Reflection: Journey Through Jerusalem

By Shaddy Makhlouf (SFS’25)

Imam Yahya Hendi (left) and Professor Ori Soltes walking the hallway of Augusta Victoria Hospital, in East Jerusalem.

As I reflect on my trip to Jerusalem just a couple of weeks ago, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this experience as a student assistant. This has definitely been one of the defining moments of my college years, and something I will cherish long into the future.

As a Palestinian-American Catholic going back and forth to visit family every year, I grew up experiencing firsthand the human aspect of the conflict on both sides of the Green Line. However, I found that when I returned to the US, it was often difficult to convey my thoughts and experiences to those around me. Many students at Georgetown take classes on Palestine and Israel, read articles on the many wars fought there, and know more about the statistics than I do. However, nothing compares to being able to walk through the land’s villages, speak to its people, and learn about the situation firsthand.

As a student assistant on this trip, I suddenly had the chance to help make the journey which I have held so close to my heart a reality for 15 other students.

This was the perfect opportunity to deliver an experience so valuable and so rare to students who cared about the region, and in a way that no other trips have done in the past. The idea of three professors — an Imam, a priest, and a Jewish faculty member — leading a group of students to Jerusalem and its surroundings seemed like the best possible way to experience the region, and one that I feel is very unique to Georgetown.

As a student assistant, I worked closely with Imam Yahya Hendi, director for Muslim Life to plan the trip portion of the course. I first connected with professionals who are experienced in leading mindful trips to the region, including incredibly helpful individuals from Harvard University and Churches for Middle East Peace who recommended organizations to meet with us. I researched these organizations, found their contact info, and created a document of our intended meetings for the entirety of the trip. Furthermore, I reached out to tour companies and set up meetings with them in order to determine the best partner for this trip. I built off of my own experiences in the development sphere in Israel/Palestine, and it was an honor to work with Imam Hendi.

This course counted towards my Theology credit, and I attended all seven weeks of classes as a student — occasionally pitching in about my own experiences in the region when asked and assisting with some smaller tasks. From the first day, it was obvious that Imam Hendi, Professor Ori Soltes, Center for Jewish Civilization and F. Jerry Hayes S.J., Director of Ignatian Programs, were fully committed to providing us with the best course and trip experience. Their three unique perspectives allowed me to view the region and its history in a special way that I hadn’t been exposed to before. I learned so much from Professor Soltes’ seemingly infinite knowledge of the region, and Imam Hendi’s lessons on Jerusalem’s importance to Islam brought up ideas I had never considered before.

As for the trip itself, it was incredible. Just the idea of it —16 students staying at a Jesuit residence in Jerusalem while also visiting Bethlehem and often-overlooked cities such as Hebron and Ramallah, led by an Imam, Priest, and Jewish faculty member is something I would never have thought possible. Each day, we met with passionate and inspiring individuals who have dedicated their lives to peacebuilding in their own ways, and each day we witnessed both astounding beauty and extraordinary tragedy. The trip was real, and it was human — that is what stood out to me most. While we visited the holy sites, we also met with a Jerusalemite whose house was at risk of being taken over by settlers. We met with a rabbi who crosses religious lines to reach peace deals, and we spoke with a member of Israel’s largest human rights group. We met with doctors at Augusta Victoria Hospital providing lifesaving care to Gazans with cancer, and students at Bethlehem University who described crossing checkpoints to get to class each day. Though many students in our group had very little knowledge of the conflict beforehand, everyone was completely tuned-in and constantly reflecting together on each meeting and place we visited. We experienced much laughter and many tears, but at the end of each day, we were filled with hope, fueled by the inspiring people we met throughout our trip.

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of three professors to have led us through the region. It was evident that Imam Hendi, Professor Soltes, and Father Hayes deeply cared about the region and its people, and they spoke from their hearts as they guided us throughout our journey. Imam Hendi sharing his personal experiences were some of the most moving moments of the journey, while Professor Soltes’ offering valuable insights on the history of each site we visited and Fr. Hayes’ Examens allowed us to take so much away from each day. This trip is easily the most impactful journey I have been on, and I am so thankful for this opportunity. I know for a fact that this experience will change the lives of all who take part in it in a deep and beautiful way, just as it did for me and my 15 classmates.