August 1-13, 2005

Report Two: The Formidable Energy of Heart and Mind

Wednesday August 3, 2005

Though we would have doubted that it was possible the previous night, our next day?s experience proved as rewarding as our first.

Tel Aviv

Our first meeting took place with windows, a joint project of the "three sectors" - Israeli Jews, Palestinian citizens of Israel (those Palestinians who remained on earth during the 1948 war) and Palestinian Christians and Muslims from the occupied territories. In its work, Windows focuses on youth and the media. They bring together young people from all three sectors to communicate through organized seminars. The young people then work together to create an engaging, colorful magazine that is distributed in all three communities. Ten thousand copies of the last issue were printed.

The group also has local "friendship centers" in Tel Aviv and Tulkarem, as well as additional centers near Nablus and Jenin. Windows presents presentations to schools describing their work and attracting young people to participate in their program. Windows believes that through its efforts with young people aged 12-16, it will influence families and, ultimately, entire communities to achieve greater respect between the three sectors and a commitment to work for mutual respect and coexistence.

Then we met with Dr. Naomi Chazan, the leader of several decades of movements for human rights and civil rights, feminist issues and peace. Hazan, a former professor specializing in South African studies, represented the leftist Meretz party in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) for 11 years, including as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset.

Her presentation of what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a show of force. The scale and depth of the questions she included in her analysis were impressive, if not frightening. The topic of her speech was the dilemma of those who advocated "ending the occupation" and are now facing Sharon's plan to withdraw troops from Gaza. She pointed out that Sharon's plan was one-sided, based on two statements.  Firstly, there is no Palestinian partner with whom Israel could negotiate, and secondly, there is nothing to talk about, because, in his opinion, the Palestinians only want to destroy Israel. The Sharon plan does not pretend to be an actual settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is "conflict management", not "conflict resolution". "Hazan and many other members of the Israeli peace camp realize that exclusive attention to Gaza distracts and indirectly justifies additional Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which predetermines the future viability of a viable Palestinian state.

Hazan's analysis is too complex and complicated to be included in this brief summary. Her views are ably presented in her regular column in the Jerusalem Post, including the recently published The Sharon Doctrine and the Coordination of Chaos.

Quoting a Jewish saying that prophecy is meant for children and fools, and pointing out that she is not a child, Hazan was ready to give her a forecast for the near future. He believes that one of the two main directions for the coming months will be determined in September and October. This is a critical time because of the upcoming elections in the Palestinian and Israeli communities and important religious rites for both Jews (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and Muslims (Ramadan). Either Sharon will continue - and may continue - his unilateral approach to resolving the conflict, or the international community, especially the United States, will force him to start negotiations that will lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian State in accordance with the roadmap, the Geneva Agreements and the international consensus on a solution.

Chazan described option #1, the continuation of unilateral actions, in a spirit very similar to those described in detail to us by Uri Avneri the day before. Sharon wants to unilaterally create what Hazan calls a ?Palestinian State with Temporary Borders? (PSPB). On the ground, the borders will mostly follow the direction of the ?Wall?, which means that Israel will allow the Palestinians to rule less than 50% of the West Bank. She also predicted that the United States would accept Sharon's PSPB under the guise of a Roadmap. Then the Palestinians will face a dilemma not unlike the one currently facing the Israeli peace camp. Will they accept this radically compromised mini-state or will they defend a viable Palestinian State without being able to create one? It assumes that moderate Palestinians currently in control of the Palestinian Authority will be forced to accept the PSPB, even though it is far from a viable Palestinian state.

The only possible alternative would be sufficient international pressure, especially from the United States, to achieve a settlement of the conflict through the creation of a viable Palestinian State. Although the PSPB does not rule out a negotiated settlement that will create a viable State, it postpones this possible solution for the foreseeable future. Ironically, Sharon's actions undermine the possibility of creating a viable State at a time when there is an unprecedented consensus, including the US administration and the majority of the Israeli public, in favor of a two-State solution.

Chazan made it very clear that she considers the lively discussion of the one-state solution among the Israeli left, as well as among the Palestinians and their supporters abroad, an expression of frustration. The decision to create two States may be a step towards a final political settlement resembling a single secular democratic state. But discussing now is a waste of time on something that is not a serious option. Whichever Government represents Israel in the negotiations in the future, she is sure that it will be a right-wing government that will reject any movement towards a Single State.

Chazan ended on a more positive note, noting that, despite all its shortcomings, Israel's withdrawal from Gaza sets an important precedent for the next necessary stage - Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank. Therefore, the success of the disengagement in Gaza is crucial. She urged us to support recent efforts by the United States to pressure Israel to maintain a geographical link between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as to provide sufficient development assistance and security coordination for the disengagement to work.


Following our meeting with Naomi Chazan, we traveled by bus to Jerusalem, with our guide Rimon pointing out highlights along the way. We had lunch at the ?Peaceland Bazaar? on Nablus Road near our hotel, and then checked in to the Pilgrim?s Guest House at the St. George?s Cathedral in East Jerusalem. This guesthouse and beautiful garden area are adjacent to the Anglican Cathedral ?only a short walk north of the Old City?s Damascus Gate.

After freshening up, we visited the Mount of Olives, where Rimon gave us an overview of the geography and history of Jerusalem. The bright sunlight shining off the Dome of the Rock in the Temple Mount/Haram al Shariff area of the Old City is a sight not soon forgotten. Rimon gestured as he spoke, with his hands repeatedly topping each other to reinforce the image of history, ideology and belief being layered one over the other, creating today?s incredibly complex entanglement. From our vantage point, we could see the huge gray separation wall snaking its way through the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, far from the pre-1967 border of Israel. We could also make out various construction sites, grading of the hillsides and buildings going up, associated with the continued establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements throughout East Jerusalem. The strategy behind such changes is a subject to which we?d devote the next day.

For today, we have limited ourselves to visiting the Wailing Wall. King Herod originally built a large retaining wall to enlarge the area of the second Jewish temple. The buildings of the Old Town are pressed into the retaining wall along most of its northern and western surface. The eastern and southern walls are integrated into the walls surrounding the old town. The Western Wall is the exposed part of this retaining wall facing west. Before the war in 1948, Jews entered a narrow alley to pray at the " Wailing Wall."When Jordan retained control of the Old City after the war, the Israelis were not able to visit the wailing wall at all. After Israel captured Arab east Jerusalem during the 1967 war and regained control of the wall, the Israeli authorities pushed most of the residential buildings facing the wall. The vast outdoor space now allows people to approach directly to the wall. The square is used for many events, including religious gatherings and military ceremonies, and also allows crowds of people to easily reach the wall. The delegates went to the parts of the wall reserved for men or women to offer their personal prayers or to observe the wall and those who pray there.

We were looking forward to returning to the old town and spending more time there. This afternoon we returned to St. George's boarding house to meet Rami Elhanan. Rami is a member of the circle of parents, an organisation of 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have " paid the ultimate price - - lost family members as a result of the violence of the ongoing conflict ( /).

We were chained to Rami's account of his personal journey. He fought in the war of 1973 in the armored division and was horrified when several close friends were killed. He retired from politics and "lived in a bubble", raised a family and developed a successful graphics business. However, his bubble burst when a suicide bomber killed his 14-year-old daughter Smadar and several other people in a pedestrian mall in West Jerusalem.

Elhanan spoke of the transformation he and his wife, Nurit Peled, had experienced after they decided to devote their time and energy to helping to eliminate the causes of the conflict. "We lost our daughter, but not our mental health," he explained. The parental circle consists of family members who have chosen the path of peace, not hatred and revenge. In this spirit, they have launched a number of amazing initiatives: a telephone hotline that allows half a million Jews and Palestinians to talk to each other, many of whom are calling for the first time; summer camps for children from families who have lost loved ones.; more than 2,000 presentations in Israeli and Palestinian high schools last year; a project in which Israelis donate blood to Palestinian victims of Israeli violence and Palestinians donate blood to Jewish victims of Palestinian violence; and a dramatic vigil during which they installed more than 1,000 coffins draped in Israeli and Palestinian flags in Rabbi's square in Tel Aviv and at the United Nations in New York. Each coffin represented a person killed since September 2001. 

Our time with Rami was marked by periods of silence, when members of the delegation saw his words and powerful message. Rami and other members of the parents ' circle performed in the United States as guests of returning delegates of the Interreligious peacemakers program. While they support ending the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, the parents ' circle deals with even deeper issues of inter-communal distance and pain. They do this by uniting families, sharing losses, and transforming loss, grief, anger, and the desire for revenge into a foundation of mutual respect and coexistence. Rami said that their task is particularly difficult in the United States: "there are very militant people who are so ready to sacrifice our children."What we have is the power of pain," he thought. "Pain has the power of an atomic bomb... With the same energy, we can create cracks in this great wall that separates us. Our blood is the same blood.?

That evening, we started our group discussion by watching a TV program about a summer camp for children in the parental circle. Children from bereaved families can communicate and form bonds of human friendship. We discussed our impressions of the afternoon classes. Some of us are well aware of the lack of historical knowledge about this conflict. Some people are amazed at the amount of "religion" that affects people's lives, often in a very negative way. Together, we agreed that we were acquainted with the most powerful positive forces of the human head, symbolized by the performance of Naomi Chazan, and the heart embodied in Rami Elhanan. Both they and others we met made a deep impression on us.

In fact, both heart and mind come together in the tremendous energy and passionate commitment that rami and Naomi bring to their work for the good of Israelis and Palestinians. Delegate David Verlin, a union organizer from Santa Cruz, put it this way: "I see that Rami and Naomi are strategic, smart and efficient in their work; each in his own way."Social activist Sarah Todd of Louisville commented," hearing that Rami surprised me. He chose the best way to be human, to live what humanity means and what I strive for. If I went home today, I'd be a completely different person.?

Report submitted by Scott Kennedy for the delegation

Correction: several readers have pointed out an error in Report One concerning Anne Frank?s cause of death. She actually died of typhus while at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  We apologize for the error.


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