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November 4, 2015

Today, 20 years ago, Yitzhak was murdered, 100 yards from where I stood, ignorant of what had happened. As he took the bullets I was still full of the joy of seeing, together with him, the possibility of a new future. Minutes before, he had sung with us the Song of Peace.

Our current “leader” declared his future this week. Said Netanyahu, through his mask of mock seriousness: “I’m asked if we will forever live by the sword – yes.” The central task of a leader is to articulate a future to which he, in the name of his organization, is committed. We Israelis are his organization, and this is the future he offers us. The sword. Forever.

We reject the offer. We declare a different future. In our future, we will know peace, we will sweat the sweat of learning to cooperate. We will trust when trusting is dangerous. I will turn my back to Arabs, trusting that they will not stab me. The collective trauma we are all enduring now will eventually end. We will stop viewing the films of the murders and lynches, we will heal ourselves and each other.

Before one of our Sulha “tribal fires,” we were preparing supper in the little field kitchen at EcoMe, the ecological meeting center near Jericho. My mother phoned from Boston, and I said, “Mom, guess where I am…. I’m in a small room with three Palestinians in their twenties, and they’re all holding sharp knives.” The guys in the kitchen burst into laughter over the tomatoes they were cutting. Mom threatened to make me pay for the ambulance that she would need after my shenanigans.

I was calm with the Palestinians, bumbling through the few sentences I could muster in Arabic. They were trim and quick, and could have gutted me in a flash, but that was the last thing from their minds. They were thinking about tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, and about the beautiful Israeli peaceniks who would be arriving shortly, to talk with them about their lives. They were eager.

These are the people who do not appear in the newspapers. Young Palestinians who hear about the Sulha gatherings and come, without Hebrew or English, but arrive, curious, cautious. And then, in the listening circles, they are asked about their experience. Others speak from the heart, and so do the Palestinians. We leave, each time, with hope glowing in our hearts. We’ve looked in each other’s eyes, we do exercises before the listening, like creating “energy balls” between our hands, Israelis and Palestinians. And laughing, amazed at how good it is to be with each other, to overcome the shyness.

Curious? Wondering if you could see yourself at such a place? Join us! Bill Clinton said the other night, to all of us:  “You (the Israelis) have to share your future with your neighbors. Tonight, when you go back home, your next steps will determine whether Rabin’s way has won.”  This is the crucial question….next steps.  After each moving moment, like the rally Saturday, we then get on with our lives. What does “get on” mean? Clinton, and Rabin, are asking us what we will do to bring the future we so long for, for so long. We could also ask ourselves how best to become part of the solution, so at least we don’t end up feeling like we were part of the problem. How will I explain to my grandkids. “Well, when Israel was being destroyed by our own people and government, we empowered leaders who brought us to the social, economic, cultural, spiritual disaster that Israel is today. Some people resisted, but I was too busy at work to get involved….”

Saturday, Clinton looked all 100,000 of us in the eye and said, “Yitzhak gave his life so that you could live in peace…Now it is up to you. All of you must decide when you leave tonight how to finish the last chapter of this story.” All of us, each of us.

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




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