run flourishing business, have schools, and do all of this along side of the Jewish communities in the town. It is a heaven to me and a city that should be the model for the state of Israel as a whole. 

It was a long day to say the least. I had to wake up at around 5:45am, get ready for the day, get out to the bus stop, and make it to campus by 7:45. Once I arrived to Ramat Aviv the group of us had time for a quick breakfast and then it was on to the bus to head up to the North of Israel. Being the pinnacle of a "morning person" I took the 2.5 hour bus ride as an opportunity to catch up on some of that sleep I was deprived of in the early morning. Lucky for me one of the guys on my program seized the opportunity to document my laziness! Thank you Greg :-) 

Doing what I do best! 

When we arrived in Akko we started our day at the home of our teacher's Israeli Arab friend. We had a fantastic opportunity to ask him questions about the situation in Israel for Israeli, Muslim Arabs, the situation with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, and other questions covering a wide range of other topics. It was very nice being able to hear from a member of the Israeli minority, and I feel that so much attention is put on the relations with Israel and the neighboring Palestinian territories, that we tend to forget there are about 1.2 million Arabs residing within Israel as full citizens. Hearing what this man had to say was really very interesting, including the fact that he, and many other Israeli Arabs, would remain in Israel even if a Palestinian state was established; Israel is their home and they are working very hard to establish greater recognition and equality for the Arabs in the country.

When we finished with our question and answer session it was off to the old city of Akko to take a boat ride on the mediterranean and visit the beautiful Al-Jazar Mosque. Lucky for us it was a beautiful day outside so the boat ride was absolutely fantastic. They were playing Arabic and Hebrew music on the boat, we were relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous mediterranean, and genuinely enjoying the splendor of the day.
Remember Allah (God)
Walking into the Old City 
Getting ready for our boat ride
When our boat ride came to an end it was off to Al-Jazar Mosque; the second largest Mosque in Israel. In order to get into the facility women had to cover their heads, and, lucky for me, I just happened to bring the scarf that I usually use when I attempt to tie a hijab! I have never been inside a Mosque before and it was absolutely stunning. We couldn't go into the prayer area (we had our shoes on), but we were standing around the outside seating areas where we could see the entire interior of the Mosque. From the decorations and script writings of the names of Allah, Muhammad, and the four Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali), to the boards displaying prayer times, it was such a sight. 

Masjid Al-Jazar  
All wrapped up and ready to go 

Inside the Mosque 

Prayer times 

We were lucky enough to have a guide who gave us a sort of tour of the mosque, explained about some Muslim customs and traditions, and delved a bit into the history of both the mosque and the religion of Islam. When he was done with his presentation we gathered around him in the courtyard to hear his wrap up. When he finished speaking the group of us was silent, I was in the front of the pack, and he looked at me, pointed to me, and said: "You look like a Muslim!"... Needless to say, I was SOOOOO HAPPY about this! I was then told that I was ethnically ambiguous which, I think,  will serve me well when I travel all over the Arab world. 

When we finished at the Mosque we toured the tunnels in Akko and then headed off for a delicious lunch at a restaurant right on the water. It was delicious, traditional Arab food, we had hookah, and it was a great way to unwind from the craziness of the day. After lunch we hopped back on the bus and journeyed back down south to an Arab, Israeli village named Kfar Karra to meet with the head Qadi (Arab Judge) of Haifa. Again we were able to ask various questions regarding his stance on Arabs in Israel and his job in the courts, he gave a little presentation (which was very interesting), and then we wrapped up and headed back to Tel Aviv. 

I finally arrived home at around 9pm, spent some time with my poor sister who had been home all day (I owe her), and now I'm getting rested up for the big weekend ahead. It is Ida's last weekend in Israel so we are going to have some fun before she leaves. Granted, on Sunday I will be locking myself in my room (or the library) and doing nothing but homework, but it will be worth it to spend these last two days having fun with my sister! 

Stay tuned :-) 
Jordana Simone

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