by Eve Myonen Marko
We go to the West Bank on December 21. December 21 is Bernie’s and my anniversary. It’s also the winter solstice, and this year it marks the end of the Mayan calendar and the beginning of something new. I don’t think there’s an end without a beginning.
Our friends, Iris and Tani Katz, drive us from Jerusalem to meet up with Sami Awad, the head of Holy Land Trust and a nonviolence trainer and activist. Sami asked us not to go to his office in Bethlehem, but instead get to the Tent of Nations near the Palestinian village of Nahalin. He is serving as a Fire Guardian, building a fire at dawn of December 21 and keeping it going the entire day while holding ceremonies, chanting and praying on behalf of the earth and peace among people.
As is almost always the case, the journey is as interesting as the destination. We simply can’t find the Tent of Nations, located on top of a hill among many hills in the West Bank. I’ve never been there, though have heard much about it. It has belonged to a Palestinian family for generations, but falls victim to continuous forays by Jewish settlers who wish to take the land. The family has fought this in the Israeli courts, showing ownership papers that date back to the Ottoman Empire, but this doesn’t prevent ongoing violations. The Tent of Nations is always in danger.
To get there, we travel along the complicated road system found on the West Bank, including the Tunnel Road closed to Palestinians in this section, till we get off onto smaller arteries used almost exclusively by Palestinians. In the town of Husam we’re locked in a sea of cars outside a mosque calling out its Friday services. The young boys waiting outside enjoy the fact that our large SUV can’t move, but are not averse to helping us get unstuck, guiding us through very close spots. “Shukran, ya habib,” Tani says again and again. On this rainy, windy, cold day we also lose cell phone signal with Sami. Often we stop passers-by and they stand in the torrential rain speaking to him in Arabic on the phone, Tani rushing out with an umbrella to hold over them, till the signal is lost. But other than friendly waves and more “shukrans,” we come no closer to our destination.
Finally, Tani makes a friend. The owner of a car repair shop offers to take us to Nahalin himself and find the elusive Tent of Nations. We follow his large, old Impala up and down roads more suitable for donkeys and carts, and finally come to a stop at a barrier of boulders and rocks, created by an excavator to seal the local road.
“Sami says we should have passed a white fence,” Tani tells his friend after speaking on the phone. None of us saw a white fence.
But when we head back, there is it on the right, chained shut, and standing there in poncho camouflage is Sami. We thank our guide, who asks us to come and use his car repair shop at any time.
“Are these people enemies?” Iris asks rhetorically. “Is this how enemies behave?”
Sami unlocks the white gate and the car drives up. There’s a pause in the rain, but not in the wind and the cold. And there, atop the hilltop, is the fire begun at dawn. A short, stout tree trunk is slowly burning. Only the bottom part of it has turned black, the fire diverted by twigs fed from a big mound of wood that lies alongside. It should burn for 24 hours, Sami says, lowering the hood of his poncho, like other fires burning around the world. Our Israeli friend, Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi, is also guarding such a fire up north in Israel. Eilda, Sami’s assistant, is there, as is Dina, another activist we met over a year ago at Auschwitz, newly married.
The fire is small but ravenous. The ceremonies will only begin later in the afternoon, when we’ll be gone. We are surrounded by other hills, most topped by Jewish settlements that literally sprawl across the summit, leaving the smaller Palestinian villages to cling to the hillsides. For now, this hilltop is inhabited only by us and a half-burnt tree trunk. According to the Bible, Moses heard the voice of God from a bush that burned and was not consumed, and was told that His name was I Am That I Am. The mists roll in, covering the other hills, and if you just landed in a spaceship this moment you’d miss the big canvas, the settlements and villages, the gentle olive trees and the asphalt roads, those let in and those kept out, and see only a small group of people contemplating a fire that burns without end.
We also traveled in Israel proper, continuing Bernie’s exploration of how to bring the Greyston community model to an Israeli town in need. We visited with the head of the Municipal Council in Jisr al-Zarqa, Israel’s poorest village. One issue he mentioned is that Jisr does not have an industrial zone at present.
I was especially fascinated by the fishing huts on the Mediterranean. Since Israel’s War of Independence, Jisr is the only Arab town that’s right on the sea, and while other Israeli cities, towns and kibbutzim have taken advantage of their venue, building sea resorts, hotels, restaurants and commercial beaches, Jisr has not. But individual fishermen have built some makeshift huts and have spread their nets. The beach was littered with empty soda bottles, old newspapers and falafel wrappers, sniffed hopefully by two yellow/white dogs. The smell was of dead fish.
A group of senior citizens had come by tourist bus. They’d probably visited neighboring Caesaria and enjoyed its restaurants and shops overlooking the remains of Herod’s constructions, and admired the fancy condominiums open to the sunset over the Mediterranean. And then someone might had said, let’s go to the fishing village next door. Only they couldn’t go directly because a wall separates Caesaria and Jisr al-Zarqa, nor is there a direct exit from the main highway to Jisr. But the bus made it in a roundabout way and discharged its older passengers, who were instantly slapped by the smell of dead fish and seaweed clinging to the nets, the sand covered with trash. But when I saw them they seemed happy, maybe a little fatigued, ready to go in from the biting, salty wind at sunset.
Sometime around then was when I felt how tiring it can be to go beyond clichés, to bear witness to each and every person, to the multiple lives each one of us lives, the universe that each one represents where he or she is not wrong and not right, just living cause to effect to the next effect and the one after that. There is freedom there, I knew that, but you have to watch for it carefully, the tiny sea crabs scampering over advertisements, the shifts in the sand, the spacious beach, sand and sky. Yes, political freedom is important, but so is the other kind, the individual kind that won’t give up.
Jisr al-Zarqa has its back to the sea; that’s also its exit out of poverty. That afternoon I saw it, heard it, smelled it. Will it happen?
We also went to Baqa al-Gharbiyye, a much bigger Arab town further south and inland, by Highway 6. Our hosts were Michal Fox and Jamal Mejadla, who had opened up a leadership institute at Baqa al-Gharbiyye. Jamal is also a prominent member of the municipal council and highly involved in civic affairs. Baqa al-Gharbiyye has a population of some 27,000 and a defined industrial zone. It also has the beautiful Al-Qasemi College of Education, once a Muslim educational institute and now a fully-accredited college whose student body consists mostly of religious and nonreligious women.
They mixed so smoothly and easily that one would not know the difficulty of their lives. Hanin Abi-Wasel , a young, scarf-covered woman, is an attorney. Highly educated and articulate, at an early age she was part of an Israeli-Arab delegation to the United States. But she has trouble finding work in Israel proper. “We women face the most discrimination,” she said. “We are Arab, we are Moslem, we are women, and we are mothers.” A lot of her work at – is to empower young women to search for jobs and not leave their work even when they get married, so that marriage not come at the expense of their independence. “When I couldn’t find work as a lawyer in the Israeli society, I became very pessimistic. Then I decided to work with other Arab women who face the same hardships I face.”
As in many parts of the world, providing education and job opportunities for women becomes the key to transforming families and community.
One of the most interesting things about Baqa al-Gharbiyye is that it’s adjacent not only to various kibbutzim, but also touches on the wall and fence that now separate the West Bank from Israel. Before the wall went up thousands of Palestinians would come through Baqa al-Gharbiyye every day to work in Israel. Now only a few with special permits can do that, though young people cross from one side to the other to go to school. In some places that separation is a fence that goes down the side of one street, while several yards away the other side of the street is considered Israel. Jamal tells us that a neighbor of his comes here to shout to her mother, who is on the other side, to find out how she is. So Baqa al-Gharbiyye is an intersection for Israeli Arabs, Israeli Jews, and Palestinians.
What would it be like for all three to work together in a factory—or a bakery?
Inspired by his uncle Mubarak Awad’s leadership in Palestinian nonviolent resistance, Sami Awad founded the Holy Land Trust in 1998 to promote Palestinian nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. Holy Land Trust initiatives include training workshops, participation in local nonviolent campaigns, and seeking increased media coverage for nonviolent resistance. Holy Land Trust also runs summer programs in which internationals live with host families in Bethlehem, study Arabic and volunteer with Palestinian organizations.
HLT works with the Palestinian community at both the grassroots and leadership levels in developing nonviolent approaches that aim to end the Israeli occupation and build a future founded on the principles of nonviolence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence. He also established the Travel and Encounter Program, which aims to provide tourists and pilgrims with unique religious and political experiences in Palestine; the Palestine News Network, the first independent press agency in Palestine and a major source of news on life in Palestine today; and Al-Kul Television. He has traveled to several countries to speak about non-violence.
“The challenge is to create a common thread of values where Jews, Christians, and Muslims begin to see that what is common between them outweighs, tremendously, what makes them different from each other.”
- December 2012 Report by Aviv Tatarsky
- Engaged Dharma in Israel by Aviv Tatarsky
- Response by Rabbi Bob Carroll to Engaged Dharma in Israel by Aviv Tatarsky
- Response by Aviv Tatarskyto Rabbi Bob Carroll
In the past 6 months our group was intensively involved in two campaigns of big concern for our
Palestinian partners and friends: In Deir Istiya, farmers received notices ordering to uproot 2,000 olive trees planted on their private land. The reason given for this order was that the area was declared by Israel as a natural reserve 30 years ago and so planting of new trees was illegal. In Al- Walaja, where the separation barrier is being built by Israel on village land, it was we who discovered that the Jerusalem municipality was about to declare 1,000 dunams (247 acres) of the village’s land as a national park “for the benefit of the Jerusalem populace”. Both cases are being disputed in court right now and in both we have been giving support to the people, gathering important information and bringing the story to the media.
These campaigns, the dilemmas they raised for us as well as the ways in which Dharma was manifested through them, were to be the focus of the current report. But instead, a profoundly touching meeting that took place in Al-Walaja in several weeks ago seems to be the right thing to share this time.
The Israeli Engaged Dharma is a group of Dharma (Buddhist way) practitioners who aim to transform Conflict Mindset into one of Reconciliation. We work in solidarity with Palestinians and aim to raise the awareness of the Jewish population to the realities of life under occupation
Our connection with the Al-Walaja begun more than 2 years ago, shortly after Israel started constructing the separation barrier around the village. The story of the fence and wall being built around Al-Walaja, deserves a separate account. As is common in other villages where the barrier has been built, we joined nonviolent demonstrations. We also contributed information for the court appeal by the village to set an alternative route for the barrier which would be less disruptive and we found ways to raise the awareness of the Israeli public to the issue. We are also involved in the campaign to stop the above mentioned national park plan.
But as we learned more of the challenges facing the community and people in Al-Walaja, and as the demonstrations died down without achieving the goal of stopping or changing the route of the fence/wall we felt that along with the protest and struggle, other forms of solidarity were called for. We wanted to take part not only in resisting the injustice of the barrier but also in contributing to the strengthening of the community in Al-Walaja and the empowering of its people. For various reasons this is not so easily realizable1 and for the past 6 months we made very limited progress in gaining the consent of the village to this approach.
Two of us came to Al-Walaja about a month ago to discuss with our local partners possible avenues for joint action. Coming to the meeting we knew that we had already done good preparation work on previous meetings and were expecting to receive agreement that we will join families of the village for the olive harvest. We knew our hosts well and we have deep appreciation for them. Over the past 2 years we stood together in demonstrations which were violently dispersed by Israeli soldiers, we discussed various issues with them and as the intimacy naturally grew between us we exchanged more personal feelings and stories. In order to protect their privacy we will not mention their names. The account of the meeting will be given in the first person.
After some greetings we presented our purpose – we wish to find ways to support the village. What ensued was completely unexpected to us. “What for?”, said one of our hosts, “there is no use in doing anything. You and we are so weak that anything we try to build will be destroyed by Israel”. These words were coming from the mouth of a very determined person who has participated in and led many acts of resistance in the village. He continued with a long monologue and wouldn’t let anyone else speak. It is important for me to explain that this man, nearly 70 years old, has a very strong presence but with us he is always kind and never aggressive. It was no different this time: His words were strong and direct but he was not attacking.
He was critical of the village’s inability to keep up the demonstrations and I took the opportunity to explain that we have something else in mind: “The people in the village are facing many challenges”, I said. Life here is becoming more difficult. As there are no demonstrations we can devote our energy to support the village…”.
He cut me short: “You sound like those UNRWA people”, He said, referring to the UN agency giving aid to Palestinian refugees. “They give us some bread to eat and in turn expect us to behave nicely”2.
He touched a sensitive spot in me: “You know I’m hoping for a Palestinian nonviolent uprising. I’ll be there when it starts”, I said with emotion. But again he didn’t let me speak through: “What do you mean ‘nonviolent’?”, he exclaimed. “We are facing armed soldiers! Have you ever seen us throw one stone in the demonstrations in this village?!”. And thus it continued. The next time I tried to say something he made a comment about my backpack. When I spoke again he said some joke…
I finally understood that he was not going to let me speak so I accepted it and listened. He talked on and on. Sometimes one of the others tried to say something but he didn’t give anyone a chance. The way I described it so far it might seem to have been an unpleasant experience. But the contrary is true. I felt completely calm. What he was saying contradicted my strong motivation for action and my expectation that in this meeting we will finally agree on a joint action but I was very touched by his words. I knew that an important thing was happening: We were making it through the veils of ideology, opinion and pretence to reach the reality of what was there.
After a while the story of Bodhidharma the first patriarch of Chan in China came to my mind. Bodhidharma was sitting in meditation and refused to give any consideration to a man that approached him and asked to be accepted as a disciple. Bodhidharma ignored him for days but the man wouldn’t leave. It was snowing and the snow gathered to the man’s knees and still he wouldn’t move. But Bodhidharma refused to pay any attention to him. In the end the man was accepted by Bodhidharma and became his Dharma successor. Or the stories of people who want to be accepted to Zen Monasteries in Japan and have to wait outside for 3 days in order to prove their determination. I never felt that I would be able to pass such a test. Even during my most zealous days of excitement about Dharma practice I was sure that in such a situation I would become bored or discouraged after a short while.
And now, facing my host’s unstoppable speech and his insistence that there is nothing we can do I was surprised to see how unaffected I was. I wasn’t irritated, I wasn’t discouraged. There was no hint of doubt or frustration in my heart. And then I realized that this has been going on for quite a long time: For 6 months I and my partners have been trying to break through the obstacles facing Israeli- Palestinian solidarity in Al-Walaja but nothing worked. We were refused politely but firmly. And these refusals had no effect on my confidence that we should keep on coming to the village and find a way to be of value.
Our host spoke of his frustration at the political situation and of the stupidity of cutting up land by a wall. He spoke of his disappointment of his community who were not able to keep a prolonged campaign of struggling against the barrier. He also spoke about the Israeli public who don’t care about what’s happening to Palestinians and about the insignificance of Israelis like us who try to make a change.
Our host was going on about the political situation and how bad it was. I usually have no patience for long talks about politics and politicians. It’s always the same and all the analysis seems to me to be of little relevance to what I as a grassroots activist can and need do. But somehow there was something very touching about what he was saying. The facts and opinions were not new but it was all said in a very connected and heartfelt way. He didn’t mince his words: When one of the others told him : “You’re blaming Israel but it’s not Israel, it’s the Israeli government”, he directly dismissed him: “Most Israelis want the occupation to continue, the Israeli left is so small and so weak – what can you achieve? And anyway, you pay taxes don’t you? You’re part of it as well”.
It didn’t feel like we were being attacked. On the contrary, our host was voicing his despair and we were being allowed to see into his heart. And he has so many reasons for despair: He was born with the Nakba3 in 1948 during which his village was uprooted and his community dispersed. Then in 1967 he came under Israeli occupation. In 1994 he was held in an Israeli military jail for 9 months without trial. The interrogations must have included torture. Since being released he wasn’t allowed to work
in Israel and has been practically unemployed since. Due to the construction of the separation barrier, over a hundred of his olive trees have been uprooted and he will lose practically all of his land as it will be left on the other side of the barrier and he will have no access to it. And the list of injustices continues.
His reasoning didn’t convince me at all but I had nothing to say back. Our differences were made vividly clear: He is living under occupation and I am a free man. I take it for granted that I am master of my destiny and he has seen, time and again, how his plans, work and dreams are crushed by the enormous power of the state and its military. I understood that I can not really understand him, I don’t know how it feels to be oppressed in this way. And coming face to face with this gap between us was at once a painful and a valuable experience.
It was getting late and then one of us simply suggested that we join the olive harvest together with families of the village. The olive harvest season is very close and olives are an important part of Palestinian culture as well as a source of livelihood for many Palestinian families. Many Israeli activists join Palestinians during the harvest to protect against settler violence or harassment by soldiers. In Al-Walaja we do not expect such attacks but still help is needed. The harvest this year will be very symbolic: In a few months the separation barrier on the village’s lands will be completed and most of the olive groves will be separated from the village. Yes, the barrier’s route was drawn in such a way that most of the village’s agricultural land stays on the Israeli side and with very limited access for the farmers of Al-Walaja who own that land.
Leaving the village, the conversation continued to resonate with us. I think it will stay with me for a long time as one of the meaningful experiences for me as an activist.
A month has passed since that conversation and a big shift has happened to our relationship with the village. During the olive harvest season we organized 3 groups that joined and assisted the local families. Over a hundred people came this way to the village, many of them for the first time. Working together, a natural closeness develops as people ask each other for help, share food and tease each other. We had the chance to meet new people in the village and strengthen ties with those we already knew. As the harvest came to an end, our partners in Walaja started to suggest ideas for further joint action. The door has opened more.
The timing was also significant: During the harvest, the Israeli army started to lay down the fence around the village. In a few months this work will be completed. The village will be surrounded and the separation between it and Israel will be solidified. But this barrier will not separate us. It will merely emphasize the value of open hearts, determined minds and continuous right action .
1 The difficulties facing Israeli-Palestinian solidarity deserve a whole separate report
2 There is much criticism of the aid agencies which make the occupation bearable and in that sense allow it to continue. UNRWA, established more than 6 decades ago exemplifies the way aid can create and perpetuate dependency.
3 The Nakba – disaster in Arabic – is how Palestinians refer to the destruction of over 400 villages and uprooting of over 700,000 Palestinians who became refugees in the 1948 war. The war, which gave birth to the state of Israel, is called by Jews the Independence War. One people’s joy marks the other people’s catastrophe.
We will be very happy to hear your comments on this report. Your support, suggestions and feedback for improvement will be received gratefully. Please feel free to forward it to Dharma Engaged Dharma in Israel friends. Our blog engagedharma.wordpress.com is currently Hebrew language only but we would be happy to provide more details about our vision and guiding principles. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Engaged Dharma in Israel – 2011 (2nd half) activity and learning report
During the 2nd half 0f 2011 the Engaged Dharma in Israel group initiated a variety of actions and projects as part of their ongoing peace work. These included campaigns, solidarity actions with Palestinian partners, uncovering information about the occupation, petitioning authorities regarding violations of human rights, and laying the ground for educational work within the Israeli-Jewish society.
Highlighted here are some of the lessons learnt during these months: Sangha as an invaluable resource for supporting activism ano peace work, the power of compassion and openness for turning confrontation into dialogue, and the deep relevance that our spiritual insights have when facing the challenges of peace work. Most of the examples concern their relationship with the village of Deir Istiya.
Sangha as a vital Resource
One of their main missions is to raise awareness within the Dharma community to the meaning of living under occupation, and to create opportunities for Sangha members to get involved in peace and human rights work. A good starting point is what can be considered “soft” humanitarian action.
Recently, for example, they organized for Sangha members to collectively buy a significant amount of olive oil from a few poor families in the village of Deir Istiya. It is important to note that even this simple action (an action very significant for the farmers) could not have happened had they not had the support of a large “non-activist” Sangha. From this soft starting point there are many ways to go deeper: They used this opportunity in order to inform the Sangha how Israeli policies and economic interests create a situation where Palestinian farmers find it increasingly more difficult to sell their oil. Olive agriculture being such a major part of Palestinian economy and culture, the implications of this situation can be very dramatic. Now they are working together with Deir Istiya farmers to create a channel for exporting their olive oil to both Israeli and foreign markets. This entails connecting potential customers on the one hand and assisting the village to develop quality assurance and other mechanisms that are needed. All this requires knowledge and expertise and here again the Sangha offers indispensible resources in the form of practitioners who are professionals in the fields of food industry, trading etc. Many times, these professionals – who offer their knowledge and assistance wholeheartedly – have not previously engaged in Jewish-Palestinian cooperation, so they too find the experience unique and are excited by how they can put their skills for this cause.
Stability and Whole Heartedness
Crossing the unseen but very real borders that separate Jews and Palestinians generates much hope and intimacy and can be very healing and transformative. Hope and intimacy run so contrary to the mainstream beliefs around the Jewish-Palestinian conflict that sooner or later challenges and conflicts arise as well. There have been many instances where group members had to face confrontations and attacks from various sources:
- A physiotherapist and Sangha member came with us to Deir Istiya to treat a handicapped woman. Later, when telling friends about her deeply touching experience in the village, she was aggressively criticized and condemned by one of them…
- Walking with the mayor of Deir Istiya to see contaminated sewage flowing from a nearby settlement to the olive groves of the village we are stopped by soldiers who demand that we turn away. The soldiers take it for granted that they can give orders to civilians, completely disregarding the fact that we are walking on land privately owned by these civilians.…
- Together with Palestinians and other activists we are demonstrating in the village Al-Wallaja in protest of the separation wall being built on its lands, several meters away from the houses. The demonstration is nonviolent but the soldiers declare it illegal. They shout abuse and throw scores of stun grenades directly at us…
- A representative of ours phones the mayor of Revava, the settlement from which the above mentioned sewage is flowing. The mayor refuses to speak with the “Arab lover” and after a few hostile sentences, hangs up the phone…
These kinds of occurrences are the all too common experience of peace activists in Israel. It is very painful to be considered “public enemy” and this pain gives rise to many challenges: Inwardly it is difficult not to feel resentment and anger towards people who attack you so vehemently. Outwardly, expressing this anger unskillfully only adds to the cycle of hate and violence. On the other hand, if wishing not to take part in these kinds of violent exchanges you step back and cease to be involved, then you give up on the commitment to work for changing the troubled reality which our lives are part of.
We feel very privileged to be able to engage in such confrontations while being supported by Dharma practice and the wisdom and compassion it cultivates. Responding skillfully in these situations is an ongoing learning process and one of the deepest practices that activism offers us. Through this practice we learn to open to the feeling of Dukha and find in it a refuge from the danger of breeding our inner ill-will. We learn how big our capacity for listening can be and how much our adversaries need that we listen to them. Hopefully this listening also helps us to better understand them. We learn how to state our case clearly, directly and non-aggressively. We learn the power of a heart and mind that are well tuned. And we learn simultaneously of our own fragility and power.
The Physiotherapist absorbed her friend’s abuse and had enough inner freedom to be aware of the needs of that friend and the other people who witnessed the exchange. The group near the sewage refused politely but firmly to obey the unjust orders. In Al-Wallaja, instead of adding to the mayhem, our activists helped a few frightened and angry partners to relax. Our representative kept on phoning and listening to the Mayor of Revava who became very curious about him, put down some of his defenses and finally invited the representative to visit him at the settlement so that they could discuss things thoroughly. When, despite this show of good-will, no progress was made for fixing the sewage we petitioned the Ministry for the Protection of the Environment which is now charging the settlement with contamination of agriculture and water resources.
Raising Awareness and Creating Transformation
Another major part of our mission is transforming the existing prejudices and psychological obstacles for peace in the Jewish-Israeli society. In the last few months we held a weekend retreat of Engaged Dharma and spoke about our work in a conference that was dedicated to “Trends in Buddhism in the West”. In the next two months we are scheduled to hold another retreat and are organizing together with the different Israeli Sanghas a conference on “Dharma inspired Political and Social Struggles”.
Through such activities we aim to raise political awareness within the general Dharma community in Israel and encourage more practitioners to become socially engaged. During the first four months of 2012 we will hold three workshops titled “The Conflict (not) On Automatic Pilot” for students in prearmy gap year programs. The workshops are designed to help participants discover their automatic responses when dealing with different aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, inquire into the roots of these responses and see if other, more helpful approaches, can be taken. Finally, we were asked by Combatants for Peace, a major Israeli-Palestinian peace group to facilitate for them a workshop on nonviolent struggle.
We intend to continue this outreach work and hope to hold many more workshops for these three target groups during 2012.
We will be very happy to hear your comments on this report. Your support, suggestions and feedback for improvement will be received gratefully. Please feel free to forward it to Dharma friends. Our blog engagedharma.wordpress.com is currently Hebrew language only but we would be happy to provide more details about our vision and guiding principles.
Please email us at email@example.com .
Rabbi Bob Carroll’s Comment
As you know, of course, everyone in this part of the world is awfully hypersensitive, and will read your words through a microscope. Speaking personally, I completely trust your instincts and methodologies and think that your work has tremendous potential to really have an impact here (FWIW I would not say this about all that many NGO’s that do peace work here, in fact the first thing I learned in this business was that everybody claims to be working for peace but many really are not.) So as an ally, but also as an Israeli, I wanted to share with you how I reacted to your message. Basically what I saw was that you do solidarity actions with the Palestinians, and acted against various abuses by individual Israelis and the government. (I am 1000% behind you on both of these!) But when it came to working with the Israeli Jewish community, you were laying the ground for educational work. Speaking for myself, I see two things missing here: One, you did not speak about solidarity with Israelis, either as a people or as individuals, many of whom (virtually all of whom, in fact) have paid a terrible price because of the conflict. But the ability to effectively reach Israelis and convince them to trust depends on being perceived as offering solidarity and support and empathy in addition to the actions you mentioned. In short, your message seemed to reflect a bifurcated approach which I found troubling – Palestinians need solidarity, Israelis (apparently) don’t. Israelis need to be educated, Palestinians (apparently) do not. It may well be that I am reading too much into perfectly innocent wording, in fact I assume that this is so! But I would urge you to consider that if the language struck me as being a little tendentious, it will have the same effect among others, in fact among precisely those Israelis that you most need to reach out to, and will cause them to think of you as yet another politicized NGO from abroad, and in consequence my fear is that they will close their minds to your message. Which would be truly tragic, IMHO. Part of this is ‘our’ baggage – we are inundated with, for example, foreign Christian groups which bring centuries of their own judgmentalism and sense of religious superiority to how they approach the situation here and which has done so much to alienate the Jewish community from hearing them, even when they’re right. But this is the atmosphere that you’re working in. In no way do I compare your approach to theirs – on the contrary, it is because I know it to be so different that I want to make sure that the Jewish Israeli community doesn’t put you into that same box in their minds.
I hope these thoughts are in some way helpful to you.. as always, reflections/rebuttals/reframings and anything which helps me realize where I may have missed the mark are always welcomed and appreciated!!
Aviv’s Comment on Bob’s Comment
I think Bob’s feedback can (and needs to be) answered from a variety of angles. The simplest of which is the fact that he perceived the text to be about your (Bernie’s) involvement. Assuming you – as a supposedly “outsider” – would choose to be in solidarity with Palestinians and educate Israelis that would be one thing. When we, as Israeli Jews choose to do the same it is a different matter altogether. As Israeli Jews we are part of the Israeli-Jewish society and belonging to this society is an inseparable part of who we are. For us to be in solidarity with Palestinians is not to pick a side but to make ends and means one – we make peace here and now and not only work towards some political solution.
Having said that, I am aware that many mainstream Israeli Jews (sorry, but I feel uneasy using the word “Israelis” as if 20% of Israeli citizens are not Palestinian) perceive local peace activists as one-sided, sympathizing with Palestinians and claiming that the side that has to change is the Israeli side. I think it is relevant and helpful to see the difference between two types of peace work, which are both important and needed. People who work towards reconciliation often look for symmetry (both sides are suffering, both need to change). However, from a political-change point of view one can say that the wish for symmetry is a very problematic one, as it is blind to the realities of the conflict. It is blind to the imbalance in power and it is blind to the tremendous suffering that Israeli government, military and civilians have and are inflicting on Palestinians. And, Israeli Jews are so (bloody) sensitive to any sort of criticism or unfairness that comes their way. Many Israelis find it incomprehensible why when someone sees a fully geared Israeli soldier beating up a small unarmed Palestinian child that person judges Israel to be an occupying country and does not “acknowledge the full complexity of the situation”.
I feel that Israeli Jews must acknowledge the above. But it is not the whole picture and in any case “musts” are a very poor strategy when setting out to influence society. So now we come to the heart of our group’s vision and understanding.
We wish to focus on the Mind/Consciousness that feeds the I-P conflict. On the beliefs, assumptions, negative emotions and so on that block people from giving trust, that push them to demonize the other and that help them live in peace with terrible acts of violence. This needs to be done in both societies but we as Israeli Jews feel that we can do it within the Jewish society. And we feel that we have to do it. We are also slowly building relationships with Palestinian partners who share with us these views and are interested in joint work on such barriers to peace.
So our “educational” work is a variety of methods we have been developing to transform the Conflict Mind into a Reconciliation Mind. I must admit that the wording “educational work” is not a good one here, we should think of better terminology. This work – which we would like to be doing much more of – is not in the least contrary to being in solidarity with Israeli Jews: It is based on being empathetic, creating a safe space and expressing understanding. Through these expressions of solidarity we allow people to come in touch with their suffering and anxiety. They see their pain, fear and anguish.
What we try to do is to arrive at a place where these expressions of one’s suffering stay the focus so that one does not push them away by ideology, blame, guilt, or any other form of fantasy. Then we try to assure people that they are bigger than their fears, that they don’t need to be violent or despaired (just) because they are sometimes on the receiving end of the violence this conflict generates. We let them feel that the same softness and curiosity that allowed them to come in touch with their suffering can also support them to intelligently and nonviolently respond to it.
When hearing about our vision people sometimes mistakenly think that what we do is bring people together and help them see that “we are all human”. This is not exactly true and it refers back to the political-change perspective I mentioned above. Over the years many people have found the so called “people-to-people” approach problematic: Jews and Palestinians meet for an intensive process which is seemingly transformative – anger and prejudice give way to understanding, compassion and closeness. But once the process is over, the Jews go back to their privileged and safe homes and the Palestinians return to the checkpoints and abuse. Reality doesn’t change and it doesn’t seem that the Jewish participants are doing much in order to try to change it. Because there is a big a-symmetry in power there is also a big a-symmetry in needs: The Jews need to release their negative emotions, and they need that the Palestinians stop hating them. The Palestinians need the physical reality to change and ( to be blunt) don’t necessarily care if the Jews hate them or not. So unfortunately the people-to-people approach addresses the needs of mostly one side. At the end of the process the Jews may feel “We are all people, we are all the same” while the Palestinians may feel “they have so much and I can’t secure my basic human needs”.
Our approach is different because our process tries to weaken the military discourse so prevailing in the Jewish society and because we bring people face to face with the reality of living under occupation. Actually, one of the main reasons for our “solidarity work with Palestinians” – when we visit places like Deir Istiya – is the impact it has on us and on our minds. At the same time we may be able to offer our support (you rightly criticized the use of the word “help”) and maybe even alleviate some injustice. By the way, your articulation of the principles of not knowing, bearing witness and loving action has given us much inspiration in doing this solidarity work
This came out very long – thank you for the patience in reading. I do take from it the need to find a better name than “educational work”. Also, what I have depicted here might be an ideal picture of our work and vision. Perhaps some of us fall into one-sidedness some of the time. Also, recently, as our solidarity work demanded more attention, we have been feeling that we are not managing to devote enough energy to the “healing the conflict mind” work.
Michal Fox (working for the Israeli School Department) introduced Bernie to leaders in the Arab Village, Jisr az-Zarqa (the poorest village in Israel) and he has decided to assist them in making the village self-sufficient (current unemployment is 75%.) The village is located on the Mediterranean Sea just north of Caesarea and the village has a beautiful shoreline. Caesarea is a town in Israel located mid-way between Tel Aviv and Haifa, on the Israeli coastal plain near the city of Hadera. Modern Caesarea as of December 2007 has a population of 4,500 people. Jisr az-Zarqa has a population of 16,000 people.
Jisr az-Zarqa is the only Arab town in Israel that is located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (though there are coastal towns such as Acre, Haifa, and Jaffa with significant Arab populations). Other Arab towns located along the coast were depopulated during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War during a large Israeli offensive called Coastal Clearing. However, the intervention of Jews from the neighboring towns of Zikhron Ya’akov and Binyamina, who relied on the population of Jisr az-Zarqa and nearby Fureidis for agricultural labor, prevented the Israeli authorities from dispersing the Arab populations there.
All you need is a little faith
The West Bank’s Rabbi Menachem Froman has the solution to the conflict
‘All you need is a little faith,’ says the Tekoa leader, who isn’t averse to quoting Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
How do you feel today?
First of all, I want to apologize. I am tired and not very lucid or focused. The morning hours are hard for me, after prayer. I also had a bad night. So my wife Hadassah is with us. You will hear things from her, too.
I can see this is not easy for you. I’m sorry. I will try not to impose on you. Let’s talk about your activity for peace, about the meetings you have been holding for years with leaders and clerics from the Arab world.
For almost 40 years I have maintained that it is impossible to forge peace here without taking into account the religious element, which is very powerful in the Arab public and also stronger than what some readers of Haaretz would like to believe in the Jewish public. [Sheikh] Ahmed Yassin once told me: You and I could make peace in hamsa dakika − five minutes. How so? Because we are both believers. In recent years I mentioned this to everyone who was ready to listen, and it was considered bizarre and crazy. Suddenly, the situation is slowly beginning to change.
A senior Israel Defense Forces officer who was in charge of collecting intelligence once told me: There is no one who understands Hamas like you, who meets with them and talks to them like that. But to make peace with Hamas? That is crazy. And then Hamas came to power.
But most people hold the opposite view. For them, religion, which you regard as a common denominator, is the cause of war.
That is true. And I say: Not only in Israel, but the whole Middle East will go the same path. I was in Egypt and Jordan and met with the most extreme clerics. Before bin Laden’s assassination, I used to say that the rumor that he is in our house, in the attic, is untrue. Now, with [Mohammed] Morsi’s election [as president of Egypt], suddenly I have a meeting with President [Shimon] Peres and probably also with [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu. To his credit let it be said that he asked his political adviser, Ron Dermer, to meet with me. He sat with me for an hour and a half. They spoke, asked questions.
“Tell us, is it possible to talk to them? Aren’t they insane?” And by the way, I don’t think they are nice, in the words of Golda [Meir].
So they are not nice.
Of course not. After all, I saw them to be like a hamsin [hot desert wind]. Is that nice? No. But that is part of reality here. So the things I talked about all my life, peace on a religious basis, are suddenly coming true. That is why I met with Peres yesterday. We agreed to do something, and I made all kinds of phone calls to my Muslim friends. But … sorry for being a little unfocused. Do you know the poem by Rachel [Bluwstein], “Mineged” [“Across From”; see Deuteronomy 32:49-52]? It is engraved on her headstone [following is a rough translation]:
Has he come? Shall he come? Every expectation Contains sadness of Nebo.
One across from the other − the two banks of one river. Rock of fate: Apart forever.
Palms spread. Seen from across. Unto there − you shall not go. Everyone and his Nebo Crossing a wide land.
What does she write here? Something fantastic. We are here in Tekoa, opposite Mount Nebo. And Moses and Aaron are also at Nebo. They were not privileged to cross over. Is there a God or is there not a God? That is a question I have been asking all my life, tearing off one petal and then another: There is, there isn’t. There is, there isn’t.
You’re not sure?
Sometimes I am sure [there is]; sometimes I am sure there isn’t. My whole family was murdered in Poland. The whole family.
What do you hear in that poem?
It is about Moses. All his life he leads the people to the land and does not enter. I am in exactly the same situation. At long last, Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] wants to talk to me, to hear what to do. I say that in his praise, because his mode of thought is so different. Yet he is ready to open up and listen. I have suggestions. I think, for example, that we should send a delegation of rabbis to Dr. Morsi with a letter of congratulations. I don’t know whether Bibi will accept and agree, but there is much work to be done. And I do not know whether I will be the one who does the work. Like Moses, all his life leading the people to the Land of Israel: “And it shall be, when thou art come into the land.”
But he himself did not come into the land.
No, he did not.
Hadassah: It is actually a potent expression of life that a person concludes it in the middle. Life is not over for him. Everything opens and opens and opens.
The rabbi: It is possible that I will not get to Dr. Morsi with Bibi’s letter and the proposal: Let us build peace. The slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Islam is the solution.” That is a very frightening slogan, certainly for people like Bibi. But I will not come to Dr. Morsi and will not hand him the letter, simply because … I will not cross over. That is the thing. Mount Nebo. Your visit here coincides with the weekly Torah portion about the sin of Moses, because of which he did not enter the Land of Israel; my bar-mitzvah Torah portion is Ve’etchanan − literally, “And I pleaded.” Moses pleads to be allowed to enter the land. For our ancient sages this is a model of prayer. Think what that means … This prayer that was not answered. Life as pleading. Not life as achievements and doing things. Life as supplication. Finally I might have the possibility to do something. Or maybe not.
Maybe yes. I have a daughter who joined the Bratslav Hasidim − it happens in the best families, yes? I always take from her the expression that the Bratslav people always utter: “For God, praise Him, everything is possible.” And for the Bratslav group everything is truly possible. Or maybe it is truly not important? Why is an unanswered prayer held up as an archetype of prayer? Perhaps because prayer that is not answered is a very great thing.
When Moses stands on the hilltop, God tells him to look at the land that he will not enter, right? He shows it to him, section by section. Why? What is your reading of this?
He comes to the land, but not invasively. Not to appropriate something. Our teacher not only yearned for this land; his yearnings were to come to it but not as a conqueror. And that is exactly what we are talking about. On the one hand, yearnings, and on the other, the knowledge that it shall be fulfilled, but not by you.
You have been living with the brutal knowledge [the rabbi has a terminal illness] for more than two years that your days are numbered.
Believe me, they did not give me even two years. They did not give me anything. They said it is a miracle.
Do you also think it is a miracle?
As it is written, “Hanging by a miracle and a rock.” To live by supplication.
Hadassah: There is no explanation for the way he is holding on. Against all expectations.
What are you holding onto at this time?
Hadassah: The answer is that he is not holding on. He is not overcoming, he is not building. He is suspending himself between heaven and earth. Suspending himself from God. Not hopes of one kind or another. He never says, “Things will be good,” but is willing to be in this state of suspension. Simply to be suspended like this, above the abyss.
The rabbi: I always talked like that. And now God has let me live like this. This is the point of Bratslav, of Rabbi Nachman. It is so basic for him, this picture of Moses standing on the hill above the battle with Amalek, raising his hands and being victorious. Rashi and Onkelos interpret this as referring to prayer. “And his hands remained steady.”
What is your interpretation?
Like Bratslav. Faith. You raise your hands. Faith also includes raising your hands.
Are you afraid?
You are trying to resolve the conflict between us and the Arabs, but there is also a rift within us, between a large part of the Israeli public and the settlers. What do you think about that?
There is a saying by [Andrei] Gromyko, who was the foreign minister of the Soviet Union: “Peace is indivisible.” My goal is not to make peace between us and the Palestinians. That is the result. Peace between a man and his fellow man, between a nation and its neighbor is all a kind of mental adjustment, a decision of the soul, which wants to move to the side of peace. It is necessary to purify the Jewish religion.
What do you mean?
On festive occasions I dress like my grandfather, who was a Gerrer Hasid. I put on a white kapote [robe-coat] and white spodik [tall fur hat]. I think Judaism has to be transformed from black to white. I spent many hours in meetings and in studying Islam, and this activity was undertaken to transform the religion into white. Rabbi Kook, whose picture is here opposite me, says that the whole of the Jewish religion is a process of purification from idol worship.
From what would you like to purify the Jewish religion?
From idol worship. From egoism. I feel that there is something very, very deep in the love between man and land. That has always been my image. Man is made from dust and to dust he will return. The connection between man and his land is the connection to his life source. That connection can derive from love or it can derive from possessiveness: meaning that you want to be the owner of the land, to control it. Instead of being swallowed up in your wife, you want to be the owner of your wife. When I met with [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, he gave me volumes of the poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi. Rumi writes that one can be swallowed in the earth like sugar that dissolves in water. If you have an orientation toward being swallowed, of abnegation in the face of the objective truth, that is peace.
So that is how you apprehend it.
Look, Tekoa, for example, is a mixed settlement. There is a school here, which my wife founded, in which religious and secular children learn together. The problem is not only settlers and non-settlers, religious and nonreligious. It is all a matter of mental orientation. Whether you build everything on your ego, or you are an instrument of the general flow − for the general truth, for the general peace, even if operates from an awareness of “I will decide, I will navigate,” as with [Yitzhak] Rabin. And even more powerful than being a pipeline for what is general is being humble, with the goal of abnegation, of being an instrument consciously. The Holy One blessed be He can also work in strange ways, but the direct way is through people who wish to be an instrument for the general peace. Those who wish to be such an instrument, and that is their life’s goal, that is the most direct and the simplest way to live a worthy human life. What I say is that the most important thing is to be a genuine human being.
And that is the source of the solution you are proposing: to stay in the settlement, close to the land, but under Palestinian sovereignty.
I met with someone who is very close to the prime minister, and he told me that the solution I am proposing is also the solution he has envisaged for years, from the political viewpoint, and that he is working to persuade the prime minister. That is how he described his approach: He is thinking of a practical solution; whereas I come from another side, which is purification, distillation of the relations between man and land. In the same way that a man is not the owner of his wife but is swallowed up in her − and that is the joy of a relationship, that you have someone to lose yourself in, in which to dissolve like sugar in water. That is also the joy of land and of love of the Land. We came to Tekoa to take part in that: to participate in the establishment of a mixed community. With the intention that I want to learn, to receive. I do not want to give. I do not work for my truth. I work for the sake of the general truth, the objective truth. In the final analysis, the question is whether you abnegate yourself before God or you represent him. And I abnegate myself before God.
I see that as connecting to a life of supplication.
Yes. It is the same thing. Abnegation also in the sense that your plans are not fulfilled, or are fulfilled but not by you, and thus the religion is purified of the aspect of idol worship that it contains. Not to take values, Moloch, and sacrifice yourself and your children to them, but to see the human aspect. That is the human disposition.
I am deeply moved to hear you say this.
That is the human purpose: to be a man; a mensch, as they say in Yiddish. The main thing is to be a human being, all the rest is just a means. In the kabbala, the light of adam kadma [primordial man] is stronger than the light of the patriarch Jacob. In other words, human light is a step higher than Jewish light. I think that this is how one should forge oneself: to be human. Rabbi Kook says that the Jewish nation is not a nation at all, it has no national definition, it is the essence of the human. A human-nation, as A.D. Gordon put it, a nation that is a mensch. God has strange ways of loving us. Even a religious Jew can be a human person.
If so, what is your thinking on the occupation? How do you explain it?
I said that peace is actually a mental orientation. Peace, fundamentally, is an alliance that accords each of the two sides its freedom.
But there is no peace yet. No alliance. However, there is an occupation, which I believe is the root of all evil.
I too think that the occupation is the root of all evil. The question is what you mean by the word “root.” The occupation derives from the power of man’s fear and desire to protect his ego, because of his lack of desire to open up. This week I conducted a marriage ceremony and I asked the crowd to applaud the couple for being brave enough to enter into an alliance, because in an alliance you forgo your ego, the desire to subjugate all the facts around you to your ego. The occupation is a far deeper problem. You are talking about it in the political sense, but that is only one sense.
The occupation is a symptom.
Yes. Man is always in a dilemma about whether to open up and be free, or to subjugate and be subjugated, to hate and be hated. That is also our dilemma in the political sphere. Bibi gave that speech in which he related how much the occupation bothers him, but giving a speech is not enough. The occupation is an expression of the desire to subjugate the facts to my ego. I always say that the settlements are the fingers of the hand that is extended to peace.
I’m not sure I understand.
Because here is where the true contact is forged between the Muslim and Jewish cultures. Hadassah always says, There is a fence and there are ties; when there is a fence things like the Twin Towers happen. You know, every Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha I sent greetings to Abu Amar [Yasser Arafat] and afterward to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], in which I wrote about loving your fellow man as yourself and not doing to others what you would not wish them to do to you. What I want for myself I must also want others to have. I want a Jewish state, I must want there to be an Arab state. I love Jerusalem, I have to want them to have Jerusalem, too. When Abu Mazen saw that he was so moved that he went to another room and brought me his misbaha, his prayer beads, as a gift. I have it here.
And what did Abu Amar say?
The “affair” between me and Abu Amar made my wife very jealous. Before his death he asked me to visit him in Ramallah. Maybe now people will suspect that I gave him the poison, eh? But he called me and said, “Hakham [wise] Froman, come to me as quickly as you can.”
Did you go at once?
Yes. Of course. But these are stories. Let’s drop it. Just stories. At the end of the day, the settlements, as I see it, were established for this. They are the hand that touches the other hand. The meaning of religion as being love and freedom.
Despite your condition, you are still active and are now working to establish a theater.
A theotoron: toron referring to the Torah and theo referring to religion. A religious theater. Samuel Beckett said, “What is theater?” A group of people standing on a cliff while below there is a stormy sea in which a drowning man is crying for help − and they cannot help. The drowning people are the actors and the people on the cliff are the audience. In the theater, life is presented as distress. The audience cannot help the prince of Denmark, Hamlet, but is present and is confronted with the problem of human existence. [The late Polish theater director Jerzy] Grotowski proposes a different definition. He likens theater to a hill at night where someone has poured gasoline on himself and set himself alight, while around the hill people are standing and watching, their faces lit by him.
What I gather from this is that the actor gives his life, and his selfless devotion illuminates the faces of the viewers. A third definition is that in the theater the actors and the audience overcome gravity for an hour and a half. The audience is elevated. As [Rabbi] Moishe Levinger says, What is dancing? A person jumps up and overcomes the force of gravity. In Yiddish the “force of gravity” is the “force of gravitas” − in Hebrew “koved,” in Yiddish “koived.”
Is there no element of idol worship in theater?
A person in the theater jumps up, overcomes his ego, his self − the self-definition that does not allow you to be free. To play-act is to be free. Also, in the biblical sense, to love. That is certainly freedom. So this theater is a religious theater, not in the sense that it observes the halakha [Jewish religious law] or draws on the Jewish sources, but that it achieves the purpose of religion: to liberate man and cause him to love. This is the repentance of the religious public, from subjugation to the halakha and its rigidity to freedom and love.
When I sat with my son Shibi and we thought about what we were getting into, owing to my illness, Shibi said that the only thing we need to work on is the theater. That is the dream. In the past few years I have been teaching the Zohar, because it posits itself as an answer to the revealed Torah. It seeks to liberate us from religious dogmatism and from the halakha. “To be a free people in our land” − I am not enthralled by the national anthem, but when I hear that line I am moved. The idea that for certain moments you can liberate yourself from gravity and gravitas is truly wonderful.
You gave yourself another name, didn’t you?
After I was diagnosed with the disease there was a gathering in Tzavta [a left-liberal venue in Tel Aviv]. I changed my name there to Menachem Hai Shalom [Menachem Living Peace]. Someone once told me that he thought that everything I was doing was due to the fact that my name in numerology is shalom (peace). I checked. It’s true. Without helping by adding the number of letters. “Froman” really is “peace.” According to the halakha, you are supposed to change your name in the synagogue, but I did it in Tzavta. I told them, You are the synagogue. [Former Meretz MK] Walid Sadik is the custodian; A.B. Yehoshua is the Sephardi rabbi; Amos Oz is the Ashkenazi rabbi. I told them that I don’t know how much time I have left, but peace. Hai Shalom. And now it seems the conditions for this exist, but … like Moses on Mount Nebo, we will go in or not.
What would you like to leave behind?
If only you will succeed.
Praying, too. I live from prayer. A life of supplication. I told you. That is a life of a particular kind. For example, the main word used with respect to a life of supplication is “thank you.” I have strength. Thank you.
Hadassah: I have been saying for years that really the true value he has is not in what he is advancing, but in what he leaves behind. The invitation to open a different portal to see reality. That orientation. To transform consciousness. Even here in the settlement, at first, his was a completely solitary voice. Now there is already a stream. Consciousness has developed among the young people of Gush Emunim (the Bloc of the Faithful organization).
The rabbi: In short, what my wife is saying is: You can die.
Hadassah: Heaven forbid! The opposite. I simply see it in practice. I see it among the Arabs, where there is no such talk. Because he bursts through that talk, many Arabs see him as their spiritual mentor, as their leader.
You were a nonconformist all your life, espousing unconventional opinions. Was it worthwhile?
The rabbi: We shall see. If there really will be peace, then it was worthwhile. If the unconventional ultimately becomes the conventional, then yes. Rabbi Nachman says that Abraham was the village idiot, people threw stones at him.
And at you?
They also threw them.
Hadassah: Of course. Ask the children. They grew up in an atmosphere of having a different kind of father. For some of the children it was hard. The reactions to him were very harsh at first. The children had this kind of sport, in which they used to hitchhike around a lot and say they were from Tekoa. The reaction was, “Ah, Tekoa, there’s that crazy rabbi there, he’s totally crazy.” They would let the driver talk for the whole ride. Then, a second before they got out of the car they would say, “Yes, he’s my father.” In the end, it also gave them resilience. But it was hard for them.
Do you think you are crazy? Do you have any doubts about the path you chose?
The rabbi: Many crazy people, I think, don’t think they are crazy. Things will be good − if things will be good and there is peace. It has to materialize. A life of supplication; you have a great profit from that. You ask whether it is worthwhile, but of course it is worthwhile. A life of humility. I always say, there is the halakha, to walk, there is kabbala, to accept [Hebrew wordplays]. To accept is tremendous joy. Because then the objective good or the objective truth speak through you. It is not only you and your thoughts. It might be expressed in a possibly cruel way. What Rachel writes is terribly cruel. Moses does not enter the land. But the nation enters. If there is someone who does not fulfill [a particular task], someone else will do it. Maybe my son. Maybe Rabbi [Michael] Melchior. Maybe [Kadima MK] Otniel Schneller.
Do you feel that you have succeeded in repairing the world a little? In leaving your imprint on it?
God will repair the world; that is something huge, isn’t it? Why does the world need my imprint? God’s imprint is the truth. It is better to be objective in the world. For things not to happen because of how you are, but as they are.
What has your suffering, mental and physical, in the past few years taught you?
That is a great philosophical question. Let it go. One must accept what is. To accept is more than to do by yourself.
Hadassah: He taught me to be thankful. Sometimes you feel down in the dumps, [but] you have to say thank you for everything there is, for every bit of life, for all that is good.
Is there anything you regret?
The rabbi: Of course. One’s wife is part of one’s body, right? So my wife regrets all my meetings with all the Muslim leaders and all the hours I invested in this.
Thank you very much. I will leave you now. I see you are tired.
One moment: It is most important of all for me to say thank you. For all the mercies I have received. From my wife, from my children, and especially from my son Shibi, who was a rabbi in an army preparatory program in Galilee, and when the disease was diagnosed left his work with his wife and came back here, to Tekoa. He is my “operations officer.” He truly strengthens me. And the other children, too. And the community, which embraces me, and also many friends and pupils.
In the oncology department of Shaare Zedek [Medical Center, in Jerusalem] I receive exceptional treatment from Prof. Segal, Dr. Shmueli and nurse Bruria. No words can describe it. And there is also another thank you. A big one. To Mira. Mira Farbstein is a classmate of mine from the Reali School [in Haifa]. We had good relations in high school, even though we followed such different paths. She is married to [American business magnate] Sheldon Adelson. After my disease was diagnosed I suddenly get a phone call from her. After 40 years during which we didn’t talk. She says, “Menachem, I read in the paper that you are sick. I want to tell you that whatever you need financially I will take care of.” She has been as good as her word. Those, truly, are wonderful things that I receive. That is what is most important to say. Write: “Menachem Froman says thank you.”
Lambs to the Settlers' Slaughter
Few people understand that “the Occupation” by Israel of the Palestinian people translates into regular violent assaults by jewish settlers on Palestinian civilians. This story from Ha’aretz by widely respected journalist Amira Hass gives us part of the picture.
Lambs to the settlers’ slaughter, screaming and unheard.
There were more than 50 reports of Israelis assaulting Palestinians in the West Bank last month. In the start of a regular series, Haaretz (Israeli newspaper) details one particularly violent attack.
By Amira Hass | Aug.05, 2012
There is still a bruise under Ibrahim Bani Jaber’s left eye. The blows his brother Jawdat received to his right ear didn’t leave any marks, but they still make his head feel heavy. During our meeting at their home in the West Bank village of Akraba last week, they did not spend much time describing the fear and pain they felt when they were attacked. Instead, they spoke about the family’s sheep, that they had rushed to try and save that day, July 7, when they heard that settlers were attacking them.
The violent confrontation – between settlers from Itamar and Giva 777, and Palestinian residents of Akraba – was the worst such incident last month. But it was, nevertheless, merely part of the daily routine of assaults, attacks and incursions. It is only on rare occasions that these incidents become news. In most cases, if there is an investigation there is no indictment.
The map presented here shows the various assaults from last month alone, but it is not complete because it does not include Jerusalem. It is based on reports that have been cross-checked, and eyewitness testimonies from the Ta’ayush Arab Jewish partnership, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Haaretz will continue to follow events on a regular basis and the way they are handled by the authorities.
On Saturday July 7, when the Bani Jaber brothers were working in a wheat field, their brother Jihad – who was tending the sheep – telephoned them in a panic. “Settlers have arrived at the spring and they are slaughtering the sheep,” he shouted. The two brothers were some three kilometers from the spring and orchard, east of the village of Yanun. Jawdat, 44, went to speak with the soldiers who had accompanied the Palestinian farmers to their fields.
About six months ago, the Israel Defense Forces began revisiting plans for its dormant firing range there – which contains farmers’ fields, orchards and a number of homes belonging to families from Akraba. When it was decided to use the firing range again, the IDF began forbidding the Palestinians from going to their lands there. Giva 777, an offshoot of the Itamar settlement, is in that same firing range (known as 904A ). Dror Etkes, who has been tracking the way the settlers are gaining control of lands in the West Bank, states that most of Giva 777′s tended fields are on private Palestinian lands and in the firing range.
In the past few months, Rashed Fahmi – the head of the Yanun local council; the Israeli-Palestinian group Lohamim Leshalom (Fighting for Peace ); and Rabbis for Human Rights have been waging an exhausting and prolonged campaign to get the authorities to uphold the Palestinians’ rights to work their lands. The efforts bore bitter fruit: the Palestinians were permitted to go to their fields accompanied by soldiers for one week, between July 3 and July 10. Most of the wheat had already dried up by then.
Awaiting his death
Two military jeeps joined around 40 farmers who went to their fields that Saturday. After Jihad telephoned, at around 2 P.M., Jawdat told a soldier who spoke Arabic that something bad was happening at the spring. His impression was that the soldier brushed him off contemptuously. Meanwhile, Ibrahim, 42, hurried down the hill toward the spring. He was carrying a walking stick that he uses when tending the sheep. Jihad had already fled from the scene. Some of the sheep had wandered off. The settlers were standing among the sheep that remained and, according to Ibrahim, were hitting them. There were perhaps 10 or 20 settlers. “What have the sheep done to you?” Ibrahim shouted to them in Arabic.
At this point, other family members joined him. In the meantime, three or four soldiers arrived at the scene and prevented them from approaching the sheep. The number of settlers increased. Most of them were wearing white shirts. Two of them were, apparently, armed.
Ibrahim says he waved his stick to chase a settler away from a sheep. A soldier grabbed him, he says, and hit him with the butt of his rifle, below the eye. He fell and got up, bleeding. He saw the soldier taking out plastic handcuffs to detain him. Ibrahim ran away, “out of fear they would leave me to the settlers, who would beat me” – as had happened the previous month in Orif. There were shots, he says, as he began walking toward the south, bleeding.
The soldiers who prevented Jawdat from going to his brother handcuffed him and sat him forcibly on the ground. One soldier hit him with a baton on his ear, he says. Another soldier kicked him in the same place. As he was sitting with his hands secured behind his back, he saw some of the settlers approaching him and had the impression that one was holding an ax. At that point, he says, he shut his eyes and awaited his death.
Jawdat believes he was hit with the blunt edge of the ax and lost consciousness. Eyewitnesses say that some two hours elapsed before the soldiers would allow the residents to rescue him. He remembers waking when he was transferred from an Israeli ambulance to a Palestinian one, on his way to a hospital in Nablus.
The confrontation took place in a number of spaces. No one saw the entire picture. The Akraba residents who were being attacked had the feeling that the number of settlers was constantly growing, and that there were many dozens of them. The two sides began throwing stones at each other. The soldiers fired into the air, and stun grenades and tear gas were employed against the villagers who wanted to help their fellow residents. A fire broke out in the fields, either through arson or because of the stun and tear-gas grenades. One of the villagers was wounded by a tear-gas canister. Another was hit in the arm by a rubber-coated bullet, which left a deep wound and required hospitalization.
Another relative, Adwan Bani Jaber, 58, was also in the fields. “At a distance of some 800 meters from the orchard, I came across soldiers and a settler,” he says. “A soldier began shooting and I asked him, ‘Why are you shooting? This is my home.’ And he shouted, ‘Go back!’ I asked him: ‘Where should I go? This is my home.’ The soldier then told me there was no problem, and that there were no injured.”
Adwan says he suddenly felt a blow to his head. It was a stone which, he says, was thrown by a settler, in the presence of the soldiers.
The IDF spokesman said that the army had no reports about the injuries to the three family members. He says that on July 7, “a confrontation developed between a number of settlers and a number of Palestinians. A large number of Palestinians continued to arrive at the scene of the confrontation and there was stone throwing from both sides. The Palestinians started some conflagrations. The security forces began acting to disperse the confrontation and used means for the dispersal of demonstrations. During the incident, one settler and two Palestinians were lightly injured. The injured were treated by army medical personnel at the scene, and they then evacuated the Palestinians to hospital for further treatment. The event was investigated by senior officers and the required lessons were learned.”
Jihad reported that 14 sheep were killed – four died that day and the remainder in the next few days. He no longer takes the sheep to drink at the spring.
The entire agricultural area was once again closed to residents of Akraba and Yanun. From afar, they can see the settlers who live in firing range 904A, tending their fields.