Conflict and Resolution

Last fall, I participated in a program for rising Israeli and Palestinian women leaders, which brought together twelve women from each community for three intensive weekends as well as several one-day programs. Although I have been working in the peace and human rights community professionally for three years, this program was the first time that I participated in a dialogue group.  The experience profoundly re-shaped the way I view both my professional work and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; I appreciate much better how the conflict affects real people. 

For the millions of people – Israeli and Palestinians – living in this region, the current reality is one of conflict. Some, more than others, feel the conflict in their daily lives. The road to a resolution lies in bringing understanding to as many of these people as possible.

One of my fellow participants stands out for me.  Muna is from Hebron (Halil in Arabic).  Muna had a shy and unassuming gaze, and carried herself modestly, wearing the traditional hijab and modest clothing.  In the many days I spent with her, I always noticed her colorful outfits and meticulous makeup, as well as her impractical, but stylish, footwear.  What was most striking about Muna was how respectfully she spoke despite her forceful message. She was not fluent in English, so she spoke through an interpreter, which created a lag between her impassioned expressions and my understanding of what she said. Muna spoke intimately about the loss of dignity she experienced in her daily life, the longing for the village of her ancestors (who left their ancient home in 1948), and most of all, of her struggle to maintain hope.  She never pointed blame at the Israelis or anyone else, but longed for dignity, pride and a homeland.

I have been to Hebron many times and I have seen first-hand the hardships the residents of that  city experience. However, until meeting Muna, I had never had the chance to become friends with a resident of Hebron.  Something about the way she spoke, the passion encased in compassion, drew me in. I felt a very special kinship with Muna, despite the language and cultural barriers. I could relate to her and empathize with her deeply.  I felt conflicted in my own identity, feeling somehow responsible for Muna’s struggles yet helpless to end her suffering.  I also understood the gap between those in Israel and the Jewish diaspora who want peace and the people on the ground who are most in need of a solution to the conflict. For many of us, “two-state solution” and “final status agreements” are deeply held beliefs, but the hypothesis of two-states for two-peoples will be tested on the street. People like me and Muna will be the ones who will try to make the hope for peace a reality.

Since listening to, and becoming friends with Muna, I have begun to ask more questions about how peace will improve the lives of real people. I invited Muna and the other Palestinian women from the group to my home for a casual reunion, only to be met by the challenges of arranging a cross-border meeting. The women did not get the permits from the Israel administration to cross into Israel, so we had to postpone the meeting by one month. That small experience of frustration that I experienced was a glimpse into the world Muna was describing.

While I still believe that a two-state solution is only solution that will ensure security and the fulfillment of both people’s national aspirations, I now better understand the tremendous sacrifices people on both sides of the conflict will face in accepting this necessary compromise.

Did you make aliyah? Why?

I am asked this series of questions by Israelis on averge three times a week.  By my accountant, students I meet, the shop keeper at the clothing store, the family I babysit for, and so on.  After living in Israel for over eight years, I am not surprised by the first question, nor by the follow up.  For many Israelis, a golden American passport is the true Zionist dream.  To leave the land of opportunity for the land of trouble, conflict, pessimism, war and personal challenges seems unfathomable.

And over the years, my answers have changed.  Generally I answer something about Zionism, the home I grew up in, the idealism of my 18 year old self or my hope to shape Israel into the place I envision it to be.  Still, the reason beneath this decision is multi-faceted and still not fully formed.  I often compare making aliyah to marriage (a decision that I am far from making and much farther from understanding) - saying that as I see it, in marriage you commit to the other person for the good and the bad, the ugly and the meaningful. Much too is my relationship with Israel. Having a passport and roots in America, I know at any given moment I can get a one-way ticket back to where I was born, and re-start my life.  [As I write this I wonder if that day should ever come, how deep the guilt will be considering I published this on the internet. Hope that day doesn’t come!]

Knowing that I can leave empowers me to stay. Everyday I wake up and I decide to stay, I am affirming my committment to this decision and to the relationship I have built with this place and this nation.

Yet, something deeper is motivating me to stay beyond my sense of commitment. In a discussion today with some American friends, I think I got closer to uncovering that which lies beneath.

My friends, who are all activists, were talking about the various issues they care about - things the protest for/against in real life or in social media.  These things include workers rights, immigration rights, abortion rights, womens rights and so on and so on.  While I totally identify with these issues, and if I lived in the US I would also rally around these rights, I was struck by my reaction to the discussion. I realized that the conversation around these issues, while important and compelling, lacks a crucial element to the way I discuss and consider my issues.  Deep down, I frame the issues in Israel around the question - what does our stance on this issue mean for the Jewish state?  What kind of Jewish society are we creating?  Those are questions that I would not ask (and honestly, be troubled of those narrow-minded enough to ask) in America.  In Israel I have the opportunity to do right, and in so doing, shape the Jewish people.

For me, that angle, makes discussion of any issue - migrants, refugees, minorities, socio-economic rights, tolerance - much more significant.  My connection to the Jewish people and my devotion to making the legacy of our generation, and specifically, the State of Israel, is what brings me to these discussions and fills me with passion.

Tues, Wed, Thurs…

Tues, Wed, Thurs…

State of affairs

Last week was Bubbie’s 91st birthday.  She has told me many times that as I lead this interesting life, especially in these (perhaps) most interesting years, I should keep a journal.  She says that a journal will be the way to capture how I feel, when I feel it and then years later look back and recall.

So tonight I am just writing to jot down some things I have been thinking about lately.

  1. feminism - i did this fantastic seminar with Israeli and Palestinian women over the past few months.  This experience is something I meant to write about and reflect on, but I suppose the various emotions and thoughts have still not settled. That will come later. But the seminar has opened me to some degree to embrace my feminism and myself. That, along with support of some great activist/feminist friends, and I see in myself growth in this arena in the past 6 months.
  2. Hebrew - since starting my current job, about 14 months ago, i feel a decline in my Hebrew proficiency.  This frustrates me. Still, not enough for me to do something significant about it, like try harder to keep the Hebrew I have an improve.  This is much like my problem with exersise..
  3. happiness - I feel great. Sometimes I wonder if I am deluding myself or ignoring some deep depression, but in reality, I think I am just happy.  I think I like the life I am leading. Each day includes interesting discussion, thought-provoking reading and positive energy. Living is working for me.
  4. cocoon - i suppose since my travels to India, I feel a great sense that I carry my world on my back.  this in a good way! I feel glad to find comfort in my own cocoon/shell, both emotionally and materially.  In terms of the emotion, while I am in constant contact with my few (6 or so) closest friends, these friends are constantly changing. I turn to them for emotional cooing, but I am able to support myself emotionally (mostly).  And then in the material sense of the cocoon - while I have many things, the real things I need are quite few. If I had to move/run/depart and I had to leave it all, I am sure I would quite quickly and unemotionally get over these objects I cherish today. life is coming and going, but I feel stable and secure.

those are a few feelings at present. one day I hope to look back and remember where I was (in my living room, with cold toes and weary eyes) when these words were written. good night.