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ARRESTING A POEM

 Over the past several years, it has become commonplace to hear people complain of the many ways that the present government is eating away at the foundations of democracy. Last week, I experienced the force of this process myself. I invited the Palestinian poet, Dareen Tatour, to read her poetry at the November Sulha gathering. To my joy, she accepted. I assured her that we would take care of her transport from Reina, north of Nazareth. She pushed aside my offer to pay her for the effort.

I became aware of Dareen Tatour through the “Ha’aretz” piece about her that appeared in the weekend section in recent weeks. Until then, she had been just another of many Palestinians, oppressed in various ways, that crossed my path in the media. The “Ha’aretz” interview explored with Dareen her trial, arrest and incarceration, both five months in prison and, for two and a half years, under home arrest. The photos and text introduced me to this person, articulate, thin and wiry, with a lovely smile shining out from under her hijab.

Unable to find a volunteer, I ended up driving the 100 miles to bring her to the event. As I drove north, the director of the event venue called me. His legal advisor had insisted that we demand that Dareen agree not to read “Resist, My People, Resist Them,” the poem at the heart of her conviction and incarceration. During her trial, other “evidence” was brought in, but the clarity of this particular poem was twisted by the prosecutor into incitement, a threat to the public’s wellbeing. And now, hours before the event, I arrived at her home, where her mother served grapefruit juice from fruit she had just picked from the tree in the garden. I found myself explaining to Dareen the position of the venue host. If she read the poem at this public event, I explained, we would all be risking prosecution. I tried to persuade her that she could still come and read other poems, and that the restriction on reading “Resist” would illustrate to the participants the obscene severity of the government’s stance.

As she considered my argument, I saw how oppressed she felt. “You are inviting me to a place where I cannot say what I feel, where I cannot read my work,” she said. She said she felt choked, smothered by the situation, and I began to see that in my fervor I was becoming, for her, another Israeli demanding that she compromise herself. I relented, accepting that I must not ask her to confront the restriction we would be imposing. She thanked me for my effort, hugged me in farewell. I left her sitting before her house, slumped, sad, and angry, and drove to the event alone.

Here is the English translation of Dareen’s poem, in full:

RESIST, MY PEOPLE, RESIST THEM

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation

And deterred us from restoring justice.

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil, they sniped her in public,

Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Dareen’s poem, for me, is a screaming, painful cry for justice, a demand for the righting of wrongs. As in all good art, the depth of the poet’s fury and longing are conveyed powerfully. We have to be moved, each in our own way. When Dareen calls her people to “evict them from my land,” what does she mean, you might ask. You could make a case that Dareen was calling for the use of force against Israel’s regime. But that would be to butcher a poem, for the quotable line. Nowhere does she call for violence or revenge. Nowhere does she condone others’ violence. Dareen was sent to jail for freely expressing her passionate resistance to the status quo. For her feelings and convictions, put into words.

70 people showed up for the event, and while they understood, all were disappointed to hear of Dareen’s choice not to join us. Yet, we read her poems, in Arabic and Hebrew, and we broke into small groups where we each shared our own responses to the poems and to the situation. As in all Sulha events, Palestinians and Israelis encountered each other respectfully, intimately speaking and listening to each other. We shared a meal and afterwards we sang and danced our solidarity. While the shadow of what had happened with Dareen hung over the event, nonetheless the flame of hope that is always aroused when people engage with each other, face to face, was what we all took away. We’ll need to keep that hope burning, as a long uphill climb lies before us.

Yoav Peck is co-director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for people-to-people contact.

 

 

 

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Homework

I broke my ass over Arabic homework today. Even if I never speak decently, at least I’m doing something to offset Alzheimer’s. I used to get C- for penmanship, and my Arabic writing is tortured and primitive. But it feels great to be in the living room of my friend, Amjad, and to understand what he says to his son. How did I not tackle Arabic a long time ago? Only last year did I understand how important it is to read and write as well as speak. To get the language. Arabic is beautiful, even survives the massacre of my accent.

When you finish writing an Arabic sentence, you have to go back and make sure you put all the dots and slashes in the right places. Sweating to put myself in the shoes of the other. But it’s a special kind of fulfilling, asking a 19 year old Sulha attendee from Hebron what he is studying and where he hopes to work. In his language. A stretch.

A little stretch in a long day at the gym. We have so much stretching to do. A fateful election is coming during the next year or months. The others we must now address are our fellow Israelis. Will we be ready, and will we take action to get rid of this government? There is talk of a possible broad coalition of resistance, with Ehud Barak, Tzippi Livni, and Benny Gantz leading it. A smart, erratic but seasoned pro with terrible people skills, a life-long political woman who can be passionate, ironic and strong, and a retired general with much blood on his hands, no political experience,  and a decent way with people. Who knows? What are the alternatives?

We need good leaders, but they will need oceans of activists. Activists with more savy than ever, with a clear message and a menschlich way of meeting the public. We need to train each other, we need to be joining muscle and heart so we can meet the challenge at hand.

Yoav Peck is co-director of the Sulha Peace Project

 

BENNY GANTZ and THE REST OF US

Yitzhak Rabin was able to galvanize popular support for the Oslo Agreements, on the left, center, and also to the right of center. He represented extreme security-driven harshness: witness his infamous order to “break the arms and legs” of participants in the demonstrations against the occupation, an order that was carried out with wild abandon by soldiers. On the other hand, he is the man who returned Fatah leaders from Tunis as part of his Oslo initiative, and who reluctantly reached out to accept Yasser Arafat’s handshake on the lawn of the White House. The fearless 27-year army man, hero of the Six Day War, is also the man who joked with Arafat and who awkwardly and sweetly sang the Song of Peace with us at the November 4 demonstration, minutes before he was killed.

At this moment, Israel needs a leader who can bring together a similar integration of toughness and peace-seeking, who can enable Israel’s extending of generosity, from a position of strength. Perhaps Benny Gantz can bring us this rare combination. Perhaps the man who is responsible for over 2,000 Palestinian deaths and the devastation of Gaza during the 2014 war, perhaps this soldier has what it takes to lead us out of the current morass toward peace.

Of late, Gantz is a most talked-about Israeli political figure. He has only begun his flirtation with politics, and already the pollsters predict that he will take 12 seats. No one seems to know where he is heading. Is he Left? Right? Maybe Gantz offers an opportunity to get rid of these useless and divisive labels. I can already hear my leftist friends….”What, now you’re afraid to call yourself Left?” No, I’m not worried about my left credentials. As June Carter said, “I’m just trying to matter.”

But damn, what should guide us in Israel, now? As in a late Woodie Allen title, these days I’d say… “Whatever works.” I don’t care what label we give people and ideas, what we want is some action here. To make sure we have things turn out in a way that’ll make us proud and grateful when we tell our grandkids about this time. And to turn to those of us who have grimly given up on mattering, and to say, “Hey friend, you want a better future for your kids no less than I. Let’s have it turn out well for everyone. Because that’s where our security lies.”

Perhaps it’s time to shake up our thinking a bit, as we approach looming elections.  I’d like to tug Gantz’s sleeve and see if I could get him to pay attention to the opportunity at hand. I ran into Benny Gantz on two and a half occasions. The first time, it wasn’t me, but my partner, Avi Shahaf. As part of our Human Dignity initiative, Avi represented us in the IDF committee that Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz created to examine ways of advancing the value of dignity in the army. Gantz, brigadier general by then, (around 1999) was in charge of the committee. Avi tells of a Benny Gantz who took his mandate seriously. “He exuded quiet, with a strong presence. He was a great listener, addressed everyone by name.” When he was forced to leave the committee, Gantz parted from Avi and the others with poise and dignity. Some urgent military appointment drew him away and the committee collapsed. Don’t you wonder what could we do here, if we didn’t have to run off to handle security, forever? This country seems to need crises, so as not to confront the far more awesome challenges of living in peace and security.  Fighting has always been easier than working things out.

Then, last year, the premiere of “Ben Gurion Epilogue,” at the Jerusalem Cinemateque. I sat several rows behind Gantz, who was blocking the woman behind him with his bulk. The film documents Ben Gurion, late in life, and here we see a man, with ethical concerns, contradictions, a real man who grappled with leadership.  At the film’s close, I glanced around at the crowd, and the longing for leadership in the hall was palpable. Way beyond controversy, we had all spent an hour in the presence of principled, deliberate leadership. We knew it, and we knew that others knew it. And that the present Israeli political reality is devoid of such qualities. Gantz’s face was drawn, more than usual, as he rose from his seat.

The last time with Gantz was my favorite. Frumit treated me and Aviv to seats for a Yoni Rechter concert, along with the Philharmonic. Very exciting. And just down my row was Benny. I considered approaching him but figured that if I were famous, I’d like to be able to go to a concert without someone forcing me into my role.

What we shared, that evening, Gantz and I and the rest of the audience, was the joy of the Israeli musical experience that Yoni Rechter creates. For each of us in that hall, it was clear that Rechter brings to music the values we treasure….harmony, lilting harmony and rhythms. Beautifully articulated songs, Eli Moher’s songs, so full of the Israel we all love and miss. A clean, solid statement of decency, somehow, that radiates from Rechter. And gentle wry Israeli humor. I was just down the row, as Yoni’s music washed over Benny. Perhaps he dreams as we do, of less noise, as Yoni sings. Perhaps he dreams, as do we, of peace.

Warren Bennis wrote a book about leadership called, “Inventing Myself.” I hope Benny Gantz is busy, right now, figuring out how he will invent himself as a political man.  My guess is that a lot of people might be happy to see him step forward.

I don’t know, I have a good feeling about the guy.

Gantz

 

POSSIBILITY

“Sad,” we shared, sitting in a circle, 18 of us, in an event organized by “Sulha,” minutes after viewing the film “Oslo Diaries.” Reflecting on the film’s rendering of those fleeting, precious moments in Oslo, between 1993-6, we needed to be with others. Shimon Peres’ words, in the last minutes of the film, still rang in our ears and hearts…..”When you decide to swim across the Sea of Galilee, and in the middle you tire, don’t swim back, swim forward….” And despite Shimon’s elegant coaching, when the Sulha facilitator asked people to express their feelings in one word, at least half responded with, “Sad.” You could see it in the drawn faces around the circle. The pain of re-witnessing such a missed opportunity, a moment when the possibility of a decent future was palpable.

The film takes us through the excruciating Oslo meetings, the breakdowns and breakthroughs, the fierce determination of the handful of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, the final victory of the signing of the accords. The viewers re-experience the elation of those days, the celebrations, Palestinians thrusting olive branches into the barrels of the tanks that patrolled their streets, Israelis hugging in the city-squares and weeping with joy. And then we watched the victory dissolve, dashed onto the rocks of the Hebron massacre, the murder of innocent Israelis in the suicide bombings in our buses and streets, and finally, the hate-filled campaign against Oslo, leading to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

This is a moment when it’s appropriate to be feeling our feelings about Oslo. We need to be feeling this sadness, together. We need, now, to give ourselves space and time to re-experience how badly we wanted and worked for peace, when we could smell peace coming.

For the settlers, it was not olive branches they were smelling, it was a frightening smell. This “peace” meant the end of their pioneering mission to regain all the land that was in God’s original plan. They were the new chalutzim, and they were fulfilling the will of an ultimate authority. They would not go gently.

History. At the moment, this moment, let’s ask: What is all this feeling useful for? In Hebrew, the word “why” is composed of two words, “for what?” How do we confront the passivity and cynicism that too often flow out of our disappointments?

By coming together, not going it alone. And by asking “for what?” This entails being accountable for fulfilling our personal vision in life. It demands that we have a personal vision in the first place. Next, the question is, “How much of my time on earth do I intend to spend intentionally working for what I believe in?”

One evening in 1969, as a Vietnam anti-war demonstration was winding down in downtown Berkeley, I threw a rock through the front window of a real-estate firm known for its ruthless treatment of tenants. At that moment, I became the only person, in that crowd of 100 activists, who was not shocked or surprised by the shattering of the plate glass. I was not surprised because I had become cause in the matter. A player, not a spectator.

Some of the most uncomfortable questions we are left with, as we recall Oslo, are, “Where does this leave me? Is abiding anguish a choice I am willing to make? If I love my grandchildren, why would I not be doing what I can to make the world I leave them a treasure of possibility?”

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE NORMALIZATION DILEMMA

For 18 years, the Sulha Peace Project has brought together Palestinians from across the territories with Israelis from around the country, in order to hold people-to-people dialogue and solidarity-building. Of late, many of our Palestinian activists have endured harsh anti-normalization criticism from their friends and relatives, and some have been dragged into long, humiliating interrogations at the hands of Palestinian security. The director of a site where we held a recent gathering was harassed by the Palestinian Authority for renting us space.

As we rumble into the 52nd year of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it may be useful to revisit the contention, strident in various sectors of the Palestinian public, that cooperation with Israelis represents “normalization” (tatbiyah) and is thus forbidden. How is normalization defined? Huda Abuarquob and Joel Braunold, two leaders of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, explain that “the anti-normalization movement has called for an end to all interactions between Israelis and Palestinians that do not subscribe to three key tenets: ending the occupation; equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians; and a full right of return for Palestinian refugees. These three tenets are shared with the BDS movement, and, as such, the two movements are joined at the hip. Yet the effects on the ground of the anti-normalization movement are far more serious.” Expressions of the anti-normalization efforts include threats, security-force interrogations, bitter criticism from friends and family, and even physical disruption of people-to-people gatherings. Joining with Combatants for Peace in a joint Israeli-Palestinian march in the West Bank protesting the occupation, I was hit by some of the eggs a group of anti-normalizers hurled at us from the side of the road, and some confrontations have even led to beatings. While the initiative comes from the Palestinian side, anti-normalization efforts also enjoy support from some hard-line Israeli activists.

Abuarquob and Braunold continue: “Real progress does not come fast enough for those who suffer the brunt of the occupation, but these joint programs are the best hope of fundamentally changing the worldviews of those who have been fighting for generations. People-to-people work today has evolved to be less about dialogue and far more about building trust. This is painfully slow and offers only incremental progress, yet given how each population fears the other, offers a real option for progress.”

Progress toward what, you may ask? Does it really matter that participants in Sulha’s people-to-people activities return home with hope in their hearts, after encountering people from the other side in deep dialogue listening circles, along with singing in Hebrew and Arabic, drumming, dance, prayer and a common meal? We know that it does matter, that together we are laying the human foundation for whatever future agreement will be reached. Any of the peace plans on the table will require Palestinian-Israeli cooperation, around security, commerce, water, waste. Cooperation will not work if there is not a critical mass of people who have built the trust that flows from experiencing mutuality and our common humanity.

At the same time, we activists must remain aware of the contradictions we embrace. While we engender a sense of solidarity among program participants, we must not ignore the gross imbalance in the life-situations of people from the two sides. While I complain about the stinging jellyfish that visit Israel’s shores during the first half of the summer, I do not forget that most Palestinians would be happy to brave the jellyfish if the army allowed them to leave the territories and get to the sea at all. The wellbeing I am privileged to enjoy is unknown to people who are awakened in the night while heavily-armed soldiers arrest their twelve year old sons.

It is gratifying, at our gatherings, to witness not only Israelis acknowledging the pain of Palestinians but also to see Palestinians listening to the concerns and anxiety of Israelis who live with fear of rock-throwers, knife-wielders, bombers and fire-starters. At the same time, equalizing our very different kinds of oppression is not the direction we must take. While we reject the anti-normalizers’ blanket condemnation of dialogue, there must be recognition, in any of our people-to-people contacts, of the disaster (“nakba”) of Israel’s creation, from the Palestinian perspective. Israel’s success rests on the conquest of Palestine. 750,000 Palestinians fled during the War of Independence, and the argument about the Arab nations’ choice not to recognize the ’47 U.N. partition has nothing to do with the experience of conquest the Palestinians have endured to this day.

It is not comfortable for us to acknowledge the vast gap between the Palestinians’ suffering and our own. But acknowledge we must, if we are to move forward. Joseph Montville, of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, writes: “The psychology of victimhood is an automatic product of aggression and resultant traumatic loss in individuals and peoples. The refusal of aggressors to acknowledge the pain of the hurts inflicted on victims, and therefore the absence of remorse by the aggressors, creates an overwhelming sense of injustice in the victims.” Can we afford to belittle the collective victimization of the Palestinians? We do so at the cost of unending strife, violence, attack and counter-attack.

Montville continues: “A society, a leadership, a world, and, indeed, a universe the victims had heretofore assumed would shield them from harm have all let them down…. The victims’ collective sense of security in their identity, their self-concept, their basic dignity, and a future for their children has been dealt a devastating blow.”

We Israelis are challenged to embrace a terrible contradiction: On the one hand, after 2,000 years of collective homelessness, Israelis now lay claim to this land. On the other, our victory is the source of unfathomable suffering. When we ignore suffering, we become aggressive, righteous, callous. Yet, there is an alternative….. We can confront our shame, our regret, and ultimately we can express our empathy for those who have paid the price of our success. It is only here, in a blessed and courageous act of reaching-out, that the paving stones on the road to healing can be lain.  Before negotiation can be conducted or written agreements and maps disputed, we must express our sorrow for the Palestinians’ plight, and assume active responsibility for our part in righting the wrong. This will require a bigness of heart that is lacking in our present leadership. That does not make it less of an imperative.

I can already hear the protests, the talk-backs: What about their aggression, and what about the Jews expelled from the Arab countries? What about our suffering? Friends, it is time to give up this tit-for-tat thinking. Can we not allow our nation’s strength to enable the opening of our hearts? Is this not the time for coming forth and reaching out? We Israelis have the upper hand, and this is the time for generosity of spirit.

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project

LIVING WITH THE OCCUPATION

Today, I helped a 22 year old Palestinian get a permit, despite the fact that he is on some army blacklist, so that he can spend the last days of his wife’s life beside her at the hospital in Tel Aviv. She is dying of cancer, and he has until now been prevented from leaving his West Bank village to enter Israel. As a leader at Sulha, an organization that connects people for solidarity building, including bringing Palestinians into the country, I cooperate with the army. Over the years, working relationships with the soldiers at the army permit-office have enabled us sometimes to get through bottlenecks. I didn’t do much today. Just contacted a veteran officer who has often assisted us, within the limits of his authority, asked him to take urgent action to get the field office to yield, regarding this young Palestinian. I offered to take personal responsibility for his actions, if he were to be allowed in.

We representatives of the various peace organizations have a strange connection with the army’s permit office.  They often throw up obstacles to our doing what we do with Palestinians. Rejected permit applications are never explained, the intelligence world is not accessible to us. Sometimes, if the applicant is a distant cousin of someone who once attacked Israelis, his application will be denied. People we know personally and whom we trust are often denied entry. Irritating as this is, the soldiers are there to protect Israelis like me from terrorists, and I actually expect them to do that. Not simple.

What kind of cooperation is acceptable, when dealing with the occupation? Does one strengthen the army’s hold on the territories when one negotiates and cooperates with it, treating the army as a legitimate player on this field? If we didn’t cooperate, the activists who come to our events, and the curious from both sides who have never sat with someone from the other side, would stay at home. The Palestinians who we enable to get to the sea with their children would miss the short breather of a day in Israel, enjoying the change of scenery. Israelis have no moral conflict in joining us at Sulha, just their own reticence. But Palestinians who come to Sulha events often face criticism and even interrogations, when they arrive back home. They are accused of “normalization,” defined as any act that denies the reality of occupation.

While I can understand opposition to Palestinians getting rich through doing business with Israelis, we at Sulha are busy peacemaking, we spend much our time together confronting the oppressiveness of the occupation. We develop determination, among our participants, to carry on the struggle, while experiencing folks from the other side who want to be free of occupation, no less than they. This work is good for everyone. It helps create the human framework onto which any political resolution will be built. So attacking our participants as “normalizers” makes no sense to me. How to interpret the phenomenon? Is it the deep bitterness festering for years under occupation, a hopelessness that would deny anyone else the experience of hope, a few hours of relative freedom?

Last night, near Bethlehem, we brought 100 Palestinians, Israelis, and some American guests together. The gathering was graced by the presence of a young couple from Gaza, with their three kids, who managed to get a five day permit. We lit candles with accompanying prayers, we did some icebreakers, and then we went into 90 minute listening circles where we worked on the continuum between constriction and freedom. People shared from their hearts, there were no political arguments, because we were connecting at a different level. In my circle, one Palestinian teenager shared his fear to go out into the street in his village, when the soldiers are around. A hijab-covered woman spoke of the empowerment she draws from her practice of Islam. People listened attentively, as the “speaking object” was passed around. A disabled man from the States spoke of his pain when facing the attacks of his friends and family on his leftwing views. An Israeli spoke of his fear for his grandchildren’s future. People connected, appreciating each other’s openness.

After dinner, we played guitars and sang songs in Arabic and Hebrew in which we cried out together for peace. “Earth and sky,” we sang, “the heat of the fire, the sound of the water….I feel it in my body, in my spirit and soul…” The children came to the center and we prayed and sang our hopes for them, as they danced in a circle, holding hands.

“Normalizers?” I would rather expect the Palestinian Authority to bless our activities, to support us. But following yesterday’s event, there has been a volley of criticism, hatred, threats, in the social media. Some of our activists are even afraid there could be physical violence directed at them. Aren’t our governments making things tough enough, without us fighting among each other the little sparks of solidarity? We will continue along this path. We will arrange a meeting with the PA, and we’ll make our case. We will not succumb to the pressure. Hope and devotion to our common future will carry the day. The children demand it.

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project

HOPE IN HARD TIMES

You can take a guy out of the Berkeley ’60’s, but you can’t take the ’60’s out of the guy. As a graduate of the California ’60’s, I still believe in and work for profound social change, I still love flowers, and I still organize peace-gatherings.  I cannot grow long hair anymore. I’m 71, but sometimes I wish it was ’71 again.

In the spring of ’71, together with my brother Jon and five others, we had a group that played political rock ‘n roll called “Contraband.” Our pianist had played with jazz great Chet Baker. We tried to tame him into rock ‘n roll, and he pulled us toward jazz. We sometimes found a groove, where the power of the people became a thumping rhythmic melodious harmony, and we felt that anything was possible. The band went acoustic for street-actions, and I remember the Berkeley cops chasing us through back-yards when we demonstrated to stop an eviction, and Jon threw his trombone ahead of him over the fence he then scaled. At the July 4, “Hot Town, Summer in the City Peoples’ Political Festival,” with people dancing all through the band, because there was no stage, singing Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets.” We wrote new lyrics and the chorus was “Fighting in the Streets…”  Some fierce communal love energy, wine, smoke, congas, all kinds of workshops, with one about how to make a rope-climbing playground for your kids. “Uncle Ho’s” garage mechanics were part of the community, freaks who brought their tools to events and taught people how to fix their own cars. We were making the revolution!

Or not. Things haven’t played out as we imagined they would. Trump is not what we had in mind back then. And Netanyahu is not what we Israelis had in mind 26 years ago, when Yitzhak Rabin won the ’92 election. Frumit and I drove up to the Sea of Galilee just after the election, and as we held each other, looking down from the hills across the wind-blown lake, the sun was setting on what felt like a country we peace-lovers had just taken back. The year before, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had been forced to attend the Madrid Conference, and he even rose to the occasion, issuing the following at the conference’s close: “”With an open heart, we call on the Arab leaders to take the courageous step and respond to our outstretched hand in peace.” Then Rabin came in, enabled the secret Oslo negotiations to take place, and we were on the way to peace. During the Oslo years, we were moving toward what looked like a transformed future. Doors were opening, the Foreign Ministry was alive with young folks competing to advance contact with the Gulf States and other corners of our region. Hope was in the air, hearts were opening.

You could still drive through downtown Jericho back then, and as I made my way through the city one day in ’94, I came upon on a shared jeep patrol of Palestinian and Israeli soldiers as they smoked cigarettes together. I leapt out of the car to shake their hands, and we drank strong coffee, congratulating each other on the breakthroughs that seemed to be happening everywhere. Those days now seem as far away as the Berkeley ’60’s, and today we are facing a grim reality.

Half a million settlers now lay claim to land that has been in dispute for 51 years, with Netanyahu doing everything he can to please and appease them. Last week, the government passed the “Nation State Law,” which removes the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel, and will allow the establishment of separate communities based on ethnicity or religion. Another ruling denies gay fathers the right to bring a child into the world through a surrogate, and a Conservative rabbi was hauled in for questioning for performing a wedding not sanctified by the rabbinate. Dark times.

At such a moment, it is tough to keep alive the vision of a better future. Yet, while dark times drive some of us to despair, some of us are inspired to become more active. This is happening here, and apparently a lot of Americans have re-engaged, thanks to Trump. We must not succumb to the cynicism and defeatism rampant even among liberals. We must bang out our rock ‘n roll and strive for jazz. We must stand proud and take the steps, one at a time, that will renew our hope as we struggle to return our beloved countries to us. The Sulha Peace Project will gather 100 Palestinians and Israelis in Bethlehem in a couple of weeks, where we will probe issues of constriction and freedom in quiet listening circles, sharing a meal and our prayers. We’ll join hands and sing our songs, looking into each other’s eyes, and to the horizon.

Yoav Peck is director of the Sulha Peace Project