Partners for Peace, Day 3

In case you were confused, I am posting this on behalf of Rabbi Drill, who is the one in Israel this week! She writes:

Imagine, if you can, a day where the sand just keeps shifting under your feet, where everything you thought to be absolutely true is not necessarily the whole truth, where the ceaseless input of new information is both overwhelming and exciting . When I got off the tour bus a few moments ago, I said to the driver, “Todah al haYom.” (Thank you for the day.) He answered, “Yomayim!” (Two days!) Yes, that is certainly how this day felt.

At 7:30 am this morning, when we drove out of Jerusalem toward the West Bank, our guide Mike Rogoff was not with us. In his place,  we met Gal Berger, an Israeli journalist who has covered Palestinian issues here in Israel for the last 13 years. I did not know that Israeli citizens are not allowed into the West Bank by law, but Gal was able to accompany us because he has special permission as a journalist. (Point of learning #1.)

Our first stop was Rawabi, a brand new, planned cosmopolitan city in the West Bank rising up out of the desert like the Emerald City, or perhaps like a SIM computer game city! Built with international money (mostly from Qatar), this dream project of a Palestinian American entrepreneur has the intention of becoming a place of normalization. The sales agent, the chief engineer, (both of whom we met) and the 250 families who have moved in already seek to fulfill the marketing tagline of Rawabi: Live, work, grow.

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Visiting the luxurious sales center and touring the town by bus, I experienced firsthand a new generation of educated Palestinians who want to model their lives on an international, middle class way of life. Ibrahim, the dynamic young engineer of the construction said, “To build our future we need to leave behind the past.” I never before heard of this project. Have you? Gal explained to us that it is not in the interest of the victim narrative or the purveyors of BDS to publicize this place where young professionals hope to build a life of hi tech work, beautiful parks, and cultural centers. Gal told us that Ibrahim is representative of the majority of younger educated Palestinians, but that majority is silent, leaving the world to hear instead the noise of extreme voices. (Point of learning #2.)

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Normalization is a loaded term among Palestinians. It connotes abandoning the cause and cooperating with Israel which is definitely against the interests of right wing Palestinians. Among more radical elements, it is considered to be treason. (Point of learning #3.)

Next we drove to Ramallah, with a police escort and PA soldiers guarding our way, to meet with Mahmoud Harbash, a moderate voice of the Fatah party, Minister of Religious Affairs and a key advisor to Abbas. He was criticized heavily by Hamas for meeting with President Rivlin and the chief Rabbi of Israel just three weeks ago. Next we had lunch with Dr. Hussam Zomlot, an impressive diplomat who is the chief strategic advisor to Abbas.

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He believes that the two state solution will only come about through the intervention of the international community. He said, “Bilateral negotiations have created a lasting process but not a lasting peace.”

While Gal kept reminding us that Ramallah is different than most of the other cities and villages of the West Bank, we all were shocked by what a normal looking city it is.

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In both meetings in Ramallah I heard narratives that included many things I agree with, and many things that were very difficult to listen to. One of the goals of this program is for the participants to learn to sit with the discomfort and hold more than one narrative. (Point of learning #4.).

We returned to Jerusalem for an afternoon session of learning with Mohammed Darawshe, Director of the Jewish Arab research team at Shalom Hartman Institute.

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I heard a version of the experience of Israeli Palestinians that was completely different from the narrative we know as American Jews. One of my colleagues described what I felt after the hour as “Breaking the Script.” (Point of learning #5.)

As our day turned into early evening, our group worked together to process all we had experienced in just one day. Know that I will be reading and rereading my notes for weeks to come, seeking to synthesize my experiences into a manageable package that I will be able to share with all of you. I can say with absolute certainty that I finished the experiences of this past day feeling a strange mix: both optimistic and despairing.

But right now, I am about to have the most important moment of this trip so far. I’m at the corner of King George and Ben Yehuda, waiting for Josh to get off the bus so that I can take him to dinner! When a mother has not seen her boy for five months, you can imagine how she feels!

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D’rishat shalom meYerushalayim, Greetings from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

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