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JERUSALEM AFLAME

When I was born, a Palestinian family lived where my house now stands. My Jerusalem neighborhood, Kiryat Yovel, was built during the 1950’s on the lands of the Palestinian village Beit Mazmil. The residents of Beit Mazmil were driven from their homes during fighting in this part of Jerusalem during the war of ’48. Sometimes when I am weeding my garden, I wonder who was working this same ground until 70 years ago. Where are the residents of Beit Mazmil? Where did they go, and where are their children and grandchildren living today?

The Arab neighboring states rejected the UN Partition Agreement of ’47 and attacked us, and we fought to establish our country.  For most of the world, the borders established at the end of the ’48 war are not in dispute. In 1967, we fought another war, and sovereignty over the lands we conquered during that war is disputed to this day.

Seven U.S. presidents understood that non-interference in the delineation of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods was the best policy: Jerusalem’s borders and status would be determined as part of the comprehensive peace agreement, an agreement that has eluded us until now. All the presidents knew that the ’67 cease-fire lines would be the basis for any negotiation, and they wisely avoided creating facts that would jeopardize whatever agreement could be reached between Israel and the Palestinians.  Then here comes Donald Trump, promising the “Deal of the Century,” and weeks before his plan is revealed, he declares Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Netanyahu is celebrating, and even the cowardly “moderate” parties are pounding him on the back. In the speech he gave last night Trump declared, “We are not taking a position on any final-status issues….” Of course he has taken a position on final-status issues! Otherwise, would he not have mentioned the Palestinians’ claim on East Jerusalem? What did he expect the Palestinians’ response to be? Who needed this?

Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since the State of Israel was declared. One third of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinian, and they live in East Jerusalem. These Palestinians long for the day when, together with peace, East Jerusalem will become the capital of their new country, Palestine. One does not have to be an expert in systems-theory to understand that, in such an explosive situation, no one-sided “victory” can lead towards quiet. Ariel Sharon one-sidedly withdrew the settlers from Gaza, ignoring Palestinian offers to negotiate the terms of this withdrawal. This one-sided withdrawal, leaving control of Gaza’s borders in Israeli hands, led to years of bombardments and counter-bombardments, three Gaza wars and enormous loss of life. Now another one-sided move has been made, and this time the instigator lives elsewhere.

We tremble as we listen to the hourly news. Extremists on both sides are issuing fearsome declarations. Thousands of young Palestinians have taken to the streets. Ambulances are screaming through Issawiyeh, just below the French Hill neighborhood.

The mayor of Jerusalem wants to open the square at City Hall for celebrative dancing. There are no celebrations here in my house. This move is so short-sighted. Until we acknowledge the damage we have done to the people who lived here before we came, until we see to it that Palestinians can get up in the morning in their own land as free citizens, just as we do, there will be no respite, and things will go from bad to worse.

Yoav Peck

 

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BEYOND HOPE

The hope that glowed from folks’ faces at last night’s Sulha gathering had nothing to do with empty waiting, helplessness, or “someday….” The tears of joy in the eyes of the 60 Palestinians and Israelis who converged on Eco-ME, the center for peace and sustainability near Jericho in the West Bank, these were the tears of people who are the authors of our fate. Folks left the relative comfort of their homes to travel from Hebron and Jenin, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in order to engage with each other and to face the waves of fear, anger, and hurt that assault us all daily. The gathering was organized by the Sulha Peace Project, a bi-national initiative that has been bringing the two sides together for the past 17 years.

Why do we hold these “Tribal Fires” every month or six weeks? Some cynics snipe, disparaging our “hugging and humus” events. What difference can it make, they demand? Does a deep, warm connection between the sides bring a negotiated agreement any closer? Does Netanyahu care that you are meeting?

Our environment can be discouraging…..many Israelis and Palestinians have lost hope that a solution to our 100 year conflict can be reached. We observe our leaders and we see few signs that they are interested in creating the conditions that will enable progress. At Sulha, we understand that waiting for politicians is a losing game. We know the road is long and tough, and that meanwhile we must nourish the glowing coals that will ultimately bring the antidote to hopelessness, blowing the embers alive, into the warming fire that burns in the handshakes, hugs, and honest conversations between people.

Last night we asked folks to focus on the issue of uncertainty, enabling participants to share what it means for them to face a frightening present and unknown future that threaten to undermine any wellbeing that exists. Melila asked us not to shrink from the fog of our future, to take inspiration from Moses who strode fearlessly into the cloud surrounding Mt. Sinai, seeking engagement with God despite his inability to know what the encounter would yield. In small listening circles, people shared their own experience of uncertainty. The variety was striking. Yusef spoke of his fear as he heads out to his olive orchard, where recently he and his wife and children were assaulted with stones, sticks, and dogs by attackers descending from the nearby settlement. An older Israeli woman spoke of the fog of uncertainty surrounding her experience of aging. A Dutch woman shared her shame and helplessness in the face of her government’s mistreatment of Syrian refugees. We quietly listened, looking into each other’s faces as the “speaking object” was passed around.

We then turned to the question of what we do in order to confront uncertainty. As each person shared their own ways of coping with the unknown in life, what became clear is that, more than anything, we need each other if we are to transverse the fear and loneliness of our private struggles. It is in the support and comraderie of our friends and colleagues that we find the strength to carry on.  As we concluded, we silently took each other’s hands around the circle, gazing into loving eyes.

As the children lit the bonfire, Marcia recited her courageous poem, dedicated to “my enemy, my beloved.” We prayed and sang in the fire’s glow, beneath the warm desert sky, as a half-moon rose out of the Jordanian hills to the east. We ate a delicious vegetarian meal and then washed the dishes together.

As the evening wound down, we lingered around the fire with guitars and drums, gently relishing the evening’s gifts. The young guys from Hebron did not want to get back on the bus, trying to stretch our short time together. I looked around at this little community of Palestinians and Israelis, and realized that in the course of the evening, together we had created the possible future, right here in this difficult present. Through our actions, we had stepped beyond hope into the certainty of a future we will bring, together, embracing with our linked hands and deep talk a momentary glimpse of the better days to come.

Yoav Peck

A Kumbayah Moment or a Political Rally?

Fascinating and troubling, the public debate leading up to tomorrow’s memorial ceremony marking 22 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The media are full of this discussion. Commanders for Israel’s Security and Darkenu, (“Our path”), who assumed responsibility for this year’s rally, state clearly in their websites’ “vision” their support for the two-state plan that lies at the heart of Yitzhak Rabin’s peace agenda. Yet the two organizations’ invitation to the rally states that there will be no politicians or parties represented at the rally. The call is for “The Unity of the People,” obliterating any reference to the peace agenda or the political assassination without which we would not be gathering tomorrow.

The whitewash has been vigorously challenged by the Israeli left which awakened from its slumber, and three days ago the organizers’ rally ads’ wording was changed from “…Yitzhak Rabin of blessed memory” to “…Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin marking 22 years since his murder.”

Nonetheless, Facebook is surging with leftists’ calls to boycott the rally, to stay home or to stage an alternative rally. I for one will be there in Rabin Square. As I look through my closet I’m debating whether to come in an old faded Peace Now shirt or in the Hebrew-Arabic shirt that says, “Peace Between Israel and Palestine, both Free and Secure.” It’s definitely going to be a political rally for me.

What is interesting in all of this is the cry for “unity of the Israeli people.” While this appeal seems like a no-brainer, like Mom and apple pie, it is more complicated than it appears. What is the significance of this “unity?”  Within days of Rabin’s assassination at the hands of a twisted young product of the nationalist Israeli settler-right, we were assaulted by cries for “unity,” as the religious settler movement scrambled to defend itself and deny its responsibility for the prolonged, widespread and deadly incitement that led to the assassination. In the years following, a plethora of organizations seeking reconciliation and brotherhood spread throughout Israeli society, targeting youth in the schools and in the IDF. Was this appropriate? Was the search for unity simply the fear of conflict, an attempt to shmear peanut butter over a festering wound?

In recent months, the left, the media, and even the President have been demonized by our prime minister and his gang, the accusation that we are splintering the unity of the people, that we are traitors. Deligitimization of honest debate gallops forward, the reins flying in the wind. Yitzhak Rabin was no peacenik. He was a complex but decent guy who had the courage to step beyond his military history and steer our country toward a possible future. A staunch defense man, he led us toward a peace that he thought we could achieve while protecting ourselves. He was killed for his commitment to this goal.

Still today, fully half of all Israelis know that a peaceful future rests on the creation of an independent home for the Palestinians, painful as our concessions may have to be. Half of us do not accept this. We must engage each other around this central issue. We will argue, we will be upset. This is how we express our unity, by facing each other decently and having it out. Without raising our hands against each other. And when the majority of the Israeli people choose peace and its cost, then, armed with the empathy that was lacking in Rabin’s approach to the settlers, we will support each other in confronting the challenges and losses that are part of gaining peace. When peace is finally on the way, I will happily host a displaced settler family in my home until they find a new one.

The written Japanese symbol for conflict is a combination of the symbols of danger and opportunity. Will we Israelis, locked in this conflict, will we face the danger of releasing our familiar violent past in favor of the opportunity of our lifetime, to create the unknown, peaceful future?

 

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing together Palestinians and Israelis for people-to-people contact

CONQUEST

I used to identify as an American, until my heart was conquered by Israel. I fell in love with this country and its people, in 1972, and made myself at home here. I have lived on kibbutz, worked in a variety of jobs. I’ve been a therapist and coach and I’ve consulted to managers and workers throughout the country. As a peace activist, I’ve encountered Israelis across the political spectrum, and I am in love with the people of this land. In the heat of political arguments, I so enjoy the directness and warm earnestness of these Israelis. Talk about occupied territory, my heart is occupied, captured by my country, by the people here, even when they try my patience. And I am captivated by our journey, whose path has yet to be cut into the forest of the future we are creating here.

Some of us are along for the ride. We live as spectators, reading the newspapers, resigned to spouting our opinions at Friday night dinners. Others of us have chosen to count ourselves as authors, those whose actions are creating the story we will one day tell our grandchildren. How will we face them when they ask, “Saba, what we you doing, when Israeli democracy and the possibility of peace were in the balance?”

As our prime minister struggles to distract us from the corruption prompting multiple investigations that threaten to bring him down, we cannot look to politicians for salvation. For years, Netanyahu and his gang have avoided opening negotiations with the PLO, claiming they don’t represent all Palestinians, since Hamas in Gaza does not accept PLO policy. Now that the PLO and Hamas are unifying, our government will not negotiate with an adversary that has united with “a terrorist organization.” Stalemate is the name of this game, and Netanyahu will do whatever is necessary to keep things frozen, as long as he can sell his bill of goods to the Israelis who blind themselves to his agile maneuvering. Change is up to us, and we must act now.

There’s a broad curve in the road coming back home from Tel Aviv. The Judean hills, seven layers deep in varying shades of green, are laid out before the driver. When I reach this turn, I look across, into the depth of these evergreens, and I feel like Daniel Boone, one boot up on a rock as he leans on his rifle and looks out over Kentucky. That’s what I call out to the curve, “Kaaaaaiiintucky!!”

This Daniel Boone moment, imposed onto my beloved Israel, links me to Boone the pioneer. Boone was also known for his skirmishes with the Indians of Kentucky. As in Israel, there was someone living in Kentucky when he arrived. Yet as I own Boone’s image, making him mine, what I cherish is the thought, not of conquering the Indians who live down among those Kentucky hills, but befriending them, seeking our commonality so we can make it work for everyone. Now that would be some smart pioneering! We Jews have known how to get along with indigenous peoples. When King David arrived in Jerusalem, the Jebusites were already living here. Rather than killing them, David forged an alliance, engaging Jebusite artisans and builders to work with him in developing the city.

Today, Israel longs to be settled. To settle down. Living for 50 years without agreed-upon borders, we are a restless people, and we want to finally feel at home. Frustrated, we roar our motorcycles impotently through residential neighborhoods, small dogs with big barks. We are cynical and sometimes smug. Our humor is biting, wry. In our everyday lives, we most fear that someone will pull one over on us. We are no one’s “friar,” sucker. In fact, we’re gonna screw you before you screw us. But what is beneath all this is a pervasive un-quiet. What we truly long for is safety, ease. We vacation in Europe and see serene places and people who don’t live as though it’s just a matter of time before the next crisis. Yet we have no idea how to get there. And there can be no true pioneering when people see life as an endless struggle to survive.

If there’s a way of not being settled, it’s to live in a “settlement.” The trouble with the “settlements,” is that they are there as a result of the use of force. Indeed, our very presence in all of Israel is the result of force. The vicious cycles of aggression-retribution can only be broken through agreement, through communication, and the wisdom of knowing that we can only be safe if the other is.

It’s going to be a stretch, for us Israelis. We must acknowledge the full responsibility that comes with the success of our conquest. Understanding that having a strong army not only prepares us for further troubles, but also enables us to soften our stance, to take risks we could not take if we were weak. Our strength enables creativity. Surely, we clever Israelis can turn our enemy into a partner, while staying alert to danger. Because we are strong, we can afford to behave as a partner, even before the other side does. Are we big enough, can we be brave enough to be gentle towards those who strike out at us because they have no power? Only if we can find this courage in ourselves, only then will we renew our hidden pioneering spirit, only then will we explore the forests of the future, imbued with the justice of our cause.

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing together Palestinians and Israelis for people-to-people contact

 

FORGIVENESS

At the Jewish/Arab  village, Neve Shalom, last week 60 Palestinians and Israelis gathered to engage, person to person, and to explore together the meaning of forgiveness, at this time, for each of us. Shmuel shared with the group his memory of spending three days in prison as a young soldier, when he could not accept the army’s directing him to the armored corps. A woman wearing a hijab, from a West Bank village near Hebron, shared in response, “Sometimes the army closes our village for ten days at a time, turning our homes into prisons while they make their way through the houses, looking for young stone-throwers. During the curfew, we can’t even send our kids out for milk.” The sharing continues in small groups, as Palestinians and Israelis open their hearts and include each other in our struggle to find forgiveness at a time when vindictiveness and revenge are the dominant atmosphere, on both sides.

The day before the Sulha gathering was a long one for me. The army office had waited until the last minute to issue the permits we had requested weeks before. 46 Palestinians waited to hear whether they would take a day off work, whether they would be coming into Israel to attend the event. In the end, 29 permits were issued. As usual, no explanations were offered for the 17 that were rejected. Sometimes, we discover that a distant cousin of the applicant had been in trouble with the authorities, years before. Nonetheless, there were 29 permits and I had to get them to the Palestinians if they were to enter the following day. My sister Ann was visiting from Boston, and I warned her that we would be travelling on roads that have been dangerous over the past months, but she gamely said, “Let’s go.” We got some precious sibling time together in the six hours that followed, first receiving the permits at the army base near Ramallah, then dissecting Jerusalem and travelling south to the little village of Beit Umar, where coordinators for the Palestinians awaited their permits. We had been unable to deliver the permits to the Jericho and Ramallah applicants in the afternoon, because our Board member, Nasser, was stuck in the garage with his taxi.

So, after a brief respite at home in Jerusalem, we set out at 11 PM to connect with Nasser at the roadblock at Kalandia, near Ramallah. I had no idea how I would get the permits to Nasser, since Israelis are forbidden to enter the roadblock, and his long-term permit does not allow him to cross over after 10. I drove up to the check-point with hope that something would work out. As I slowed my car, an officer on duty demanded to know what I wanted. I told him the predicament, and he listened. He told me to contact my friend by phone and to have him approach the roadblock from his side. I worried about the permits, but handed them over to this apparently decent guy. Nasser agreed to come, but sounded tense. I could see him 100 meters away, slowly walking toward the soldiers. My officer strode up to him and handed him the permits, against regulations. Nasser waved to me from the far side of the roadblock and went back to his vehicle. When he phoned to confirm that he had the permits in hand, he said, “Yoav, you have no idea how frightened I was. So many times, Palestinians approaching the roadblock have been shot, suspected of concealing explosive belts. The officer was OK, but what about the other soldiers who didn’t know about your arrangement with him?” There it was, my naïve trust, momentarily blind to the dismal recurring reality of innocent men walking to their deaths. Perhaps it was the fact that Nasser is so thin that anyone could see he concealed nothing beneath his clothes. I had unknowingly played with his life.

At the Sulha event, Nasser and I hugged, I apologized and we laughed our relief that that I hadn’t gotten him shot the night before. We settled together into the warmth and fragility of our gathering, where people from both sides reached out, sharing our vulnerability and the unlikely mutual breakthrough of speaking of forgiveness, in unforgiving times.

                                                            Yoav Peck

 LEADERSHIP IN DARK TIMES

Leaders create the future. Their deeds, promises, and orations receive broad publicity, and they impact inordinately upon reality. They seek to define where we are and where we’re going. And many, many people buy their definitions. When Bibi Netanyahu promises that “…we will live by the sword forever…” he utters a self-fulfilling prophecy, committing himself, and us, to endless warfare.

We, who are also your citizens, Bibi, we seek the possibility of a new future that was so visible in the joyous face of Yitzhak Rabin, minutes before he was killed. This leader, defining a different future, shyly singing into the microphone, exhorting us: “Don’t say, ‘the day will come,’ rather bring the day…” Rabin was a leader who offered us and our children the hope and direction that spurs us to be our best selves. Together, that night in ’95, we were paving the road to our nation’s peaceful future.

What road are you paving, Bibi? Which audience are you playing to now? The reality you defined at your pep-rally last week is a dark foreboding place where, you say, “wild beasts” will pursue us forever.

Our world, here in Israel/Palestine, is indeed not safe. Those speaking of peace will be more facilely and hatefully labled “leftists” now, with the fresh encouragement of our prime minister. However, unsafe as life is, we see light in the darkness. There are people, everywhere in Israel, pursuing peace, writing, teaching, demonstrating, organizing, and learning the tools of peacemaking, embracing the imperative that we live peace as we make it. We are taking heart, as we see that truth is gaining on you, Bibi, and that your slickness will soon meet its match. Bibi’s imminent fall already is strangely encouraging. Here in our blemished democracy, nonetheless a semblance of justice sometimes is reached. Elor Azaria did go to jail, as did President Katzav and the others. Let’s hear it once for Israel’s being a precious democracy, warts and all.

What is the nature of the stuckness of the great masses of people in this country? The poor people in Israel who support Bibi….do they not see that their crushing poverty and Bibi’s consistent rejection of peace are somehow related? People can learn to think things through and go beyond their instincts, to braver, clearer places. Watch legendary teacher Jane Elliott on youtube, where in two days in 1970 she had 8 year old kids discover for themselves the terrible reality of racism. The kids got it, experientially, conceptually. We can all learn to fight racism, to teach peace.

How can one speak of “the masses” without condescension? When we engage rightists in conversation, we often arrive at moments when they stop thinking and give in to fear and fury. We try to bring them back, but often their canoe has already gone over the falls. Yet, there are moments of grace. Recently  encountering three soldiers on leave in the Square, all of them second- generation settlers, our conversation began hostile and aggressive, but by the time we parted, there was mutual listening on both sides. I invited them to describe the future they envision, and we connected. Before they left, one of them shook my hand, took my card, and said, “I hope you didn’t feel we were disrespectful during our talk.” It’s fulfilling work, and the little steps forward energize us.

This blazing hot summer, we’re chickens, frying in our own grease. It seems that everyone’s on vacation, along with optimism, flaked out exhausted on some beach in Greece. Those of us who are here, we sweat and shower and sweat some more. While in the middle of this swamp, our leader is bellowing his last hateful, inciteful shrieks, as he steadily sinks into the quicksand he created. But it is not enough to see Bibi fall. Who will step into the vacuum?

To get through security at last week’s Pride Parade, we stood squashed like sardines, for nearly an hour. In any other crowd, in Israel, people might have gotten uptight and nasty. But this gay and lesbian crowd, laced with supporters, was simply lovely, considerate, joking easily with each other and strangers, waiting to join the other 22,000 marchers, united by a common longing for a gentler Israel, a less frightened, less frightening Israel.

Will LGBT activists also march against occupation? These bold and loving Israelis, who bring new meaning to “pride,” will they also acknowledge that, underlying the homophobia and racism in Israel lies the deeply corrupting reality of controlling four million Palestinian people for 50 years? Will we coalesce and muster our courage to reach the decent, caring Israelis, to uncover our own collective leadership, bringing us all the future that only we can create?

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for person-to-person contact

 

WATERING THE TREE

When we moved into this house, there was an ugly stump of a lemon tree in the garden, twisted, scarred and nearly branchless and leafless, less than a meter high. As we settled into the house, I planned to tear out the little stump and plant something worthy. Frumit vetoed that and I was stuck with this eyesore in the middle of the front yard. Turns out, the little guy had a lot of fight in him. For eleven years, I have poured water into the roots of my friend the lemon tree, trimming him as he grows and reaches for the sunlight that peeks in over the hedge in the afternoon. When our supply of plump supermarket lemons is gone, we step outside to pluck one his crinkle-skinned, small lemons. Today, he towers over the hedge and the front porch, looking robust. Do we wonder if the grass is greener on our neighbor’s lawn? No, we know the grass is greener where we water it.

We, the gardeners of the future, see the blazing summer heat as nature’s way of throwing down a glove, challenging us to awaken and take care of what is quickly deteriorating before our eyes. We cower in our air-conditioners and try not to think about the sea-level atolls in the Pacific that will be first to be flooded by the rising sea, and we don’t think about 110 degree heat in Jericho. As the occupation rumbles into its 51st year, this heat is everywhere, God is mad this summer. Mad enough to reshuffle the cards, bringing us Avi Gabai, surprise victor in the Labor Party’s primaries, bringing freshness to the scene. He has so far not fully defined himself, but he offers something new, and we’re all so sick of more of the same. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s shady swamp of intrigue is steadily sucking him into the quicksand he’s created in our name. Maybe we are getting mad enough to rediscover our willingness to put activist meetings in our datebooks, to initiate alliances and action-projects, to volunteer time and write checks we haven’t been writing.

The alternative to ending the occupation leads to a whirlpool, dragging us down to the deterioration of our democracy and the corruption of the Israel we envision and long for. This week, Judy Maltz reported in Ha’aretz that discharged army officers are running mock-battle fun-parks for tourists, where people get to fire real weapons and are regimented and commanded to do pushups when they’re lagging behind. Business is booming, with this attraction sprouting like mushrooms across the country. The pictures of tough-guy officers in uniform and sunglasses, delivering a shpiel to awestruck Japanese tourists, sickening. If, as Netanyahu has promised, we will live by the sword forever, then we might as well have the sword turn a profit.

There are those of us who still seek and find the Israel we love, the sweet, warm Israelis who love to laugh together and don’t want to hurt anybody. We get together and feel the sorrow and waves of despair that accompany yesterday’s terrorist incident in the Old City, another in an endless succession of attacks and counter-attacks. We watch our prime minister scorning the majority of the world’s Jews, reneging on his promise to give egalitarian streams a platform by the Western Wall. Weary, we look toward more scorching days of these ruthless summer months, and again Israelis are forced to take a stand, to collectively deepen the problem or begin birthing the solutions.

Jerusalem’s evening cool descends, sweet respite from the oven that was mid-day… we’re evaporating more slowly now. I switch on the kettle for tea and step out to the garden to pluck a tough little lemon from our flourishing tree.

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for people-to-people engagement