Partners for Peace, Day Five
I bring you Rabbi Drill’s continuing journal from Israel:
As we walked back to our hotel from dinner at Piccolino in Jerusalem’s city center tonight, one of the trip participants pointed out that we had been on the go for fourteen hours! Today flew for me; every moment filled with deep new understandings.
Our day began at the impressive St. George’s Cathedral, where we met with Rabbi David Rosen and Rev. Canon Hosam Naoum to hear about the many ways in which they try to fight back against growing insularity, lack of trust and extremism as people of faith. Hosam explained his complex identity as follows: “I am a Christian, an Arab (but not a Muslim), an Israeli (but not a Jew), and a Palestinian (but not a terrorist).” He mused that this difficult, complicated identity is perhaps a gift as it enables his role as a bridge builder. Rabbi Rosen suggested that he also has a multiple identity. “For conservative Jews, I am liberal and for liberal Jews, I am conservative.” Once the rabbi of the largest Orthodox congregation in South Africa, he became Chief Rabbi of Ireland before coming to Jerusalem. He told us, tongue-in-cheek, that places seem to improve when he leaves. Both men agree that religion is one of the problems in the region but can also be part of the solution. Rabbi Rosen described the tragedy of a zero-sum approach; Palestinian dignity and Israel security are intertwined and so there is a need for dual empathy.
Our next meeting, certainly to become one of the highlights of this trip, was a meeting with Meredith Rothbart and Mohammed Joulany of Kids4Peace.
As these two colleagues and dear friends described the work that brings together Palestinian and Jewish children in Jerusalem and prepares them for coexistence through six intensive years of programming, they showed us what could be possible. When Meredith’s three-month-old son Ishai started fussing, Muhamed picked him up where the baby quickly fell asleep in his arms. At the end of their presentation, Meredith mused that in 20 years, Ishai will undoubtedly be serving in the IDF. She said, “I hope he doesn’t look back at this photograph of him passed out in Muhamed’s arms and see a terrible irony.” There was not a dry eye in the room.
After experiencing worship at the Cathedral where Rev. Naoum asked everyone there to pray for Jerusalem, for the Israelis and the Palestinians, we left for a tour of the seam, an in-depth seminar with Col. Danny Tirza, the developer of the security fence. As he explained the history and psychology of the fence (although media calls it a wall, only 5% of the entire 451 kilometers is concrete wall), I realized with a shock that many of my Christian colleagues did not know even the basic history of the first and second Intifadas. Placenames like Sbarro Pizza, the Dolphinarium, Park Hotel, Hebrew University Cafeteria, and Supersol, bus numbers like 6, 823, 32, 22 — all were completely unknown. That which is seared into the soul of the Jewish community was brand-new learning from many of my friends on this trip.
Our trip to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity was followed by a visit to Shorashim, a new initiative of community building and grassroots advocacy by settlers and Palestinians working together.
We heard the heart-wrenching stories of Shaul Judelman and Ali Abu Awwad who shared with striking honesty their narratives of assumptions, prejudice and violence and how they both changed over time. Each of them came to a place of understanding that cooperation and knowing the other is the only way forward. Shaul told us about how he learned that the person we are afraid of is afraid of us. Ali Abu told us about how he was transformed from a terrorist to a peacemaker.
When we said goodbye, I looked into the eyes of both these men and shook their hands, thanking them for their heroism, for taking the risk to step outside of the cultural assumptions of their communities to try to build a different future.
Dr. Peter Pettit, one of our trip leaders, framed the core lesson of Partners for Peace: every historical experience, every conflict and every cultural trauma takes place in three steps: events happen, we experience events, and then we create narratives about those events that we carry with us. To those narratives we must commit ourselves to listen open heartedly. We do not have to agree, and we do not have to change our own narratives. But we must acknowledge the narratives of the other if we are ever to break out of this conflict.
With prayers for peace in Jerusalem,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill