Whilst the world debates the future of Israel and Palestine I thought I'd take a moment to present a positive story from inside Jerusalem.
Today Jerusalem is divided into East and West. Palestinian communities live in the East segregated from the rest of Israel. A series of security checkpoints divides these communities. School children have to pass through these checkpoints daily to travel between school and home. Teenagers from the East cannot meet teenagers from the West or visa versa.
I am working in Jerusalem with language connections; an Israeli non for profit organisation to create online dialog between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian teenagers. They have found two schools who can provide computers and teachers to the project to facilitate this. The teenagers are being taught English (as a common and neutral language). We will connect them together over the Internet and create dialog using the theme of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Today we visit our first school in Jabba Muhabir; a Palestinian community in East Jerusalem. The school has around 2000 young people who live in or travel to this segregated community.
As we drove past the UN checkpoint my Jewish colleges grew quiet. For them this is a no go area and their nerves were being tested. When you feel these tensions you gain an understanding of just how difficult it is to resolve the long term issues within this region of the world.
My task is simple yet complex. I want to present computers, digital photography and image manipulation fun. I want them to be able to work with photos. I want them to take photos, share them and use them to exchange cultural references and as a source for dialog. If I can do that we stand a chance of these teenagers creating meaningful dialog over a long period of time; hopefully forming friendships and even entrepreneurial activities together.
As we descended down the hill my own nerves filled my stomach. I really had no idea what to expect.
We arrived at the school to be greeted by Mai; the teacher. We walked through the school to a small computer room where we met 15 students aged between 13 and 15. It was clear that they too had their nerves - I guess I must have been the first tall thin English white nerd that ever set foot in this class and they knew it.
The formality of the computer desks threw me. I did not want to conduct an IT class, so I did what any normal person would do; I sat on the floor and they crowded around me. Various bits of kit were pulled from my bag and the nerves from all in the room were soon gone.
I played two videos; one of Florence Griffith winning the 100m and one of Michael Johnson winning the 200m in the Olympics. From that I asked them how it would feel to be there photographing such an event. I gave them both the digital camera and the video camera and they started to play. At that moment I knew the rest of my day was going to be fun and easy.
As they played I started to ask about how it would feel like to win a Gold medal and how the community would treat them. They did not know so we put it to the test. We took a photo of one of the pupils, put her in front of the Olympic rings and put a Gold medal around her.
To a round of laugher I presented Jabba Muhabir with its first Olympic gold medalist. They all deserved Gold medals of course.
We had to end there because these teenagers needed to leave for a long walk up to the security post which they must clear before 5pm when the gate closes.
What did I learn? These young people are amazing. They are full of positive energy. The digital divide becomes obvious here. They have computers. They even work, but that is only the start of the story. We need to give them free software from which they can create and share. We need to give them knowledge so that they can learn together and finally we need (in this case) to get them digital cameras to facilitate storytelling. If you can help with that please contact us at info-at-barnraiser-dot-org.
The first part of this exercise is complete. Tomorrow I visit a school in the west to do the same exercise. From there we take both classes into a closed group on the web and I begin to feed them with tutorials about using pictures whilst Language Connections starts to create dialog between them. Another report will follow in the next few days.
Note: the software used was GIMP. The digital camera was an Olympus u750 all weather and the video camera a Sanyo xActi ca65.
We went to Jerusalem's old town; a walled in city centre to pay a brief visit. The city was founded over 3000 years ago. It's walled town centre is divided into four religious areas; Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
A small tour with panorama view for you:
and some pictures...
Looking West with the Mount of Olives (the hill) in the background.
Looking North West. The dome on the left is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church occupies the land called Golgotha where Jesus was buried.
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Built in 1898 making it "modern" in terms of it's surroundings. A church is said to have stood there since the 5th century.
The Dome of the rock build in AD 688-91. The third holiest site of Islam.
... and this very same history makes Jerusalem a hot bed of tension. Whilst i was there a funeral took place with Palestinian flags being waved right next to Israel soldiers and just after I left a suicide bomber was chased through the old town before being caught.
It's Saturday and I'm in Tel Aviv jaffa. It's Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest and taking note, I'm resting and being given a tour of the beach front from the port of Jaffa to the port of Tel Aviv. Some pictures ...
A Fisherman arranging his nets at the port of Jaffa.
The old port area is being restored. When I say old I mean it; Jaffa is one of the worlds oldest ports. It's in the bible as the port that Noah's son; Japheth founded in the wake of the great flood.
This is the view from between Jaffa and Tel Aviv looking South towards Jaffa (note the feeling of "old"... turn around and you experience the opposite...
Tele Aviv; the financial and cultural centre of Israel.
The Yarqon river which flows through Tel Aviv.
Looking at the people walking along the promenade and seeing the fishermen you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the most peaceful place on earth.
I'm here to work with an online dialog project with youth from East and West Jerusalem. I'm also here to learn for myself about Israel, Palestine and some of the issue facing this region. The following 14 days of blogging will chart my discovery process, thoughts and feeling.
My first assumption was that airport security was going to be a nightmare. As I sailed through the security checks at Ben Gurion airport I wondered what all the fuss was about.
I was met by Gal and Yakir who gave me a drink and welcomed me to Israel. They took me to Jerusalem where I met Ronit, three people who will become colleges, guides and teachers to me over the next two weeks.
Diversity is a word that sums up my learning so far. The majority of people here are not historically speaking too far away from another culture. I noticed that if you ask a person where they were born you tend to get an answer like "I was born in Jerusalem and my father is from USA and my mother from Poland"... often this continues to reveal the year and the circumstances by which the family arrived here. This has given Israel a real cultural diversity.
My immediate feeling is that Israel is about history, land, religion and identity all of which bring about tensions. Take for instance the Jewish religion. You have Ultra Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Jews and secular Jews. No group visibly mixes with any other group and marriage between people from different groups discouraged. Each group has their own Synagogue.
Shabbat is a weekly Jewish rest day running from Friday night to Saturday night. It's the equivalent to "Sunday closing" in most Christian countries. Around 16:00 in Jerusalem things began to get really quiet. There were only Ultra Orthodox Jews (who wear a dark hat, dark coat and tend to have a beard), taxis and me on the street - guess who stood out.
Ronit met me from the taxi and we headed to Tel Aviv Jaffa. Jaffa is an old Arab trading port and Tel Aviv a modern (98 years old) sprawling city. The two are linked hence the proper name for the place is "Tel Aviv jaffa". We celebrated Shabbat with red wine, challah (a special bread) and Hebrew songs followed by a great meal. Joining us were the neighbors. This of course is no big deal except that we were in a Jewish house in Jaffa, an Arab neighborhood with an Arab family (the neighbors) joining us for Shabbat, a Jewish holiday. Just to really add to the mix, a couple of hours after dinner there was an Earthquake (small shake, nothing serious)... this was no to be a normal day.
Video from the first look at Jerusalem:
On Tuesday 6th November I attended the inaugural OpenID Europe dinner in Berlin hosted by Snorri Giorgetti; our European Representative for the OpenID Foundation.
David Recordon was there (not from Europe;). He's the Vice-chair of the OpenID Foundation and as such is the oracle of OpenID Jodaness. He went through some of the finer points of OpenID 2.0 and spoke about getting the final signatures together from patent holders to allow for the release of the 2.0 specification; something we are eager to see for extension building (more on that later).
Folks attending include Gregor Einetter who David introduced as the new Six Apart representative in Paris. Lukas Rosenstock who is the OpenID Germany Representative, Robert Ott who is the OpenID Swiss Representative, Martin and Matt from who are behind the evolution of Estonian ID-card. They spoke about some of the issues with Europe and authentication - interesting stuff.
Adam, Andrew and Matt where there from Equalsyou a i-broker from the UK. Andrew is the OpenID UK Representative. Boris from Xlogon and Christophe from Elanceur were also there (Christophe is a good man to talk to if you need to know about Microformats).
We explored ideas for working together within Europe. OpenID is solid, but misunderstood, hence I see our biggest challenges as advocacy and usability. I spoke briefly of the struggle we have had with this and from that David asked me to document this - Now on my to-do list.
I introduced our decentralized social networking and was happy to see that David was also talking about the same thing! We touched on the idea of Six Apart and Barnraiser collaborating on this. I'll email him on Monday to see where that adventure takes us. Personally my goal here is to see OpenID based decentralised social networking with a specification that allows for any OP to build upon our work.
I spoke to Robert and Martin about how we have handled avatars. Today this is a hack on to the OpenID simple registration extension which is bad. Whilst discussing it I realised that avatars are worthy of their own extension, hence I will also embark on writing that and adding it to our software to tidy up avatar usage in a nice way.
David confirmed that the OpenID messaging specification is awaiting usage. That I take as a challenge:) We need to implement XRi support into our classes in early 2008, after which we will create OpenID to OpenID messaging which will of course be released under GPL as a PHP class.
Thanks to all attending for providing a very engaging atmosphere and a big thank you to Snorri for arranging. Pics below from Snorri.
Tom Calthrop, Hatton Garden, Dominica