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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
As I write, we are traveling south from the Galilee along the Jordan River toward the West Bank. We are scheduled to visit Shorashim, a program run by Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Ali Abu Awad that brings Palestinians and their Israeli neighbors together despite the walls of fear that separate them. We are still not certain if we will be able to go because the checkpoint into the West Bank has been closed for two days since an attack that happened there. And so we are experiencing a very real reminder of the barriers to peace in the every day lives of people who reside in this region.
On the other hand, our touring this morning presented a powerful lesson of how one small group of people can be agents for peace. Visiting Christian holy sites with my mission friends on this trip has given me a new understanding of how deeply cherished this land is by all three major religions. At Mount of the Beatitudes (where Christian tradition teaches that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount), I entered the church with my clergy partner, Rev. Barbara Hoffman. Experiencing the peace and positive energy beside Barbara was a transformative moment for me. I think of Israel as the place where I am the guide, but in that moment, Barbara was teaching me. And so the seeds of peace are sown.
At Kfar Nahum (Caperneum) we learned about the beginnings of Jesus’s ministry in the Galilee and observed groups of pilgrims gather to sing psalms and hymns. I was moved by the piety I witnessed. We also saw ruins that have long been assumed to have been a synagogue from the first century CE, but new archeological evidence puts those assumptions into doubt.
Perhaps it was just a secular structure. Or perhaps it was built long after the first century to show what a synagogue would have looked like. Our guide pointed out that any historical or academic dispute can serve as a model for the work of our mission: to engage in honest dialogue and to learn from one another, we must be humble. When we think that something is true, we must be able to say: this is my truth, but maybe it’s not exactly as I thought it to be. There is room for me to be wrong and for you to be right.
One of those important moments of debate happened over lunch at Café Café (yes, that actually is the name of the café!). Perhaps more important than the sites that we see are the conversations in which we engage. Over toasted haloumi cheese sandwiches and cafe hafuch, I listened to the life stories of a Presbyterian minister who worked as an insurance agent until he was called to serve as a minister, a Reform rabbi from Milwaukee and Barbara Hoffman, the Methodist minister in New City (and my clergy partner). What a blessing to come to know others! Our paths were so different but our passion to serve was the same. Knowing others helps us define ourselves.
Over dinner tonight we learned about the weaving together of secular and religious Israeli cultures in a talk by one of my heroes, Ruth Calderon.
Before dinner began, we learned about the arson today at a Mississippi black church. There are not adequate words to describe the power and compassion of holding a moment of silence in a room filled with rabbis and ministers, several of whom are people of color.
One final note: we were not able to go into the West Bank today after all, but tomorrow we are going to Rawabi and Ramallah to meet with key Palestinian personalities, accompanied by journalist Gal Berger. We have directions to bring our passports for the checkpoint and to refrain from wearing kipot or Jewish/Israeli identifiers of any kind. It seems that learning in order to seek peace can sometimes be a nerve-wracking affair.
With prayers for peace from the Holy Land,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill
November 1, 2016 — Jerusalem and Tiberias
On this mission to Israel, thirty of us, rabbis and Christian clergy together, will listen to Jewish and Palestinian people who are working together, who maintain conversations, and who still believe in the ability to change things for the better. The mission statement of Partners for Peace includes the following aspiration: “Our partnership is born of our desire, as neighbors and faith leaders, to model positive and productive ways to approach the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict by fostering hope and reconciliation.”
Jewish optimism is not about seeing the glass half full. It’s about seeing the glass half empty but believing that we can keep adding water to the glass. For 2000 years we could not add even one drop of water. Today we have Israel. Today we can.
(And on another, lighter note, I cannot resist sharing this picture of the Madonna of Tzippori. All of those who studied “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” by Maggie Anton with me over the summer will recognize this beautiful mosaic as the one that was created of Hisdadukh!)
With blessings from Eretz Yisrael,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill