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April 14, 2016

This year, Purim celebrations were muted. Purim is the holiday when we celebrate the saving of the Jews in Persia from the king’s plan to destroy us. Here in Israel, kids release their imagination to dress up for fun. Like Halloween, this is an opportunity for children to take on the identities of characters they admire. I caught this little Jerusalem boy on a Jerusalem street, perhaps 8 years old, who chose as his costume for Purim the jacket of “Hatzolah,” the ultra-Orthodox EMS outfit that speeds to terrorist bombings and attacks, treats the wounded, and later collects the body parts of bombing victims. Purim 2016…..a celebration. Purim 2016

The Sulha Steering Committee met yesterday. We have been hard-pressed to find a time and a way to get together. For several months, the army had denied permits to most Palestinians to enter Israel, even those with long records as law-abiding peace activists. Some of the Israeli members have grown reluctant to enter the territories. Beyond the limitations, people’s will to act has been assailed by six months of stabbings, car-rammings and killings. We have all been terrorized.

And yet the joy of the group yesterday was palpable. Over humus and olives, we reconnected, sharing what these months have been for us. One of the Palestinians said, “The searches and waiting at the army roadblocks used to be irritating. Now we are frightened every time we come to a roadblock. Will some crazy soldier just start shooting? If I reach into my bag to pull out a cigarette, will they think I am going for a knife and open fire?” He told of speaking with the soldiers who frequent his workplace. They confirm that some of their commanders are informally instructing the soldiers that when in doubt they should “shoot first, ask questions later.”

Another of the Palestinians acknowledged that Palestinian society is split between those who have utterly despaired and who support the current aggression toward Israelis and those who cling to the possibility of a peace agreement that can lead to a new future. He mentioned that even in Fatah circles he is beginning to hear cautious openness to creative solutions that used to be rejected out of hand.

As we began to make plans for the coming May gathering, when Palestinians and Israelis will meet to listen to each other, people took on tasks and committed to making the gathering a good one. The Sulha spirit was re-ignited among us, the need for the heart-to-heart sharing and solidarity that swells at each Sulha event proved stronger than our trepidation.

In Jerusalem forest, as the spring flowers wither and the swaying weeds give up their green lushness, yielding to the yellowing of summer, the little clumps of late-blooming red “blood of the Maccabees” flowers are having their day. Folk-tradition says that each flower marks the spot where one of the Maccabee rebels fell, and the flower adorns little stickers that thousands of Israelis will wear on Memorial Day.

Blood of the Maccabees

Somehow, the poignant ceremonies of remembrance for fallen soldiers will feel different this year. The popular wave of support for the soldier who killed a downed Palestinian attacker a few weeks ago feels less like patriotism and more like the “lady (that) doth protest too much.” The protesters’ raucous cries belie the pervading sense that we have lost ourselves, that our army is not what it was, that purpose is flagging and that something is going rotten in the state of Israel. While the Maccabees are known for their rebellion against the Greeks, in fact historians point to the fact that a significant part of the rebellion was the orthodox Maccabees’ attacks on Hellenizing Jews.

And today we are at it again, Jew against Jew, conservatives against peaceniks, racists against humanists, with vitriol and the thin, brittle anger that cloaks a general frustration with the way things are going. Like a ship’s crew in a storm, we forlornly search the horizon for a light-house, yearning for the beacon of hope that will lead us into safer waters.

Perhaps Passover next week will enable us Israelis to warm each other’s hearts as we gather in families to retell the story of liberation from Pharo’s slavery. Perhaps people will be willing to see our present enslavement… to resignation in a dismal time… as a moment for rekindling our hope and determination to recreate freedom for all who live here in this troubled land.

Yoav Peck is director of the Sulha Peace Project



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One Comment
  1. Silvana Winer permalink

    Yeah dear, how are you? Always a pleasure mixed with great sadness reading your stuff. You are good at it.. I’m in Sofia Bulgaria with dov, having as usual business and pleasure. I have something to share with you on my return, after the chag. I wish you a pessach sameach! Hugs! Silvana בתאריך 14 באפר 2016 18:56,‏ “jerusalemheart” כתב:

    > yoavpeck posted: “This year, Purim celebrations were muted. Purim is the > holiday when we celebrate the saving of the Jews in Persia from the king’s > plan to destroy us. Here in Israel, kids release their imagination to dress > up for fun. Like Halloween, this is an opportunit” >

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