At four in the morning on Tuesday, I find myself wide awake. The devastating news that the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers were found just came in last night. I had been attending a Teachers’ and Leaders’ class in co-counseling taught by the leader of the Israeli co-counseling community, so we didn’t hear the news until we were in a car on our way back to Jerusalem.
Soon after hearing the awful news, a screaming fight broke out in the back seat of the car I was in between two co-counselors. One is a long time peace activist. The other is an ultra Orthodox woman who knew many people in the Yeshiva where the three murdered boys had studied. Each was screaming at the top of their lungs at the other, “You don’t understand anything.” One claimed the other had no sympathy for the murdered Israeli teenagers but only cared about Palestinians. The other screamed back, “You don’t see the outrageous things being done to Palestinians under the Occupation. You have no ability to listen to the other side.” And here I was in the front seat; it’s almost midnight and they are non-stop screaming at each other. The news that the bodies had been found brought up such painful, raw emotion that even these two seasoned co-counseling leaders temporarily could not use their own co-counseling listening skills. I kept thinking how much harder it must be in crisis moments like this for those who don’t even have these listening tools.
There are three events of the last few days I want to write about. All three are deeply etched in my heart as I continue to be confronted by the realities here and search to think through new ways to view what I am learning.
Sunday, I went on the Breaking the Silence tour in Hebron. Breaking the Silence is an organization of former Israeli soldiers who have served in the Occupied Territories and they gather testimonies from Israeli soldiers who are willing to talk openly about their service and the violations towards Palestinians that they were either directly involved in or witnessed. In addition, they conduct tours to Hebron in the West Bank. We were fortunate to be able to go on the tour on Sunday. (The tour had been cancelled the week before with tensions so high in Hebron after the kidnappings. And today, after finding the dead bodies, Hebron is completely under shutdown and no tours would be possible– no one is allowed in or out of Hebron).
As it stands, we had to get off our bus at the checkpoint going into Hebron to show our passports and, on the way back into Israel – we waited for almost an hour while our passports were checked and our bus was searched for possible hidden explosives.
Being in Hebron was life changing. It is the only major Palestinian city in the occupied territories with a Jewish settlement right in the center of it. Our tour started by visiting the grave of Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 had shot and killed twenty-nine innocent and unarmed Palestinians in Hebron. Our tour guide wanted to show us what was written on his tombstone (which is set apart as a shrine). His tombstone reads, “Here is buried a saint. His memory is sacred and holy. His hands are clean and his heart is pure.” I was so shaken by the total affront of the words on his gravestone that I burst into tears. Of all the things I’d been seeing this past week – demolished homes, Bedouins with little water or food – the words on this grave got to me in an even deeper way – a world gone completely crazy where Jews were glorifying the Jewish murderer of Palestinians
I have understood for years that the continued building of settlements in the occupied territories is totally wrong and a complete detriment to peace. But until I had walked through Hebron on Sunday, saw the signs all over the walls from right wing settlers, heard the stories both from our Israeli tour guide (who himself had grown up in a nationalist religious family in Israel and talked very openly about his experiences in the army of being required every night to enter Palestinian homes in the middle of the night and herd them into a room while they temporarily took over the home for military control), I had no idea how total is the collusion/alliance between the settler community, the Israeli army, and the Israeli government. As so many peace activists in Israel have told us, the settler community is the one really in charge of the army in the occupied territories.
I came away from the trip to Hebron with a different understanding of what is now required – that there is going to need to be a whole different level of organization, courage, and, possibly down the road, non-violent resistance if the occupation is actually going to end. The depth of the entrenchment and normalization of the settlement movement into daily Israeli society, and the economic gain to Israel from it, is one of which I think very few have a full enough grasp.
And then, the next day on Monday, I met with Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian human rights lawyer. Jonathan has been involved for decades in non-violent Palestinian human rights work, and participated for years in co-existence activity and meetings with Israelis. The last time I had seen Jonathan was maybe twenty years ago, shortly after the Oslo agreements. I met a different Jonathan on Monday. He regretfully believes the two state solution is now dead and off the table. He believes the realities on the ground of settlements throughout the occupied territories has made it impossible to still consider a viable two state option. He also said he no longer believes co-existence activities between Israelis and Palestinians (dialogue, cooperation programs, etc.) are worth doing.
He told me with a deeply broken heart, “For years I fought the voices that said no to co-existence, but now I’m not so sure.” Instead, he proposes what he is calling co-resistance – Israeli Jews and Palestinians joining together in peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience activities. Before my day in Hebron, I probably would have listened to him with care, sympathy, but also deep skepticism that what he proposes has any viability for changing the political landscape or of reaching the hearts of Israelis.
But I do know that one thing Jonathan is saying I totally agree with – things on the ground have changed very rapidly and the old paradigms of looking at how to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict won’t work quite so easily now.
Jonathan is now spending half his time in DC and is possibly interested in being in a co-counseling class so I will need to think hard how best to set that up. I also hope to set up a meeting with my rabbi and others to meet with him. Jonathan has a hard-hitting message, but one that I think we US Jews need to hear and grapple with.
I came away from my meeting with Jonathan knowing that there needs to be deep soul searching now in both the Jewish/Israeli Jewish community and the Palestinian community about where we go together from here. What will break the support for the settler movement is a key question. It is becoming clear to me that simple slogans – two people, two states etc. – are pretty empty (even AIPAC states that policy) without a hard look at the realities on the ground and what needs changing.
The tools of co-counseling could be very important now as I believe this is a key time to step back, take the time to do some deep healing work on fear, powerlessness, and reclaiming courage, and then think afresh about where we go from here to move forward Israeli Palestinian peace.
Update – It’s now Tuesday afternoon. There are ad hoc demonstrations in different parts of Jerusalem with people outraged by the killings, marching in the streets in small clusters, people wanting the Netanyahu government to extract revenge. What a painful moment.
My third meeting today was with Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, another longtime friend. In light of the murders and the far-reaching arm of the Israeli government already seeking to respond to the murders by setting up two new settlements in memory of the three boys, it was a bit of a subdued meeting. Jeremy said that one of the phrases that often gets used by the government at crisis moments like this and he hears being used now is that “we need to have a proper Zionist response,” namely demonstrating collective punishment.
In some ways the most interesting thing that Jeremy said was that, as the occupation continued, he believed that Palestinians would continue to find a way to survive, but he wasn’t sure what kind of Judaism would be left. One of the projects he’s working on now that gives him hope, even during this period of such an impasse in the peace process, is his work with Arabs living in Israel.
I continue to be so moved by being here and deeply in love with the people. We have one more week here in Jerusalem. Thursday is George’s birthday so we are spending two days on the beach in Tel Aviv to celebrate. And I eagerly await my last Shabbat of the trip in Jerusalem this weekend. I continue to feel so blessed for having this amazing time here.
(For more from Cherie Brown, read her earlier post about co-counseling in Jerusalem.)