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Swords into Plowshares

February 11, 2017

On Wednesday, 80 people converged on Eco-Me, the ecological peace encampment outside Jericho in the West Bank, for another Sulha tribal fire. Some Palestinians made the quick jump from Ramallah, and a minibus schlepped two hours from Hebron and surrounding villages. Israelis came from Jerusalem and farther out. Joining hands around the tribal fire, and after some warming up, entering the main hall to consider tonight’s question…..What does it mean to you to be a man/woman in your society? It is the kind of conversation we would have with friends, in Israel/Palestine after peace is achieved. But here, in the 50th year of the occupation, we dare to consider the banally relevant issues of daily living, together, in this momentary island of calm.

Four of us share with the big group, and I am the Jewish male representative. I talk about the life-long pressure to be strong, to look strong, and the loss of gentleness that is the price I pay, and about the quest for a manhood that is assertive and soft, compassionate and fierce. Then a Jewish woman, and a Palestinian man and woman share their takes on the issue. Jamal speaks of the burden of his role as father of five, facing the hardship of holding his family together in a Jerusalem neighborhood. Both women speak of being objectified by their community. The 80 are silent, pensive. We break into small groups, men in one hall, women in another.

This is my first men’s group in a long time. The big gruff Palestinian guy across the circle speaks of his neighbors’ scorn when they see him washing dishes at home, and proudly declares that he doesn’t care, that it is time for change, even in his traditional neighborhood. A Jewish man speaks of his love for being a man, celebrates the harmless exercise of his masculine power. A Palestinian speaks of his years in an Israeli jail, about humiliation and backbone, about collective strength among the prisoners. As we pass the talking-object around, each of us shares, to the intent listening of the other 10 men. As we finish, there is hugging and hand-shaking and long looks in the eyes, as we thank each other for these moments of intimacy.

The women are late returning, can’t tear themselves away from the deep sharing that happens there. A Palestinian woman in hijab has opened her heart, ending with a warm invitation to her group to meet in her Hebron home. Finally, we are together around the food, blessings are offered in Arabic and Hebrew, we share the meal around low tables. As the evening draws to a close, the full moon blazing overhead, we re-gather around the fire, the drummers throbbing, and a young Palestinian singer offers a spontaneous performance.

A Jerusalem homemaker and her Reform rabbi friend are at Sulha for the first time, visibly moved. A young Nablus Palestinian with laborer’s hands accepts one of my cheap cigarillos gratefully, as we talk about the specialness of this evening and his eagerness to tell his brothers and friends about his experience. He makes his way through my stumbling Arabic to understand that I am getting what he is saying. A Hebron journalist, here for the second time, again asks me to come visit him to think about expanding Sulha’s impact among the Palestinians. The evening has been well-spent.

The next night, I join “Talking in the Square” in downtown Jerusalem’s Zion Square, luring the public with tolerance-promoting leaflets into conversations about the future of our city. This Thursday is slow, a bit cold, and the racists from the “Lehava” organization, who usually square off with us, are away at a wedding. We consider going home early, but then I offer our leaflet to two passing ultra-orthodox young men, and for some reason they stop to read it. Immediately they let me know that they are Lehava sympathizers, and our warm beginning turns ugly. “You sure you’re Jewish?” Chaim rants at me. “You love Arabs, you hate Jews!” he screams. Pulling out one of my favorite provocations, I say, “You know, Chaim, if my daughter wants to marry a good Arab, a guy I can trust, I’d be fine with that.” And then he says some terrible things about Arabs, a stream of profanity. And I say, “You’re saying some awful stuff about Arabs, Chaim, but I can see that you’re a good guy, with a good heart. You sound full of hate, but I’ll bet you’re not really that way.” And he gets that I am not against him, that I am a fellow Jew, the age of his grandfather, and that I am taking him seriously. The conversation warms, he listens a bit, I listen a lot, and within ten minutes we are talking about my grandchildren, and about his wife and daughter and his barbershop. I tell him about Sulha and he takes my card, I ask him to be in touch, and maybe to come to our next gathering. As we part, he says, “I completely disagree with you, but I can see you’re a good guy.” I appreciate him, he me.

Such a long road ahead, but, one conversation at a time, perhaps we can make a difference. It was midnight when I got home Thursday, but I couldn’t get Chaim off my mind. What did he tell his wife when he got home? And why are there not “Talking in the Square” groups at 1,000 Israeli crossroads? When will there be Sulha gatherings throughout Israel and Palestine? Resistance to peace is the inertia of people who have been collectively scarred by their lives. Conversation is the balm, the healing stream that will feed new life. I see us, Palestinians and Israelis in the thousands, out in the street, engaged in ten thousand difficult conversations, seeking a way together as we warm the winter with our love and the dream of better times.

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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  1. Ronald Frank permalink

    Lovely blog, Yoav. Appreciate your dedication. Much love. R

  2. A long & winding road, Yoav, which you chose to take, share & invite to join. Sometimes it seems to me you’re the compass, the way and the light showing in the end, and that’s a lot to be…

  3. Millie and Morty permalink

    Please continue to keep me informed, Millie Willen

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