As I contemplated what my Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation tour would be, I hoped that we would be exposed to a full range of the human experience in Israel-Palestine—and indeed we have. We’ve heard from Israelis spanning the whole political spectrum, including:
- the mother of one of our neighbors from back home;
- a religious settler in the Hebron district;
- a self-described Buddhist anarchist activist with the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition;
- a tour guide at Yad Vashem, the Israeli holocaust memorial museum, who documents stories of families evicted from Palestinian villages;
- an activist who when younger had refused military service and is now supporting the Bedouin population who, as nomads, are being pushed off of their ancestral lands into smaller and smaller areas;
- and several of the Women in Black, who stand each Friday afternoon holding a simple sign that says “end the occupation.”
And we’ve heard Palestinians tell their stories, including people from:
- the Palestinian Christian group Sabeel;
- the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (“Badil” = “Alternative” in Arabic), based in Bethlehem;
- the Lajee (Refugee) Center;
- the Bethlehem House of Bread Independent Pentecostal Church
- the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem;
- the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee;
- and several Hebron families who live adjacent to the five Israeli settlements.
Minga and I had lunch with the mother of one of our Cambridge neighbors who from her childhood had dreamed of living in Israel. She was finally able to move permanently to Jerusalem 11 years ago, taking up her 5th career as a tour guide. Living most of her American life in Washington DC, she keeps current with the liberal Haaretz newspaper and the International Herald Tribune. At times her US culture spoke more loudly than her Jewish identity. But when I asked how she and many Israeli people like her support the policies that have so disproportionally disrupted life for the Palestinian people, she responded, “because we have to, we have no other choice.” I am so perplexed with how people all over the world, as individuals and among small communities, are so often generous and loving. But, when faced with the “other,” particularly those with whom we have little or no contact, that love and generosity easily turns to fear and even hate. That warm, openhearted people translate that fear and hatred into total, unthinking support of brutal governmental policies, all for the sake of so-called “security.” I experienced this most directly in 1982 when I and five other young adult Quakers rode our bicycles on a peace pilgrimage across the United States during Ronald Regan’s nuclear arms build up and saber rattling with the Soviet Union. The contrast between the US military machine and all those people who took us into their homes and hearts, even when they disagreed with our politics, was astounding and still gives me hope.
The second vignette occurred on our first day in Hebron. Our delegation joined a tour of the Israeli-only section of the old city with a group of 30 college-aged Jews, mostly from the US, who were participating in an orientation session before beginning year-long internships at various locations throughout Israel. The tour was led by a member of Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli Defense Force soldiers who tell their personal stories of how the continuing military occupation of the West Bank dehumanizes both Palestinians and Israelis and can never bring peace to the region. At the junction of what had been Hebron’s main street and large wholesale market, but is now a ghost town on what is called a “sterile” Israeli-only road, one of the Israeli leaders of the orientation group challenged the Breaking the Silence tour guide. We stood there for nearly 45 minutes listening to these two very articulate Jewish young men speak passionately from very different directions about how to bring peace to the land. I did not hear anything particularly new from either of these men, but I am sure that more conversations of this type, especially among Israeli Jews is critical. I was also pleased that the orientation program included such a controversial tour for these young people, who will certainly be part of shaping whatever change the future brings.
It is my experience that Israelis mostly live in a bubble. The Israeli standard of living appears to be equal to or even better than the US. By and large the Israeli Jewish community is unaware of the day-to-day hardship of life in the occupied Palestinian Territories and goes on with life in nearly complete isolation from the non-Jewish population. In order to preserve a Jewish state, there must be a Jewish majority. At present, combining the peoples of Israel proper with the West Bank, the Jewish population is about equal to the non-Jewish, mostly Arab Palestinian, population. If there were now one state made up of Israel and the West Bank, there would be no Jewish majority. Israel needs more cheap land to settle its growing population.
The Ongoing “Nakba”
Palestinians speak of the 1948 formation of the state of Israel as the “Nakba,” the catastrophe. The key has become the symbol of the “right of return” for the Palestinian families who are still being forced out of their homes in what the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights calls the ongoing Nakba. In 1948 the Palestinian families believed they would be returning in a few weeks or months, so as they left they took the key to their homes with them. The religious Jewish settler told us that the Palestinians weren’t really forced out, they left willingly because their leaders told them, “don’t worry, we will forcibly drive the Jews out of your homes and push them into the sea. After that you can return.”
I am struck over and over again by how we become so embedded in our own reality that we see what we want to see and then create narratives to justify what we think is true.
Minga and Jonathon!
I am so glad you are walking in the land of Yisrael!
I know you can see why it is so precious to all of us.
I think the idea of witnessing to the settlers is brilliant and hope that the way can be made open for that path.
When I was there, walking those dusty roads and reading Torah at the various places around the wall of the city of Jerusalem, the stories were so alive to me. I, too, looked out upon the Mount and when I did, I was blessed with wet tears in my eyes in that dry and beautiful land.
I do pray that a solution will happen soon.
There is a group you may want to connect up with when you return to the US. It is Jewish Voice for Peace, doing good work here to bring awarenness to we American Jews that supporting new Israeli settlements is oh so damaging.
Perhaps also some version of the listening Project may be helpful for dialoging with the settlers.
May way open!
B’vakasha for your witness!
Love to you both.
Dear Minga and Jonathan,
Thank you so much for sharing your reflections from your journey with us, both the heartening, the tragic, and the in between. It is amazing, isn’t it, how we can all hold in our hearts and minds such enormously divergent beliefs and inconsistencies? I pray for clarity in our hearts and in our actions.
Godspeed in your journey,
Dear Minga and Jonathan,
What you are doing is so important, that is, witnessing and reporting on an old, yet ongoing piece of history. Your articulate expression of your and others’ experiences has greatly increased my understanding of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the heartache on both sides.
Your eyes are clear and your voice honest. Blessings and gratitude to you for sharing your gifts so deeply.
Thanks for sharing these vignettes, Jonathan. The more I learn about this conflict, the more complex the issues seem to be. The peace and healing work required will need to be as manifold and diverse as the wounds.
Thank you for these reflections. keep listening to the stories your heart asks you to hear. May we learn through these stories who the “other” is – all of us.
Holding you both in prayer as you continue to travel. Mercies and peace.
Dear Jonathan & Minga
I was so glad Skip passed on this link to me (and his whole long list, I think). It is heartwarming to read your vignettes and to know that you too are on the scene to witness and to enlarge your own (and our) realities. I hope this effort may somehow translate into enlarging the realities of our home nation. I’m thinking our views here may have grown even more narrow than they were when Jonathan made his legendary bike tour.
Best wishes for your safety, well-being and peacefulness of heart as you travel
jvb, yes and yes again. excellent observations!
i too was struck by the young jews touring hebron with someone from break the silence. maybe progress. also the phrase from the mother of your cambridge neighbor, “we have no choice.” i’ve noticed that phrase used repeatedly to justify—without any convincing justification—a controversial or even abhorrent decision. to me the real meaning of “we have no choice”: “is i can’t think of anything else, sorry, this is it. please don’t trouble me with difficult questions.”
Thanks for your blogs. Thought you’d like to see this info I received from Grassroots International and share their e-mail:
“Today is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. And not a day too soon…
Last week, we told you about the toll of violence as bombs cascaded on people in Gaza. That toll now includes 156 people dead (including 103 civilians, 33 children and 13 women); more than a 1,000 women, men and children wounded; hundreds of buildings and homes destroyed; and dozens of agricultural lands damaged.
This includes the home of 62-year-old Mahmoud Nimer al-Bahtetee, who had the misfortune of living near the Civil Department in Gaza, a target of Israeli bombs. While all 27 of the occupants (including 13 children) of the 2-story house escaped without harm, the building itself now sits damaged and uninhabitable. The same is true for scores of other homes nearby.
Mahmoud told his story to a representative from Grassroots partner the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), which has been going door-to-door throughout the area to document the situation on the ground. The reporting of PCHR during the earlier bombings and ground war of Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009) earned them international recognition by the United Nations.
While we fortunately completed a shipment of medical supplies to our partner, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), before the bombing began, the physical needs have only grown since then. Both PMRS and our partner the Gaza Community Mental Health Program are doing all they can to respond to the urgent needs of injured and traumatized people. They face extreme shortages in supplies and heart-rending needs. How to help: https://ow.ly/fGWSk
For nearly 30 years, Grassroots International has worked with community-based organizations in the Middle East and throughout the world which strive for human rights and social justice. On this day of International Solidarity with the Palestinian People we ask you to make an emergency gift to provide much-needed relief to the people of Gaza. Grassroots International’s longstanding relationship with progressive community organizations in the region will help get the resources where they are needed as soon as possible.” https://ow.ly/fGWSk
Praying for Peace, Susan
Thank you for your post.
I am struck by your inability to understand the views of the great majority of Israels; that live with the current situation “because we have to, because we have no other choice.” What you leave out–willfully, perhaps–is that unrelenting hatred the Arabs have had for Jews since the 1930s. Timw and time again the Israelis have offerred peace, but the Palestinians have refused. They have refused because they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Even Abbas and Fatah won’t. They wlll accept no settlement without the “right” of return, a right no other group of refugees has ever enjoyed. (One wonders why this “right” is is used against Jews and no other people). The Palestinians even keep the refugee camps going. Who ever heard of refugee camps being kept uopenthis long? As long as the Palestinians and other Arabs demand this “right,” as long as they practice terrorism, as long as they teach their children to hate Jews and Israels, there is no possibility of peace. Instead of being so clearly one-sided, the Christian Peacemakers and American Quakers ought to be working with their Palestinian friends to act more realistically.
Incidentally Americans live much better than Israaelis. One reason is that we have so much more land on which we can build, leading to homes rather than apartments.
…thanks for the honest appraisal of your experience and what’s seen and unseen by people who are settled and unsettled. wishing you well as you continue on the journey. george