Note: Among our busy day was a very moving visit with Gila Svirsky of the Coalition of Women for Peace. More information about their important outreach can be found at their website. We also joined the Israeli Women in Black, part of the Coalition, for their silent Friday vigil against the Occupation. The Jerusalem traffic greeted us with a mixture of thumbs up and middle fingers. “It’s not just today,” Ali said to Nurit. “In 1968, my brother and I visited Haifa. The soldiers put us in jail for the whole day, just for being Arabs. Don’t think that the Occupation just began in 2000.” Nurit Steinfeld works diligently for Machsom Watch, an Israeli organization that monitors the treatment of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints. Their work has highlighted cases of abuse and has caused the Israeli Army to seek their cooperation. Nurit was at an Israeli DCO (District Coordinating Office) recently when she met Ali, who was refused a two-day pass to Jerusalem for his wife’s heart surgery. Nurit agreed to take the two of them back home from the hospital. Since then, she has heard many of his stories of humiliation at the hands of the Israelis:
- During the first Intifada, Ali was a school principal. On his way to work one morning, soldiers grabbed him and forced him to paint over some Palestinian nationalist graffiti nearby. Having no paint, he got on his knees and made mud to cover the wall with his hands. He arrived late to work, where his Israeli military supervisor told him he invented the harassment story.
- When Ali went to Jerusalem for an angioplasty, the DCO gave him a one-day pass and told him a letter from his doctor would be sufficient to replace his expired pass on the second day. When he arrived at the checkpoint to go back home, the soldier forced him to crouch on the side of the road for four hours with his hands on his head – all of this one day after his surgery.
- One month ago, Israeli soldiers attacked his house at 2:00 am. They hauled the family outside and searched the premises. They then arrested Ali’s oldest son, a college student at Jerusalem Open University. Ali attended the trial and heard the judge say, “There is no evidence against this man.” However, under the Israeli process of Administrative Detention, it is sufficient enough for the prosecution to say that evidence is being withheld for reasons of security. Ali’s son is still in jail, and Ali can pay the bail of $2,400 to get him released until the appeal.
All of this, and Ali still welcomes Nurit, a Jewish Israeli, in front of his house with exquisite Hebrew. His shy young daughters serve twelve total strangers cups of juice as we listen with rapt attention to his every word. “Israel has always been a symbol of hope for me,” Nurit, the child of Slovak Holocaust survivors, tells us. “But hearing Ali’s stories, stories that every Palestinian shares, makes me see the cost that my hope means.”
Several hours later, we met with Rabbi Jim Lebo prior to tonight’s Qabbalat Shabbat service. Rabbi Lebo gave us some background on the place his American Conservative Synagogue has in the Israeli religious spectrum – somewhere between the 20% secular and 20% ultra-Orthodox society. His was the least political of the lectures we have had, but it was far from being apolitical. “From the year 73 of the common era,” he tells us, “Jews have yearned to return to this land. And as the sage has said, ‘If one never gives up the claim to a lost object, he or she is entitled to possession of it.’” I pondered how the arguments we often use in our defense are ones that could easily be turned on us. I also couldn’t help but think of how the residents of Dheisheh Refugee Camp might welcome the Rabbi’s wisdom to plead their case.
“We welcome you in our midst. We bless you as you work for peace. We hope that you will bless us.” These words greeted us as we joined the Friday night service. The energy from the young congregation was infectious, and I stumbled along with the Hebrew as we clapped and sang psalms and praises to Adonai. The text was replete with redemptive phrases that undercut any and all who would use power to get their way: destroyed cities being rebuilt, captives and prisoners finding release, the oppressed seeing justice and restoration. This was not a leftist congregation by any stretch. Many of the young people sitting around us will likely enter the military. As our conversation with Rabbi Lebo indicated, there would be significant points of political disagreement. And yet, there in worship, I was profoundly moved. These Israelis, who sing for peace. Do they really know what makes for peace? Do I really know what makes for peace? Do any of us really know what makes for peace?
When I speak of my own desire for peace on behalf of Israelis and Palestinians, these people will be added to the faces I see. Blessed are you, O Lord, our God. And blessed are all the children of Adam. Shabbat Shalom.