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March 24, 2017

Here in Jerusalem, yesterday evening’s news broadcast included a cellphone film of a young, armed Jerusalem policeman head-butting, stomach-kicking and swearing – “son of a whore” – at a 50 year old Palestinian truck driver who was trying to sort out a minor accident and who had not provoked him. “I could do nothing,” said the man. “He had a pisto/l and I feared that if I responded he would kill me.” Following that, we watched footage of soldiers in Hebron dragging a weeping, frightened 8 year old boy through the streets, pushing him into homes and demanding that he finger other kids who had been throwing stones. This is occupation, and it happens every day. Thank God for cellphone cameras. My wife cannot watch these things. While the feelings of Palestinians witnessing and filming these scenes can be imagined, I keep trying to understand what the policeman and soldiers are feeling. How do they justify their behavior to themselves? What is happening in their souls? This occupation hurts the Palestinians but is destroying us. It must end.

I’ve just returned from a two week fundraising tour on behalf of Sulha. In six events, some 350 people came to hear my Palestinian colleague, Fulla Jubeh, and me as we described our life here and the work we do at the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for person-to-person contact. People’s concern was palpable, the support heartening. Folks were generous, and we came home with some money, some air to breathe for our little organization.

After schlepping to our worst evening, south of San Francisco, where 10 people showed up, we needed a breather, and I took Fulla into the city on our way back to Berkeley. Parked near the famous bookstore of the beats, “City Lights,” and strolled down Broadway. The barkers were out, hoping to lure us into the girlie shows. It was strange for Fulla, she didn’t quite know what to make of it all. We went in to buy some smokes, and the looks of the guy at the counter prompted my asking where he is from. “Palestine,” he said. Within seconds, Fulla was entirely at ease, engaged with this handsome guy. The Arabic rolled out, I caught snatches. This kept happening during the trip, Palestinians popping up everywhere, a Turkish/Iraqi shop-owner in Seattle and an Egyptian who sold us lamb in pitta on the street in New York. Maybe the Muslims are taking over!

Wherever we went, we heard people’s deep anxiety about their new situation, but we also met liberals-becoming-activists, people demonstrating, sitting on the phone, coalition-building. We brunched in Seattle with six therapists, and one of them, my age, said, “Gee, I thought I was done with the 60’s,” with some chagrin. I couldn’t stop myself. “Isn’t it great?” I enthused. It really is special that baby-boomers get to go back to our roots and use what we learned fifty years ago, as we face this new, decidedly fateful and fascinating period in history.

Did you catch that? I said “we,” and I’ve been an Israeli for 45 years. During our trip, it became clear that we here in the peace movement and the American liberals have something profound in common. During the presidential campaign and before it, the Americans missed, ignored, took for granted the millions of other Americans who voted Trump, seeking change in their lives. And we Israeli leftists have missed the masses of people who vote for Bibi, who somehow believe that he will see us through this tough time. Many of those people despise us peaceniks, consider us traitors, and similar alienation has been revealed in the States as well. Meanwhile, our struggles to end the occupation and the opposition to Trump are the most patriotic thing we can imagine. Both the Americans and we in Israel are confronting a daunting challenge: Discovering how best to reach out to the people who oppose our goals, how to engage with them in a way that can break down the present polarization and move us all forward together. The effort will require dedication, listening, and the development of communication skills.  

On the plane over to the States, I worked on what I wanted to say at the Sulha events. Somewhat stymied, I watched “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, for the third time. What I saw in the film this time was a pervasive longing, longing for a better time, a time that has been, and could be recovered. The innocence of youth, baseball, good clean fun and comraderie, and the thrill of honest achievement. I thought of that longing as I met Americans who dream of a return to the values and lives that enable freedom and openness. I thought of Israelis and Palestinians who seek a quiet life, who long for a solution to our century-old conflict. America the beautiful is in peril, as too is Israel, my wonderful, vibrant home. There is so much to be done.

Yoav Peck is Director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together for people-to-people contact


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