For the first time in two years, I came back to Nablus today for an event next Monday at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO): Reflecting on Five Years. I was the founding director of the organization and lived at the magnificent Zafer Masri Foundation building that houses the Flagship TYO center (see pic below) starting in December 2007. I resigned in March 2012, but have always stayed in touch. I’m thrilled to have just recently made this role official again, and TYO is an Inspiring Capital client. More on our work together over my trip here this week.

Fitness races.

(Above: the Center enhanced by a race between the Women’s Fitness Group participants.)

But first, I wanted to share a few thoughts on two years of progress - or at least 800ish sunsets - since I was last in the West Bank. The airport in Tel Aviv looks exactly the same, though my immigration was much faster than when I used to come regularly and they would hold me for questioning for 1-6 hours each time.

Manta Ray has always been a favorite seafood restaurant on the beach in Tel Aviv, and nothing changed about that. We had a delicious dinner with colleagues and friends before driving to Nablus.

Driving through the West Bank (you barely notice the ‘border’ driving in from Israel, it’s just going out that you are stopped by Israeli soldiers) up to Nablus takes about an hour. See the route (more or less) on Google Maps. The only thing that I noticed in the dark was the dramatic increase in settlement construction along the road. The hills that I remembered to be covered by settlements still were, of course, only their sprawl seemed to have grown by about 35%. And several hills that I didn’t remember as settlements are now covered with the tell-tale pre-fab construction and bright and regular streetlights.

As we approached Nablus, I saw that the military base just outside the city limits had tripled in size. I was told that this was the Itamar settlement, which started in the early 80s with a dozen homes, but had only grown significantly in the last 18 months.

Luckily, at that point we were only five minutes away from my former home, and a shining bright spot on the troubled Holy Land: Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in the Zafer Masri Foundation building.

TYO took over the first two floors of the building in Fall 2011, increasing the space by 40%. US Consulate grants provided books for 2 libraries, one for 4-5 year olds, and another for school-age kids. It is amazing to see the organization flourishing, both in terms of infrastructure and human capital. That’s all for now, but stay tuned for plenty of pictures forthcoming this week!