“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” (Nelson Mandela)
Two weeks before the beginning of Kids4Peace’s new course of “From Dialogue to Action,” we sent requests for permits for our Palestinians participants from the West Bank to enter Israel. Because I have enough years of experience with the military and requesting permits, we also called the office that coordinates the permits, just to make sure that our email has not been stopped in some “virtual checkpoint.”
It was the end of a two-month journey to find the most powerful, courageous Palestinians in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas who are ready to work with Israelis, but not to be satisfied by having dialogue, who were ready to move into taking to real action and making change on the ground. The lives of these unique individuals are full of suffering and also with disappointment at us, the peace activists. The peace activists who promise again and again to work for change, who build up in their hearts hope for a better life, but who then fail to fulfill those promises. To these new participants in our course, I promised to support them in creating real change in their communities by giving them tools to do so and by real opportunities to risk themselves together with the Israelis by shifting our meetings from the safe room of dialogue to actual activism on the streets.
On Tuesday, a week after submitting the request for permits, six days before the course’s first meeting, we called the military again to check on the status of our participants’ permits. After two hours on the line, we finally got through to someone. We then learned that the solider who received our email with the request forgot to forward it to their colleague who processes the permits, a colleague who, by the way, sits at the next table over.
Wednesday and Thursday — The following two days we try to follow up again on the phone, for 4 hours each day — no answer.
Sunday morning, 36 hours before the meeting itself, and after an hour on the line — they answer. “Sorry, but we can’t find the emails you have sent us,” the soldier on the line explained to me. I really try to remember that I must have patient towards her too, and gently I help the soldier to find our emails in her inbox. I keep reminding myself that she is only 18 -years-old and email is an old fashioned thing for her. She finds it, and promises to process the permits on the same day, “just call at 2 p.m. to make sure that all is ready,” she added.
2 p.m., I am o,n the line — no answer. 3 p.m., 4 p.m.. A soldier replied: “Yes, yes, we are working on that, it will be ready in three days”. I want to scream, but I try to calm myself: “The meeting is tomorrow” I replied. He: “So, few days is not good enough?” Me: “Not really.”
I felt anger rising in my voice. Months of work, driving inside violent and poor places at the West Bank with no permits myself in order to meet with potential participants. Seeing my Palestinian co-worker running towards me, with cut pants, out of breath, and tears from the gas grenades the soldiers were throwing in his village, coming so that he could drive with me to interview potential participants from the West Bank. The family we meet invites us for lunch, but they are all fasting, “since the holiday is in 2 weeks,” they explain. My partner and I know the real reason they are not eating is that they have no money for lunch, so they borrowed money to make lunch for us and only us.
I want to scream at the solider on the phone who tells me the permits will be ready in a few more days. But then the images of my tzadikim/saints come to my mind: Reb Levi from Barditchov, the Dalai Lama, Krishnamurti, the heiliger Reb Zusha. “What would they say?” I asked myself. I decided to be as open as I could with this young soldier and shared with him: “These Palestinians, most of them have no formal education and real work, and still they want to take a day off each week from their daily struggle in order to come to our course and learn how to make change in their communities. You understand, this is how you make peace, day by day, person by person, and you, a soldier, you can be part of that solution by giving us these permits”.
There was silence on the other end and then he replied: “You are so kind, thank you for explaining this to me. Normally, everyone is just screaming at me. Okay, I will do my best and will call you tonight to update you.”
I left my office at 7 p.m., for a meeting, but my phone was still silent, there was no call. I decided to write about it in my Facebook, ending my post with: “What else I can do? May God will listen to my prayer and will make here a miracle.”
I was driving on my motorcycle when I got a phone call. Normally, I would never bother to check my phone while driving, but on Sunday, I needed a miracle. There was no number on my screen.
He was on the line: “Remember me? You told me that I can do a bit of peace, too. Right?” Me: “For sure!” He: “So I have all permissions ready for you. I wanted to call you myself personally.” I had no words. I just kept saying thank you and that because of such soldiers as him, peace will arrive.
As we were on the phone, I got a text message from his officer: “Yakir, I have never seen any of my soldiers work so hard to make permits for Palestinians. What did you do?” I texted her back: “I just told him that his permits are part of creating peace, that peace will be created stone by stone, not only by us, but also by soldiers like him.” She never responded.
Hours later, I have learned that the story is more complicated. A woman who I don’t know had been tagged to my Facebook post and was moved by it. She works at Blue and White Human Rights, a program that “was created as a Zionist ideal, to enable individuals to support Palestinian rights and dignity and strengthen Israel as a just and worthy society.” Although she is on maternity leave, she called the military office and, with her connections and power, pushed them to make the permits right away.
The story opened important questions about the complexity, meaning, and relationships between modern miracles and politics. Was it a miracle? Was it a gentle Zionist woman who decided to act for Palestinian rights, while still upholding the occupation? Did my words touch the heart of the young soldier who each day pushed through hours of boring paperwork while getting screamed at by other “peace” activists? Should I be honest with you and write what is in my heart, that it is horrible that Palestinians need permits in order to visit East Jerusalem, which in their narrative is entirely part of Occupied Palestine? And should we ask and beg for permissions from the occupiers?
For some moments in my hard and painful daily work, I want to believe that all of these voices were united together in order to make my beautiful and courageous Palestinians smile, at least for one evening when they hugged with their Israeli participants, their new peace Havruta. I will never forget their shining faces when they arrived to our first meeting, visiting Al-Quds for the first time after months or in some cases years. For one evening I felt that the Angels of Peace are nodding with their heads towards me and smiling, and for me it was enough.
I would like to thank my friends and colleagues Ati Waldman and Annika Laila Acklund for supporting this piece with their deep reflection and constructive feedback.