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Letter from Jerusalem

August 14, 2015

On Monday, the Sulha Peace Project brought together some 80 people in Beit Jalla, a suburb of Bethlehem in “Area C,” where Palestinians and Israelis can meet. Participants were Palestinians from various parts of the West Bank, Israelis from all over the country, and 25 members of a Japanese delegation, the Earth Caravan. The guests brought with them the Peace Flame, which has been burning since 1945, taken from one of the buildings incinerated in the Hiroshima atom bomb.

We explored our commonality, joining in listening circles where people expressed their current thoughts and feelings about the other side. Toward the end, an Israeli participant said, “There is always someone on the other side, and I am always on the other side too.” We also asked people to share their vision for our shared future. The speaking was deep, the listening profound, and people moved from positions of alienation and anger toward the others to the special closeness evoked through straight talk. As so often happens at Sulha gatherings, one 23 year old Palestinian arrived at the event burning with great anger. He expressed it in his listening circle, and was heard. He then heard Israelis responding to him as well as Palestinians who are committed to working with peace-seeking Israelis, and he was moved to share that his feelings were shifting.

We in Israel and Palestine sometimes get so wrapped up in our daily struggle that we forget the pain and struggle of fellow activists around the world. The Peace Caravan guests were generous in sharing their story while listening intently to ours. Together, we paused to stand around the Peace Flame in a silent memorial to Ali and Sa’ad Dewabshe, the toddler and his father, who died when a “price-tag” terrorist burned their house two weeks ago. We felt the irony and sadness of standing to remember this fire while honoring the 70 year old flame, both the result of the desperate violence born in helplessness and hatred. Together we prayed for Ali’s mother and brother, both still fighting for their lives in hospital.

It is a grim time for both Palestinians and Israelis. An ugly mood is spreading like an oil slick across the country. In Palestine, stone-throwing youths and bystanders are shot dead with terrible regularity by soldiers and settlers who are rarely called to account. In Israel, a Haredi school cancelled the planned appearance by President Rivlin on the first day of school, due to his recent expression of sympathy for Shira Banki, 16, killed by a Haredi man in the recent Gay Pride march. Meanwhile, Israelis who can, 1½ million of us in July and August, are fleeing to vacations abroad, hungry for a change of scene. Others joke about making sure their passports are up-to-date. But they will all be back in September, and our children will return to schools under the auspices of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a surly, hate-filled man with a very specific agenda. And our Prime Minister will continue to speak persuasively about everything other than a plan to lead us out of the present morass.

In the end, each of us can only do what we can to keep our light burning, like the 70 year Peace Flame. We can demonstrate, we can meet the Palestinians and befriend them, we can make our own plans for spreading the light in schools and communities. We can, and we must build our strength for the long march before us, if we are to regain our country.

As the Sulha/Earth Caravan evening wound down, we played and sang and danced together, Palestinians, Israelis, and Japanese, and I reminded the participants that some people chastise us for such expressions of happiness, while people are still suffering all around us. I told the participants that exactly the opposite is the case: As long as the suffering continues, we must celebrate our togetherness in the quest for peace with exuberant and sensuous joy, thus re-charging our human passion to see us through the long siege ahead.

Yoav Peck, Jerusalem





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