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Zion Square, downtown Jerusalem

November 1, 2015

Thursday, I went down to Zion Square to do another evening with the “Speaking in the Square” team. There, in the street below the patio where Netanyahu stood, encouraging the hateful crowd that waved pictures of Rabin in SS uniform. These young folks have been at it since the war last summer. I went with their leaflet, challenging passersby to confront prejudice and inviting them to talk. Some of those we meet are regulars, the “Lehava” guys in black shirts who roam the streets of Jerusalem, looking for Palestinians to beat, in the name of preserving the sanctity of the Jewish people. (race?)

Thursday I had the misfortune of engaging with Lehava supporters right off the bat, and one of them was particularly obnoxious and drunk. As I began to talk with him, not yet aware of his intoxication, he lunged at me and snatched all my leaflets from my hand. His friend followed up by lighting his lighter in my face. Foregoing the adventure of seeing this through, I chose another battlefield.

After some lighter interchanges, I wandered through the square, and a nine year old in a faded red sweatshirt and grapefruit-sized kippa on his head, asked if he could read the leaflet. As I handed it to him, delighted at this opportunity, his eyes glazed over with hate and he looked at me while shredding the leaflet and speaking the praises of Yigal Amir, who killed Yitzhak Rabin. I noticed a Haredi man watching this, and he muttered, “You wonder where his parents are,” and we were off!

I suddenly had the opportunity to be with Moshe, the Moroccan Haredi, with sweet dimples beneath his beard. As we talked, and he understood that he’s talking to someone from another world, he said into my eyes, “Though you and I disagree about some things, violence is not the way, and so says the Torah.” He stood so close, up in my face, and his gaze was steady. We spent some 40 minutes talking, that is, he talked for 35 and I squeezed in here and there. I was honored to be hearing him. Moshe’s 15 year old had gone missing, having recently become enamored of Bentzi Gopstein and his ilk. They had argued, the boy bolted, and Moshe left his other eleven children at home to search for him. The last time it happened, he had wept in the street. We talked parenthood, and politics, and as he spoke against violence, I could see he would like nothing more than a confrontation with Gopstein.

Moshe spoke with warmth about the Arabs he has known, and the workers who are building on his street, the coffee he brings them. The enjoyment that infused the way he spoke of these Arabs, I wondered if this wasn’t just the Middle-east at its best. I could feel his Moroccan affinity for Arab culture.

My own seventeen year old, hangin’ with friends at the other end of town, had put her cellphone on silent, and got none of my five messages. I didn’t know whether they were out on the streets. And I shared my own concern, though his fear for his boy was senior to mine. But there we were, two worried fathers, in a frightening Jerusalem.

In his religious take on life, what was common to us was the longing for another, the other Israel. That good land where Jews live a decent life together. I told Moshe that I am blocked in my contact with Haredim in that I worry they want to return me to the fold. He reassured me that I am ok as I am. (for now?)

I hooked one of the younger Lehava kids with a provocative question and Moshe began questioning him about his son. As I left, I offered him my card, said I wanted to be in touch. He refused to take it, said he wanted to remain anonymous.

On the news tonight, young settlers were interviewed. They were all peaceniks! Each said they would leave the settlement for the sake of peace. All knew that they/we have to get along with the Palestinians, who will not rest until they have a home. Good news!

How do we turn these settlers into a movement? How can Moshe be moved to gather around him the people who also believe in the dignity of his way? How can we touch the 100,000 people I was with last night in Rabin Square, where just a hundred yards from me, Yitzhak Rabin was murdered twenty years ago? Since then, how many physical and emotional scars have we left in so many people?  How can we touch and move people to come out of their living rooms and demand a better future?

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




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