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New Friends

July 5, 2016

The 25 managers of cooperatives, from various African countries, were warm toward me as I lectured on a variety of management issues yesterday in Beersheva. They were hungry for tools to take to their jobs, hoping to empower their organizations by reinventing themselves. I spoke about the importance of on-the-job acknowledgment, and then did an exercise where they complimented each other generously as practice for what they’ll do back home. They wrote a list of the colleagues they would empower on their return. They glowed afterward.

I was reminded sadly of the hopeful days of Oslo, late ’99, when our foreign ministry sent me to do this kind of training in Ramallah and Gaza with middle managers from the Palestinian Authority. We were state-building, together, and the future held possibility.

Driving Jerusalem to Beersheva was an hour-and-a-half haul, back and forth, but easier than the 15 kilometers I drove Sunday night, to attend “Iftar” in Beit Umar, north of Hebron, deep in the territories. Sulha was invited to the festive fast-breaking meal by a local peace initiative. Many of our group dropped out of the expedition at the last minute, in light of the lethal attack that took place Friday on that road. But I couldn’t see disappointing our hosts and their wives who had cooked all afternoon. Eight of us drove in two cars, aware that the statistics were in our favor, but still very tense as we made our way past the nervous soldiers in their flak jackets behind concrete blocks at Gush Etzion junction.

At dusk we arrived at our host’s home, and all was calm. A lovely group of invited Palestinian activists arrived, some farmers, educators, and managers, and we all sat down to the generous meal of chicken makluba, garlic-laced yogurt, homemade full-bodied humus, and salads. Children served, the women remained unseen, as we relaxed around the table in the garden, facing the family’s field of apricot and apple trees and grape vines. Our host’s father, his farmer’s hands calloused and scarred, greeted us. The warmth was palpable. They acknowledged our willingness to come despite the situation. I apologized in Arabic that I couldn’t say what I wanted in Arabic and switched to Hebrew, a Sulha activist translating. The host too spoke, and as the meal progressed, preliminary mutual plans began to be woven. Warm blessings led to exchanging phone and email info, and we began to look at possible collaboration.

Over supper, we asked the villagers about their lives. One of the central activists laughed wryly about the surrounding Jewish settlements. “Each one has its specialization,” he explained. “The settlers of Karmei Tsur dump raw sewage on our crops, killing the plants. The settlers from Tzurit unleash vicious dogs on the village’s children in the fields. The Bat Ayin settlers always come to the fields with weapons to provoke us, looking for an excuse to shoot. They are the most dangerous.”

We all agreed that our leaders are not relevant any more, that we must focus in our work on what we can influence. We did not speak of Michael Mark, father of ten, who died in Friday’s drive-by attack. We did not demand the Palestinians’ condemnation of the killing, though we would have liked to hear it. Most of the activists present had done some time in Israeli jails. The host group has been working with local youths who have been released from Israeli prisons, to get them heading toward making a life for themselves. These are good folks. They spoke of the evolution that was unfolding among their people, away from violence and toward non-violent activism. They were happy to be with us. One of our group pulled out a poem we had studied in Arabic class. Our teacher had rendered a Mohammed Darwish poem into beginner’s Arabic. The hosts guffawed a bit at the distortion of Darwish’s eloquence, but joined in reciting it together…. “When you prepare breakfast, think of the other, don’t forget to feed the pigeons….When you pay your water bill, think of the other, don’t forget those that can only suck on clouds. (have no water) When you arrive home, think of the other, don’t forget the tent-dwelling refugees….”

As darkness descended, we had to leave, two-handed handshakes and glances were exchanged, many thanks offered. Our hearts were warmed. Accompanied by our hosts, we drove to the exit from the village where two heavily armed soldiers checked us out before letting us through to the main road. “What the hell are you doing in that village,” demanded one of them. “Making peace, eating good food with friends,” I replied. They looked at us as though we were nuts, but offered no obstacles.

One step at a time….new partners, new possibilities. The Palestinians genuinely appreciated our joining with them for the evening. The drive home was easier, despite the darkness. After several hours of feeling comfortable among our new friends, we were already beyond looking at each shrub for ambushers as we had driving in. Now, something bigger than our fear buoyed us. Hope, possibility, new beginnings…. God was in the car with us, and for these moments, in a good mood.

 

Yoav Peck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Comment
  1. Yoav my friend, you are a brave man -both in thought and action. I salute you!

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