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March 21, 2015

On Tuesday, I heard my prime minister urging, “Hurry friends, the Arabs are going out in droves to vote, bused in by the left.” I try to imagine even the most right-wing Republican presidential candidate referring thus to Black and Hispanic voters. And yet, Netanyahu, disgusting as he is even to so many of us, is just the symptom. The true ailment is among the people who chose him. It is a malignant fear, racism, hatred, and an uncanny refusal to think clearly about the present and future. Leading up to the election, there was such hope in the air, such a sense of possibility. More than anger and frustration, there is a deep sadness here, as we seek to digest the bitter herbs we’ve been served.

With this election comes the re-awakening of a deep, primitive suspicion that has lain dormant for seven months, since the horror of last summer’s avoidable war, when Arab-hating bands of thugs wandered the streets of my city looking to beat up on human beings heading home after work. An Arab social worker told us during the war of boarding a crowded Sunday-morning train, wearing her hijab, in Nahariya in the north. She happened to get on among the first, found herself one of a foursome of seats facing each other. The train was packed, people packed into the aisles, and yet all the way to Tel Aviv the other three seats remained empty. As the war-engendered venom spread, the general public uttered not a word of protest. The elections made official the declaration of so many Israelis…. GET WITH THE PROGRAM! COMPASSION IS DEAD!!!

Last week, I met a Palestinian psychologist from Gaza. He has been treating the traumatized victims of the summer war. He told me of working with a six year old girl whose parents and siblings were killed as they sat in their home, leaving her wounded, with her grandmother, to face the rest of her life. Surely the people who voted for Netanyahu can feel something for her. Surely they have children, surely they love and long for a life free of existential dread.

How will we touch our fellow Israelis’ humanity, how will we reawaken the human dignity that has been maimed here? How will we shed the deadening weight of 48 years as occupiers, so that we can once again become Jews who remember that we were slaves in Egypt, and so that we can have that memory fuel our intention never to enslave others?

Two days before elections, some seventy Palestinians and Israelis gathered at Eco-ME, an ecological peace village outside Jericho, for a Sulha tribal fire. A distinguished delegation arrived from Hebron, tolerating the two and a half hour ride to be with us. They had never been to Sulha and surely had their doubts. Yet like Nahshon at the Red Sea, they leapt into the unknown. We sat on the rugs in small circles and got to know each other, the exercise directing us to speak of the choices we have made in our lives, with some of us translating. Then we were led in “Biodanza,” a movement activity that enabled us to engage, hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye. We danced as a group, and later by the bonfire we sang together, beneath the desert sky. As one heart, the wish/dream was palpable, as we hoped for the opening a success in the elections might create.

Some of our Palestinian activists have been questioned by the Palestinian authorities and urged to break off with us. Some have. Indeed, one could ask how we Israelis and Palestinians allow ourselves this kind of celebration while the suffering of both sides continues. In fact, we at Sulha feel it is our obligation to express the joy of future peace now, fuelling our journey on the way to achieving peace.  As Sunday’s event ended, we collectively knew, in our bones, the certainty that cooperation and friendship are possible. In the fire’s glow, we gazed with hope at each other as we hugged and parted. And then, 60 hours later….Wednesday morning arrived with its appalling election results.

People keep asking how I feel. I’m sad, angry, frustrated, cheated. I feel like a 68 year old peace activist watching the dream of leaving his grandchildren a wondrous, renewed Israel…..blowing away like dandelion seeds in a hurricane.

So what? Reality is like the rain. A storm doesn’t care that we planned a picnic. Conditions ripened, the rain fell. We are disappointed but not devastated. Now we either go on moaning gevalt or we take our sandwiches inside, get organized, and make fresh plans. The disaster of the Israeli elections results can yield either a nightmare of helpless anguish or it can give birth to a new dawn. I choose the dawn.

Thanks to Netanyahu, hundreds of “V-15” volunteers, mostly students and other youth, went door-to-door for three months, urging wavering voters to vote. The election was basic training for those young soldiers of peace. They are out there, some of them wondering where to bring their passion now. Sunday’s Sulha guests from Hebron are awaiting the reciprocal visit of a delegation of Israeli Sulha folks. They look forward to hosting us in their homes. My friend Phull and I will go the States in mid-April to ask people for the support Sulha needs to spread our message across this land, this desert. We have so much to do.

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




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