Unexpected Impact (of my own Israel Education)

When I was 16 and went off to Alexander Muss High School in Israel, I didn’t know that the 8+ weeks studying Israeli history, walking the land and experiencing Israel as a temporary resident would cause me to completely shift my thinking more about my Judaism through an “historic” lens – ancestral and heritage –  rather than through a “religious” lens – faith and God.  The first time on that trip that I stood at the Kotel I kept expecting some life-altering spiritual moment.  It never came.  But weeks later when I encountered the Kotel as an historical place where my alta-Bubbe once stood, I had a significant emotional reaction.  When I visited the Kotel with my parents and brother on the third night of Chanukkah and we watch the ginormous gas Chanukkiah being ignited and thousands of Jews sang the blessings, I had a “Klal Israel” moment while simultaneously having a historical remembrance connection.  These were all unexpected.

When I led a Birthright trip in 2004 (provided by IsraelExperts), I didn’t know that I would walk away with a completely different perspective of residency, citizenship,Screenshot 2019-11-17 19.35.10
Palestinian rights, and Israeli identity. [Heck, I assumed that as staff I wasn’t going to learn much at all.]  Our group had the pleasure of visiting the two intertwined communities of Kibbutz Metzer and their neighbors in the Arab Muslim Meisar village. We were welcomed into the home of a man named Saed where his wife made us lovely tea and treats to snack on.  As the 40 of us sat on the floor we learned from Saed that his family lived in the land – called Palestine – pre-1948 and therefore he sees himself as a Palestinian by heritage.  He is a Muslim Arab.  He is an Israeli citizen who pays taxes and served in the army.  And he is neglected and isolated by “simple things” like the Israeli National Anthem (HaTikvah) which talks about the “heart of the Jew.”  He asked us, “How am I, as an Israeli Muslim solider supposed to sing this song?”   Wow!  This construct smacked me right in the middle of my forehead and has tormented me.

As a a die-hard religion/government separatist in the U.S., how can I feel that another country’s citizens don’t deserve the same rights?  How can I reconcile this with my full-fledged belief that Jews need a safety-net and a country that will forever be “theirs?”   I now struggle with this all the time.

Screenshot 2019-11-17 19.23.05

At some point I came across this image and it really pushed me to reflect on Saed’s words about his family being on this land – Palestine – for generations. Seeing the coin with the name in English, Arabic and Hebrew (and the year 1927) just gives us a clear visual artifact as to the multi-ethnic claim to this land.  It provides for me tangible evidence of “Palestine’s” existence (which many say it hasn’t).  Has it existed as an independent self-governed country? No.  But that does not negate the existence (in whatever form) it has lived.

When I first learned about the U.S.-based summer program called “Seeds of Peace,” I was living and working in Southern California and one of our Israeli Mifgash teens – Amitai – seeds of peace logowas an alumnus of this international peaceful dialogue and conflict resolution initiative.   Learning through him, I came to understand the role that inherited bias and hatred play in perpetuating an on-going conflict in Israel between Muslims and Jews.  I didn’t expect to be driven to consider the imperative for face-to-face (person-to-person) dialogue and that it needs to happen if we are ever to hope for peace in Israel.   As a result, I was then motivated to seek out opportunities for my own engagement in this work.  (... she writes after an afternoon spent with her Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom group).

In 2014, I facilitated a year-long teen learning experience for a Reform congregation in which they chose a justice issue they wanted to explore and we looked for ways to engage in that issue through our own education, through volunteering, advocacy,Amr - seed of peace
philanthropy and community engagement.  The teens chose “Pursuing Peace” and narrowed that down to “Conflict Resolution.”  I decided to network and see if I could secure a Muslim Seeds of Peace alumn to speak to us and ended up securing a 19-year old Egyptian (Amr Hisham) to Skype with us.  The unexpected impact on me was a full-blown eye-opening on the role that media bias (world-wide) plays in perpetuating stereotypes, distrust and hatred.  I have become hyper-aware of headline wording, images used and journalistic integrity.

Last night (November 16, 2019), I had another experience which will forever shape the way I experience the discussion regarding the future of this land and its people. I photo-nov-16-9-00-47-pm.jpg
attended a program where we heard from Ango-Jewish Orthodox “settler” Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Palestinian Arab Muslim Shadi Abu Awwad who work together in an organization called Roots-Shorashim-Judur (a project of Bet haTeotron).  The two live near each other between Bethlehem and Hebron in the territory some call “The West Bank” and others call “Judaea and Samaria.”  Their work focuses on person-to-person dialogue in which they strive to create trust and partnership amongst neighbors. I took so many notes, documenting powerful snippets and heart-piercing quotes and anecdotes (which I need to clean up and find a way to share with everyone), but the unexpected impact for me comes in the form of a new perspective on how “the conflict” may be resolved in a new political vision.

The two of them explained that any division of the land “from the Jordan to the Sea” means that the other must give up ancestral land.  They asserted that “historical land identity is stolen from both sides” (78% or 22% based on current maps) in any current proposal.  Rabbi Hanan said that we must find a “political vision with one land” where “both peoples have full rights and dignity.”   What I came to understand is that in order for both peoples to have full rights and dignity, the Palestinians must be able to live in this land (all of it) called “Palestine” and cannot be governed under Jewish law. But how can that happen and for Israel to also exist?  How can that happen and Jews have full access to the land that is the “true center of our history” (as Rabbi Hanan referred to it)?

During the Q&A, they were asked about political solutions and Rabbi Hanan and Shadi explained that a good number of Roots participants align with a political vision called “A Land for All.”

Screenshot 2019-11-17 18.30.54

Admittedly it will take me a while to research their vision, to understand the nuances, to become fluent in their beliefs – and then to determine if I agree.  But in the meantime, it has me thinking VERY differently.

Here is where my head is now rambling after last night:

1/ Israeli government doesn’t even show respect and dignity for all Jews, much less to people of other faith traditions. There MUST be a shift in leadership and law-making if we ever have a chance at democracy and justice for all which leads to …

2/ A move towards a separation of religion and government is truly needed.

3/ The rise of anti-Semitism world-wide is super scary and there must be a provision of a safeguard for diaspora Jews with the opportunity for citizenship in this land. I am not sure what this looks like when enacted, but I think it’s imperative.

3/  Trinidad AND Tobago.  Turks AND Caicos. Antigua AND Barbuda. Bosnia AND Herzegovina.  I am not mentioning these as a way of advocating for a particular government ideology (all of these have very different government systems – some better than others and some are territories of other countries). But somehow they evolved into geographic entities with AND in their names. Why not Israel AND Palestine?

4/ The international community needs to do whatever it takes to get Hamas and Islamic Jihad out of Gaza and bring those living there into this vision.

At 46 years old, with lots of formal and informal Israel education encounters, I still have so much to learn. I must be open to challenging long-held beliefs and assumptions.  I must continue to pursue new learning opportunities in the many forms they come in.

I encourage each of us to never stop striving to learn new perspectives, to seek new information and to engage in honest, respectful, dignity-lifting dialogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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