We drove through a lot of desert, and I kept hearing this in my head.

Near Gaza

I was in Sderot and we climbed up to the top of a hill to see out over to the Gaza.

 

Jerusalem

What looks like a sprawling toy city is the heart of all the Abrahamic religions.

 

Near Galilee

The hills are just as billowy as the clouds above them. And now I'm a beat poet.

Spin is showing a selected side of the truth, an Israeli journalist said. It is the truth, but it is only a facet.

What I saw in Israel was the truth. The people who I spoke with and met with told the truth. Their messages, though, were only a part of the truth.

The most potent and dangerous weapon is not a rifle or any sort of firearm or rocket, Daniel Reisner, head the Public International Law, Defense and Homeland Security Division at Israel’s largest law firm.

It is information.

Reisner said the information about the attacks between Hamas and Israel get distorted through videos. In a specific incident, he said members of Hamas attacked an Israeli base and planted a flag for a few moments, took video footage of it, and then ran away. Later, Reisner said a video was circulating saying Hamas had taken over the base, and showed footage of the planted flag as proof.

He said members of Hamas and Hezbollah would also have people “play dead” in front of the camera, and take footage of people pretending to be dead to make it seem like there were more casualties in an Israeli attack than there actually were.

Reisner said he had footage of Hamas and Hezbollah members actually doing this. I am going to email him presently asking for that video, and when/if I get it, I’m going to post it here.

Reisner knows the power of stories and information, which is why he is telling us these things. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t just about fire power, it is about allies and sympathies, and the more allies you have, the better off you’ll be.

Reisner also said YouTube censors and removes IDF clips from the site. While censorship may be present, I found a number of IDF clips on YouTube when I did a quick search. That doesn’t necessarily mean YouTube doesn’t take some footage down, but the IDF definitely has a presence.

In this conflict, both sides need to know how to use the media– information is a weapon. In order to not be a vessel for another person’s agenda, it’s good to know people doctor footage and will host campus media groups for free*.

I’m an idiot if I stomp my feet and huff about how people only present their argument or their truth. I’m an idiot if I think people aren’t going to lie to get ahead. It is not their job to present an objective, full and true representation of facts and events, it’s mine. Nobody is going to drop a neat little truth package in my lap. It’s up to me to wade through the bullshit and find it.

*Edit: I do not view these things as equally deceptive. I don’t think Project Interchange was deceptive, but I do think it had an agenda, which isn’t a bad thing. I’m just aware it has one.

Despite the title of this post, I’m far from done.

The last few days have been so fast and full that I haven’t had any time to right anything down, but believe me, I will.

There are so many ideas on this trip that require a lot of introspection, and right now my batteries are too low to think them through completely and give them justice. I need more than three hours of sleep to do that.

But believe me, I will, and I’ll post them here because I think best when I’m writing.

A few quick reflections, though:

Being with other college journalists has reinforced how much this field means to me.

We’re all working towards the same thing, and everyone brings something to the table. For instance, we talked about the beauty of fonts and serifs on a bus ride to Tel Aviv. Then, when the Yale reporter read my blog, he complemented my lede, but pointed out a reporting flaw in a very matter-of-fact way. It didn’t hurt my feelings. He just cared enough about the written word and good writing to never pull any punches. It’s what every editor and every reporter should be doing all the time.

Everyone talks about crime reporting, bad staff members, the value of objectivity, the art of headlines and the merits of going to graduate school without any of the tension that comes with being on the same newspaper staff. East coast, west coast and the Midwest– it doesn’t matter, we all are facing similar issues. Just meeting everyone has made this trip worthwhile, but there have been so many other incredible things I will never forget.

Being on this trip has put me in fascinating places and situations in such a short period of time with such complex ideas that I have trouble processing.

Today I went to Sderot, a town in southern Israel which was bombed last night at approximately 7 p.m. and is constantly living under the threat of rockets from the Gaza Strip. We visited a building designed so that children could play in it without having to worry about the threat of an attack. Half of the budget for the building was to reinforce the ceilings and walls.

The citizens of Sderot have only 15 seconds to find cover when the alarm goes off in the city telling them a rocket has been launched. It is a tragedy children need to grow up worrying about rockets. I commend the adults who took enough care to make sure those kids have some semblance of normalcy in their lives.

However our group was shown a propaganda video which really left a bad taste in my mouth. It flashed pictures of the village after an attack in such rapid succession that it was hard to tell what exactly I was seeing. The sky footage during on the bombings was doctored so a red film creeped across the sky until it was covered. I was already sympathetic to their cause and their town, but in that film I felt like my emotions were being manipulated. One editor described it as good public relations.

That is not to say their plight isn’t real and tragic. It is. The security director of the play building says even though many rockets often do not leave any physical casualties, they leave traumatic mental scars in the adults and children who constantly live under the threat of rocket fire. They do retailiate, but they say they do not target civilians like the attacks against them from Hamas do.

It’s hard to question security figures when they show you the rockets that have been fired at them and the place they need to keep their children safe. The themes of protection and security are important to think about in reporting, especially as they apply to civilians and children.

Military messages are hard to decipher and it is hard for me to decide where I stand. It tugs at the eternal question, what is more important, security or freedom? Do I think it is more important that military messages are kept tightly guarded to protect people or do I think information should flow freely to the press and the public to promote optimum transparency? I think there’s a middle ground.

I’m heading out to Tel Aviv right now. I’m leaving the country tomorrow. I’m going to keep writing when I get home. Thanks for reading.

It’s a touch surreal. I’m sitting in a Jerusalem hotel hallway talking about Palestinian statehood with a bunch of bright kids from California.

I’m trying to figure out where to start this post, and I think this is the best place to:

The more I think I know, the less I know.

“The quintessential correspondent,” were the words an editor from Cornell used to describe Ethan Bronner.

Bronner, one of the New York Times correspondents for Israel, simultaneously exuded confidence and humility. Someone prefaced a question with how he must have the toughest job in journalism, to which he replied, Well, probably not. Embedded war reporters have the hardest job in journalism.

I’m looking at you, Jake.

People already have their preconceived notions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Bronner said he tries to work beyond those notions.

What Bronner strives to do in his work is illustrate the gray area with narratives which may question the beliefs of someone who follows the conflict.

Another gray area stems from the disconnect between western readers, Israelis and Palestinians.

We are all human beings, “who love their children and like ice cream,” he said.

But do not think the common thread of humanity automatically means we can understand the struggles of one another.

My interpretation of this is as follows:

When someone thinks of themselves as a human being, they automatically believe their values, culture and customs are embedded in the human experience and cannot understand when the threads they believe to be inherent to all people just aren’t there in some cultures.

Please, please, please comment if you disagree.

I wish I had taken notes on Bronner, but I thought I would remember the important parts by listening attentively. Alas, there are some memory holes. I won’t make that mistake again!

“We’re all going to die. So don’t be afraid.”

With a booming voice and an even louder Hawaiian shirt, Jon Medved seemed out of place at first in the manicured hotel conference room.

Medved wanted to fill our group in on the Israeli economy, specifically start-up companies and venture capitalism.

While I realize business and economics is important in journalism, I wasn’t really as interested in his business anecdotes as I was in his message on risk.

He points out the window. A number of years ago, he said, a suicide bomber blew up near a café and killed several people. His son was one of the paramedics on site to clean up the carnage and the wreckage.

He pointed in the opposite direction. Another suicide bomber in the area had also gone off in recent years near the hotel I was staying at.

So with the threat of danger, with the presence of people in the world who do not want the Jewish state to exist, what is the risk of starting a company in comparison?

“We’re all going to die. So don’t be afraid.”

I worry the quotation comes off as morbid, but I really feel like it is uplifting, with more of an emphasis on life than death.

Outside the realms of economics, Israel and journalism, the concept of living fully by knowing how fragile life can be is powerful.

There are so many things I want to write more about. I went to a West Bank Jewish settlement, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, the Western Wall and got a taste of Jerusalem night life.

I’m going to update these things as I have time because I think they are important.

I have pictures– they are beautiful and surreal to someone like me who has never been in this part of the world. But they don’t go with any of the above stories, so I’ll throw them in later.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to the Dead Sea and spending the night in Galilee to ring in the New Year. After that, Tel Aviv. Thank you for reading this far.

Airports and airplanes smell transient– sandwiches on the go, sterilized floors and seats, plastic one-use blankets and pillows, people stuck in the same space for hours and hours and hours.

So after three flights and three airports, I was more than grateful to step out of the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and into the fresh night air.

And then right back on a bus bound for Jerusalem.

It was a whirlwind night. We went straight from airport to bus to YMCA, where our seminar was going to be for the night. Our party fell behind at the airport, so we couldn’t check into the hotel before our lectures for the evening were going to start. I was rocking the airport grunge look for the first leg of the trip.

Our tour guide is Opher Rom, an Israeli gentleman and seasoned tour guide who has guided both Madonna and Depeche Mode on their trips to Israel. Rom switches seamlessly between Hebrew when he’s on the phone and English when he’s talking to us– his tour.

I was looking forward to grabbing a quick snooze before Jerusalem and the lectures, but Opher had other ideas.

“I’m not going to let you sleep,” Rom says to our group.

Instead, Rom gave an abridged but solid overview of ancient Jewish history during the hour-long bus ride. Having spent ten years at a Catholic school, the stories were ringing more familiar than I had ever anticipated. The stories of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Saul… All were coming back to me from the days of St. Joe’s in Big Bend.

But I didn’t have much time to ponder the overlap in my own religious upbringing and Judaism. [Side note: I just googled "Judaism" to make sure I spelled it correctly-- look at this]

The first talk was a brief introduction from Linda Epstein, the former director of the Israel Office of the Council of Jewish Federations.

The key to success on this trip, she said, is to forget all the rules of Western formalities. People are not as easily offended here, and they ask questions and do not mind being asked anything in return, she said.

“Personal space isn’t a thing here,” she said.

Ask questions! Interrupt! You don’t have to raise your hand to ask a question in Israel! Speak up!

Unadulterated friendliness and openness sounds good in theory, but I bet I will get grouchy if someone asks me something too bold. I’ll just have to wait and see. Open mind!

Things got more interesting with Einat Wilf, a member of the Israeli Parliament, arrived. Wilf is a striking woman with an authoritative presence. Her view of the motives behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was less than bright.

She said the root of the conflict is an existential one, meaning the Palestinians are less interested in creating an Arab state and partitioning land and more interested in making sure the Jewish state does not exist. Because the conflict is not material and more based in inherent oil-and-water ideologies, she said she did not see the conflict ending anytime soon.

More than choosing sides–Israel or Palestine?–Wilf said the “intellectually responsible” thing to do is understand the complexity of the situation. It is not a story of good versus evil, it is a situation where two groups know they are right and there they stand.

Perhaps this is very rudimentary to you. It wasn’t to me, and tonight the thorny topic was explained in a very clear and concise way.

Tomorrow our group is meeting with Ethan Brommer, chief of the New York Times Jerusalem Bureau. I’m trying to think of some good questions and while I’m sure some will present themselves once he gives his talk, I’d like to have some prepared.

  • “When you cover things related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how do you stay unbiased? Is it even possible to be unbiased for such a situation?”
  • “Have you covered events in other parts of the Middle East? Is so, what makes covering things in Israel different?”
  • “What makes being a reporter in Jerusalem unique to being a reporter in other parts of Israel?”

Send me suggestions! Hopefully I can get on Twitter tomorrow morning. Wi-Fi at the hotel is hella expensive.

It was a crazy day and now I’m curled up in my hotel room. Two of my favorite TV channel names are “Naughty Kiss” and “Good Jokes,” but I’m watching CNN as I type this up.

Hopefully my next few posts won’t be so text-heavy. Thank you for reading!

Twitter: @addieblanchard

My journey to the Middle East begins tomorrow. My flights are booked and my suitcase is (mostly) packed.

I’ll be leaving Mitchell in Milwaukee tomorrow very early, and my connecting flight in Cincinnati is scheduled to leave for JFK in the afternoon.

The weather is supposed to be windy/rainy in Ohio and New York. We’ll see what that means for flight times. I try not to worry about things I can’t control. Like the weather. Maybe someday.

For those of you who know me, it’ll probably come as no surprise to you that I’ve had recurring, nagging visions of missing my connecting flight to JFK, and becoming effectively stranded in the United States of America. Luckily, I have my flight-savvy father to help me out. Thanks Dad.

I’ve been reading Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. It’s an easy read. Project Interchange sent each student who’s going a copy.

One interesting point is Israel’s economy is an interesting place to test a product–like an electric car– because its borders allow for a small, tightly-controlled environment. There are clear disadvantages to this, but it also gives a somewhat accurate representation of how a product functions in a community on a small-scale.

I plan on finishing Start-Up Nation during my long wait times between flights, but I also made a pretty solid travel playlist (Thanks to Signe, Katherine & Ryan for the suggestions). I thought it was time to listen to Gorillaz’ Demon Days again, and Signe recommended Rome by Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi.

Wish me luck, and thanks for reading. I’ll be tweeting regularly @addie_blanchard.

 

If you’re reading this, thank you. You’re now part of my loyal readership, which consists of my roommate and my mom sometimes.

Here I hope to share my travels with whoever. I started this blog because I will be going to Israel, but I want to keep it for future expeditions, road trips and other miscellaneous missions.

In a few days I’ll be going to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel as part of Project Interchange’s campus media seminar. The goal of the seminar is to learn as much about Israeli culture, politics and society as possible in a seven-day time frame.

Project Interchange is an institution of the American Jewish Committee. Their seminars aim to spread the hopeful message of Israel. Their messages are non partisan and apolitical, according to their website.

I depart from Milwaukee, Wis. on Dec 27 and will land in Jerusalem on Dec. 28. Jerusalem is eight hours ahead of Wisconsin.

To be quite frank, I am not sure what to expect, but I am excited. I am going into my trip with an open mind and an open heart. It’s a good lesson from reporting– go in without preconceived notions, take notes, pay attention.

My work at The Badger Herald is the reason I am able to do on this trip. I’m really thankful for this opportunity. Whatever I learn in Israel, I hope to bring back to the people I work with who are just as thirsty for wanderlust as I am.

Please feel free to comment.

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