Grassroots peace: Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers talk it out

Haaretz published a piece on West Bank settlers and Palestinian villagers reaching out to each other for dialog. To quote one of the leaders, Shaul Judelman:

Our goal here is empowering moderate voices on both sides to be able to stand with their communities and look beyond the other side as a pure enemy and see that our destiny here in some way is together.

and one of his Palestinian partners:

We want to show the children another side of the enemy. At the end of the day, they are the ones who pay the price for the conflict. They are not responsible for what the grown-ups are doing. They are just the victims of the grown-ups and their lack of responsibility. We want to encourage them to have hope for the future.

There are many more who think like this and will be able to look past the fear fomented by politicians on both sides. It’s the reason a single state solution can work and may be the best option in the long-run. Do your small bit and sign the White House petition asking Obama to make it a policy option.

Absent a move towards equal rights for all, Israel-Palestine is likely to descend into a version of Jim Crow on the Jordan. You already have two sets of laws. One for Israelis, one for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They’re not enforced equally. This will lead to further calls of Apartheid, Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions.

The settlers quoted in the article recognize this, and they see clearly what this is doing to their own communities:

…it’s also an awareness that we’re not getting here from equal places at all and there’s a lot of work to do within both of our communities for that vision to come alive, and we both have a lot of responsibility to make a lot of change.

The settlers have become one of the most ostracized bad words in Israel. Nobody talks to us. The more our communities feel vilified, we play the role. I really see that happening.

If you truly respect the rights of Israeli Jews to settle in what they consider their ancestral homeland, you should also respect the equal-rights for Palestinians including their right to return to Jaffa or Haifa if they’re from there. That’s why the one-state solution is the only just option.

Sadly, extremism on both sides is undermining hopes for peace of any kind. Here in the US we hear a lot about Hamas terrorism, rocket attacks, kidnappings and hate. But the same sort of forces are gathering on the Israeli side as well, and you see hate crimes, mobs attacking Palestinians, arrests of anti-war protesters and callousness towards the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian children.

But that is not the whole story, and not what we should focus on if we want to see peace. These settlers recognize that as well and don’t like what it’s doing to their children:

Our children need to know that to hit an Arab because they are an Arab is the same as to hit a Jew because they are a Jew.

Part of this is because of how segregated the two populations have become. To quote one of the settlers:

I said I never thought I’d talk to a Palestinian. He said he never thought he would talk to a settler. He described to me how my kippa to his children is a symbol to be feared. I described to him how for me his village was a place you go and don’t come back. He tells me how afraid the Palestinians are of the settlers. I say: You’re afraid of me? I thought I was afraid of you.

Moderate voices who want to live in peace together deserve our support.

I’ve spent the last four years meeting Palestinians, hearing their side and learning how they see us. I realize, of course, that they hate us. They don’t believe that Israel is connected to the Jewish people. They think Israel is a colonial entity from the outside with no connection to this land. They construct a narrative of us just like we construct a narrative of them. For me it’s very important to bring people who are connected to this land to tell the story of what it means to be in the area of Bethlehem to Hebron for us. It has to be part of a dialogue.

We believe the Jewish people have a connection to the land. We believe in some sense that it’s right and proper that we’re here. But at the same time we know, or we’re coming to realize, that other people are here also, and we have to balance those conflicting truths. When you only live among your own and only know your own narrative, you are naturally very suspicious of the other who is just an intruder and just a thorn in your side and something that doesn’t belong there. But when you open up your heart and you see the other, you begin to see the truth is complex – that my truth is true, but it’s a partial truth and there’s another truth that’s also partial and I have to learn to put them together and make the larger truth. I believe we can do that.

I say amen to that. Or ameen if you prefer.