U.S. Mayors Day 4 Blog Post

September 15th, 2017

Who said you shouldn’t discuss religion and politics?

Certainly, no one affiliated with AJC Project Interchange, as our delegation continued their crash course in both. The day started with a tour of Bethlehem with a visit to the Church of the Nativity, as the delegation joined the large crowd of worshipers and pilgrims to this holy site.

Then it was off to Ramallah to learn about the mood in the Palestinian Street by noted Palestinian pollster Dr. Khalil Shikaki. Dr. Shikaki has conducted over 200 polls in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and gave a candid and thoughtful overview of Palestinian attitudes toward the peace process and use of violence as a political tool. The mayors, no strangers to the importance of public opinion and polling, peppered him with questions with knowledge that they had gained over the last few days.

They also met with Jamil Tarifi, former Minister for Civil Affairs at the Palestinian Authority. While certainly highly critical of the Israeli government, Tarifi had warm words to share about Yitzhak Rabin, a man who could be counted upon to live up to his word. All the mayors commented upon how important the visit to Ramallah was in terms of their understanding of the complexity of the issues, as well as their admiration for AJC Project Interchange in arranging to take them there.

We then returned to Jerusalem where the global became far more local with meetings with United Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency service unit, where Jews and Muslims volunteer side by side to save lives, and Major General Yoram Halevy, Commander of the Jerusalem Police. More than one mayor commented with great respect on the tremendous challenges of running a city where an act of terror can and has happened at any moment.

The day ended with a fascinating meeting with Israeli Peace Negotiator and perennial Project Interchange favorite Dr. Tal Becker. Dr. Becker took them through the perils of negotiating and the complexities in reaching peace between two peoples destined to share the same land.

The delegation then got some well-deserved rest as we prepare for tomorrow’s visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City. We can’t believe that the trip is almost over, but everyone has commented that this has been the experience of a lifetime.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.