A child plays while participants talk at the Tent of Peace event in Wadi Ara. Photo by Bill Strubbe.

An oasis of hope amidst the turmoil (Israel/Palestine)

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(Original article: Bill Strubbe, Jewish Journal, 10-22-15)

Another convulsion of sectarian violence has swept Israel and Palestine these past weeks shattering lives and inculcating dread between Jewish and Arab communities. On smart phones, Jewish teens replay videos of stabbings and car attacks. Palestinian parents sequester their children indoors, frightened they might be arrested or killed. Returning from work in West Jerusalem’s hotels and construction sites, some Palestinians wear yarmulkes hoping to pass as Jews.

Yet among the grim news was a glimmer of hope; a gathering of like-minded souls to express their dream of a peaceful coexistence. In Wadi Ara, near Megiddo Intersection – where looms the archeological mound made famous by James Michner’s novel The Source  – hundreds of Arab and Jewish Israelis came together for a meeting of hearts and minds at The Tent of Peace, organized by Yaniv Sagee, the director of Givat Haviva, a nonprofit institute awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education for promoting Jewish-Arab dialogue and reconciliation.

All week long, individuals and parents with children from nearby Arab villages and Jewish towns arrived at the impromptu pavilion overlooking fields and hills of Alajun, an area once populated by Palestinians who fled or were driven out during the 1948 War of Independence. Many of the descendants of the former inhabitants now live in villages along Wadi Ara.

Buada Awsaf, an outspoken woman from one of these villages, Jabareen Mushayrifa, arrived with a large banana leaf on which she had written: “To Educate the Next Generation in Respect, Patience and Love. Only Love will be Victorious.” An Arab man, Abed U Salifeh, in charge of security in the vicinity, and his friend who has a doctorate in music, were engaged in intense conversation with three Jewish women, Tali and Ester, from Moledet, and Edna from Kibbutz Gazit. The three women had been involved this past spring with a group called Women Cooking for Peace; Arab and Jewish woman met in each other’s homes to share food, to get to know each other and discuss their lives. 

Gila Dayan from Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, who also participated in the cooking group, explained, “Except for a couple women who worked in our senior home on the kibbutz, I had little contact with Arabs. In our women’s group it was difficult to listen to the other side of the conflict, to hear a rather different story than what we had been taught.” Since then, Gila has been teaching English to the twelve-year-old son of Abir, an Arab woman who had also been in the cooking group.

On Friday, October 16, the day after a reprehensible murder – an African asylum seeker, Haftom Zarfum, was mistaken for a terrorist and shot by a security guard, then stomped to death by a Jewish lynch mob at the Beersheva bus station — some 120 people gathered at the Tent of Peace and divided into sharing circles to explain why they bothered to come to the event. One Jewish woman stood up and said, “My children are afraid to get on the bus to take them to school. The majority of the populations from both sides want peace, but we have little voice in the face of our intransient leaders.”

Monerah, dressed in traditional Palestinian full-length dress and head scarf, shared that she was afraid to go to Afula for her doctor’s appointment for fear that someone might shoot her. When she finally did go, she brought a tiny purse with just her cell phone and wallet, so that the security guards wouldn’t think she might be carry a bomb; regardless they still stopped her and asked to check her “bag.” 

Wearing a white shirt with a yarmulke, Yossi from Kfar Tabor, shared that he volunteers in a hospital emergency room where 90% of the patients are Arabs. “We generally have so little contact with Arabs, and when we do it is often shrouded with fear and suspicion,” he said, “But when I’m helping in the emergency waiting room, people are frightened, exposed and open and it is a wonderful opportunity to get to know Arabs better.” 

In addition to endless personal stories, the general consensus expressed was that economic and educational equality, cooperation, and understanding are essential to creating a more viable, peaceful society, and that the Israeli government and Palestinian authorities must sign a lasting accord. Otherwise periodic surges of violence will continue to erupt 

An example of cooperation was shared by Galiah Sagee, who works at Hand in Hand (Yad v’Yad) a bilingual Arabic and Hebrew school with 260 pupils. Each class has two teachers, and from the first grade children learn to speak both languages. A half dozen bilingual schools exist in Israel, but the Hand in Hand school in Kfar Kara is the only one situated in an Arab village. “Many Jewish parents would be mortified to everyday put their young children on a bus headed into an Arab village, Despite trepidation, the parents and students see their bilingual education as an important personal statement,” Galiah explained.

Culminating Friday’s event, the Jewish and Palestinian Israelis participants stretched out along the busy highway holding signs reading: “Jews and Arabs Refuse to Concede Shared Lives” and “Arabs and Jews Demand: Cooperation, Equality and Security.” Despite some gestures of and yells of antipathy, many drivers honked in support, others slowed down and took photos on their cell phones. Edna, from Kibbutz Gazit said, “If we don’t have the courage to stand here and to speak out, then nothing will ever change, and this violence will continue on and on.”

Bill Strubbe, a native to Northern California, made aliyah to Israel in September to live on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet.

 

 

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