On a recent visit to the West Bank, I observed the crumbling Palestinian infrastructure, garbage piles along worn roads, damaged buildings, poor health care and a high unemployment rate. Despite these and other clear indicators of a land devastated by war, I could not help but feel a sense of hope. Perhaps it was the warm hospitality of those that invited me into their homes, the beauty of ancient cities like Bethlehem, the rich Palestinian culture, or the recent Palestinian elections in which Palestinians voted to elect Mahmoud Abbas as president - a candidate openly opposed to violence. Or maybe it was my encounters with Palestinian youths who told me of their longing for better days - a time when they as adults would be able to provide a decent living for their young families
For me, this trip at the end of the second Palestinian intifada, the second uprising by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip directed at ending the Israeli occupation, was a very different experience from my first trip to the West Bank as a young boy. In 1989, during the first intifada, I traveled with my family to Bethlehem to see my ailing grandmother, who was suffering from diabetic complications. Little did I know that I would be seeing her for the first and last time, and that this trip would be an awakening to the grim realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Though only five years old, I could sense the fear and suspicion clearly evident among both Israelis and Palestinians. My impressionable mind was overwhelmed by the sight of little boys burning tires in the streets, and the nauseating smell of smoldering rubber was forever seared in my memory. In disbelief, I watched children my age, seemingly oblivious to danger, throwing rocks at heavily armed soldiers in tanks.
Though 15 years have passed since my first visit to Israel/Palestine, my experiences have inspired me to study how cities such as Bethlehem and others in the Third World function as spaces of civic citizenship, centers for cultural and social innovations, and catalysts for economic vitality. At UC Berkeley, I have learned the importance of community participation in political and planning processes, but more importantly, how innovative community-based programs can make cities more equitable and inclusive, not only in the United States, but also in places of severe conflict and deprivation in the Third World. For this reason, this summer in the West Bank I will be launching The Diabetes Micro-Clinic Project: Community Awareness and Ownership in the Developing World. My UC Berkeley mentor for the project is Ananya Roy, an assistant professor in the Department of City & Regional Planning.
At UC Berkeley, I am an urban studies major, with a minor in Middle Eastern studies. I was recently named a Haas Scholar and awarded a Strauss Scholarship. Outside of school, I enjoy intense basketball games and sports, in general, playing the violin and piano, drawing, and participating in local community service programs. This summer, I will be renting a room with a family from Bethlehem and eating most of my meals with them. During my stay, I hope to take some time to appreciate the West Bank's spectacular historical sites and beautiful landscape, visit with my family members, and of course, indulge in delicious, home-cooked Palestinian cuisine.