Report Three: “Hope Resists”
Thursday, November 9
Only 12 Miles Apart, But the
Realities Are Worlds Apart
From a land as vast as the North America, it’s
difficult if not impossible to understand just how small this area
is. We got a reminder today.
We started our Thursday morning off rousing ourselves
from our overnight stay at Daher’s Vineyard. Half of the group
shared a large tent on a concrete platform with half dozen international
volunteers and other visitors. About 20 metal frame beds with a
variety of mattresses and pads and an assortment of blankets were
lined up in two rows. Others slept in one of the concrete block
structures on the land. As the sun set the wind picked up and blew
most of the night. And it was cold! But the sky was clear and the
moon very bright. A noisy gasoline generator powered a string of
lights in the main house where we met and ate our meals. The Palestinian
village in the valley below to the west of Daher’s Vineyard
had a few scattered lights on during the night. One couldn’t
help notice the contrast as bright lights illuminated the perimeters
and roads and other structures in the three Israeli settlements
perched on the hilltops proximate to Daher’s vineyard.
After a breakfast of home baked bread and homemade
fig preserves, hard-boiled eggs, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes,
sliced cheese, tea or coffee, we posed for a photograph with the
hills behind us, stretching towards the Mediterranean Sea, and our
eyes squinting in the early morning sun.
We walked the quarter mile to meet out bus. Several
large boulders and concrete blocks obstruct the road to and from
Daher’s vineyard. Half a dozen cars are parked near the roadblock.
The Palestinian workers park there and walk to the nearby settlements
to work. The road has been blocked almost the entire time since
the Second Intifada began in the fall of 2000. If the road-block
didn’t keep a group of people visiting from Canada and the
United States from schlepping their overnight bags past, we figured
it surely wouldn’t prevent a potential terrorist from crossing
over to the settlements. But it poses a formidable obstacle to the
Nassar family of Daher’s Vineyard as they bring drinking water
from Bethlehem in a large tanker truck or deliver their harvested
olives to the cooperative olive press. They have to take another
route, heading west and north to reach Bethlehem, which is east.
This takes several times as long, adding to time and cost and inconvenience.
We stopped briefly at the St. George’s College
Guest House for showers and a change of clothes, and were soon driving
north of Jerusalem to Ar-Ram. There we met with Israeli and Palestinian
representatives of a group that only formed two years ago and publicly
surfaced this past February: Combatants for Peace. We were impressed
that as a matter of core principle for their group, they always
do their work with joint Israeli and Palestinian representatives.
Elik Elhanan, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces
who served in Southern Lebanon during the relatively peaceful period
of the mid to late 1990s and also lost a sister to a Palestinian
suicide bomber, described the process by which he decided that the
sacrifice that others and he had made was being squandered by the
political leadership. He and others sought out those from the Palestinian
side who had also paid the price of fighting for their cause. Souliman
Al-Khatib and Bassam Arb, like most of the Palestinian partners
in Combatants for Peace, had been detained in Israeli prisons for
their resistance to the occupation. Elik, Souliman, and Bassam have
come to recognize the futility of arms to resolve the conflict and
are actively seeking a political solution. The all-volunteer activist
core of Combatants for Peace is doing outreach, primarily through
private house meetings, to both the Israeli and the Palestinian
public, discussing the need for compromise and a political settlement
to stop the violence and killing.
We were deeply moved by the testimony of these men
and the continued courage and sacrifice they are prepared to offer
their peoples’ struggles – though now as non-combatants.
This evening we had supper with three Israeli students
from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The students spoke passionately
about their desire to find some accommodation with the Palestinians.
They expressed a range of views about how such an agreement might
be reached or what it would look like, such as which of three major
settlement blocks would be kept by Israel. They argued that neither
side would be pleased with an agreement. They echoed some of the
sentiments expressed by Elik Elhanan earlier in the day. He had
explained that there was a period of mistaken optimism that the
peace-process was a “love affair”—“We’re
not talking about a love affair, but about a divorce. A time of
separation is necessary.”
The students also spoke fervently of the need for
a Two State solution. The concern articulated by Jeff Halper and
others that such a solution had been preempted or precluded by ‘facts
on the ground’ carried little weight with these young people.
They believe that what has been done by politicians can be undone,
that the details are not their concern. According to Paz Carmel,
“It’s irresolvable only if you don’t want to resolve
it!” They work to help convince Israelis of the need for an
accommodation without getting bogged down in the details. “In
the end, there must be two viable states west of the Jordan. We
all agree on that,” one of the students stated.
Several of us were struck by their observation that
only 15% of Israeli soldiers serve in the occupied territories,
and that in their view many Israelis don’t know what is going
on in the West Bank and Gaza. They acknowledged that the occupation
made Palestinian life extremely uncomfortable – “horrible”
was the term that Maya used to describe life under occupation.
The distance from Daher’s Vineyard to Hebrew
University in Jerusalem is only 12-15 miles. We traversed it by
bus in about a half-hour this morning. But the realities are worlds
apart. The Israeli university students can only imagine the daily
obstacles that the Palestinian Nassar family faces in trying to
keep their land and the indignities that they suffer while trying
to build a life for their children. On the other hand, the students
impressed us by their honesty, candor and active interest in understanding
what is happening in the occupied territories and commitment to
change Israeli policies. Whether a Palestinian family struggling
to save their olive orchards, former soldiers or guerilla fighters
now joining together to work for peace, or university students trying
to forge a future for their nation and themselves, it’s difficult
to discern encouraging signs.
I was reminded of William Sloane Coffin’s
comment, “Hope has nothing to do with optimism. Its opposite
is not pessimism, but despair…. Hope criticizes what is. Hopelessness
rationalizes it. Hope resists. Hopelessness adapts.”
We were privileged today to meet a half dozen people
from quite varied walks of life who are living hope. They are living
hope and by their efforts and commitments bring hope to others of
us who might otherwise despair at the way things are going here.
Opportunities for Peace
After a cold and windy stay at the Tent of Nations olive groves
with Daoud and family at Daher’s Vineyard, our hearts were
warmed with their infectious optimism but our bodies were chilled
by the evening air. So after a robust and healthy breakfast we wound
down the hillside and through the checkpoints back to St. George’s
in Jerusalem to freshen up and relax...for 15 minutes. We hadn't
time to tarry for we were in for a busy day. We had appointments
to keep and miles to go before sleep, so we were off to meet with
Combatants for Peace, a surprising coalition of former Israeli and
Palestinian fighters. No longer matched in mere mortal conflict,
they are allied in greater conflict, one for peaceful lives for
the coming generations. We learned that this group of former enemies
has seen the real enemy, senseless war, and had joined forces to
sound the clarion call for an end of hostilities in Palestine. Although
this group was founded just this year, they've already been accepted
in the peace advocacy community for their sincerity and diligence.
Then it was on to Peace Now, the largest peace advocacy
group in Israel. It was born in 1978 during the Israeli-Egyptian
peace talks. At that time, 348 Israeli reserve officers and soldiers
published a letter calling upon the Israeli government not to miss
this opportunity for peace and an end to hostilities. This letter
helped push the leaders to the bargaining table and proved once
again that conflict is always settled by negotiations, so maybe
sometimes we can skip the killing and destruction and go straight
to the negotiations. Peace Now is for peace between Israel and its
neighbors through mutual agreement, a cool idea. They also have
a US affiliate, Americans for Peace Now.
Finally, we were off to the AFSC, The American Friends
Service Committee, an organization dedicated to the cessation of
violence through nonviolent means. A Quaker project, we learned
the AFSC accomplishes their mission through a surprisingly diverse
range of projects and activities all centered on nonviolence. A
worthy organization with quality educational resources, the AFSC
in Jerusalem is appropriately located on the grounds of the Augusta
Victoria Hospital. Maybe the injured peace process can be taken
there for nourishment and healing. Let's hope so.
Friday, November 10
Friday in Jerusalem
Friday in Jerusalem. To feel Shabbat approaching
was a profound experience. The police and soldiers posted on so
many corners were roughly juxtaposed with my awareness that Shabbat
was coming – the celebration of the world to come –
an ideal time – a time of peace and perfection. Around us
were the evidences of how far we are from that world of perfection
– not heaven apart – but heaven on earth.
My heart was still heavy from hearing reports of
19 innocents killed by Israeli shelling in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza
Strip. It seemed, from the security presence, that the Israelis
were prepared for the retaliation that Hamas called for.
We drove across Jerusalem and approached Yad Vashem.
It is an austere place – no large signs – clean, light
lines. At Yad Vashem I was struck by the absence of real security
– we walked in with no metal detector or searches.
This was the first Holocaust Memorial. Inside it
is also simple – dark, concrete with simple images –
films, photos, piles of shoes, suitcases, striped outfits. The brutality
of the Holocaust was downplayed – you had to really stop and
read to learn the stories of the pits where the women were taken
and shot in groups of ten and would fall in and pile up –
body upon body.
At the end of the museum you emerge onto an expansive
view of forested mountains and valleys – the Promised Land.
As though the story ended there – but there the complexity
From there we went to lunch at the Restobar Café.
It is on the site of the Moment Café that had been hit by
a suicide bomber in 2001. Lunch was delicious and then we rushed
up the street to catch the Women in Black demonstration. This protest
against violence and occupation has been going on for 19 years –
and while this did not inspire optimism, it fostered hope –
it is a weekly witness for peace in signs on black hands of God
in English, Arabic, and Hebrew calling for an end to the Israeli
A great surprise was that this protest was joined
by a few people from the Open House Lesbian and Gay demonstration
that had been forced inside by threats from the Orthodox community.
They wore bright pink along with their black and signs that resisted
both the occupation of lands and the colonization of bodies through
repressive ideologies and policies. The atmosphere was serious and
playful at the same time. It was very moving to be there with these
Later we went to Kol HaNashema synagogue where we
met with Rabbi Arik Ascherman before services. He spoke with us
about his work with Rabbis for Human Rights and told a story about
a demonstration in the West Bank at which a 13-year-old Palestinian
boy was dragged away by IDF soldiers and strapped to the front of
a jeep to stop Palestinians from throwing stones. Arik rushed forward
to intervene and was also handcuffed and strapped to a Jeep. Later,
when providing a statement for B’tselem, the Israeli Information
Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the boy described
the abuse to which he was subjected and then ended by saying that
a tall Jewish man in a Kippah came to tell him not to be afraid
– because he was not alone. It was a brutal and disturbing
story – but here was one man willing to assume some of the
risks that Palestinians have to live with day after day.
After that we attended Shabbat services. It was
a beautiful service – deeply spirited and for me amazing to
sing the Shema (the Jewish prayer affirming belief in one God) IN
Israel. I could have stayed there forever. To have seen Yad Vashem
earlier in the day I was haunted by the images of Kristalnacht,
and the felt relief that here were Jews worshipping again.
There was no sermon, and the only English was the
reference to page numbers. At the same time the experience was mingled
with all the experiences and images of the week. The checkpoints,
the demolished homes, the separation wall. We sang the familiar
words of psalms and prayers calling up the peace of Shabbat –
calling up peace and for me such a call is profound one –
shalom is for all the world, for all the people – praying
the Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning). I said mine for the
people killed in Beit Hanoun and I wondered if anyone else there
was praying for them as well.
The service seemed to be moving for others in the
delegation as well – and I suspect that for everyone the paradoxes
and inner conflicts were also very real – but I have not yet
heard from everyone.
Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh – a very holy day for
me – may we make Olam Habba – (the world to come) –
real – here, now. Amein.
-- Hilary Krivchenia
“A Prayer of a Palestinian
Pray not for Arab or Jew
For Palestinian or Israeli
But pray rather for ourselves
That we may not divide them
In our prayers
But keep them both together in our hearts.
The above prayer is used by groups working for peace
in the Middle East around the world, and is offered by Marilyn Hadden
here to DONATE to support the work of Interfaith Peace-Builders