As the headlines indicate, the situation in Israel right now is bleak. We are living in a reality in which everyone is a potential murderer or a stationary target. This, as we all know, is the price that terrorism demands we pay.
And what of hope? What of our future? How are we to stay optimistic when a 13-year-old child takes a knife and tries to murder another 13-year-old child riding his bike to the grocery store? Only hatred and generalizations drive a 13-year-old boy to see another 13-year-old not as a friend, not as another child to play soccer with, to laugh with, but as a faceless enemy to kill. Only hatred and generalizations compel a boy to become an agent of death, to become one who would murder for the sake of Allah and the Islamic nation. Dear G-d, where are we?
We are not yet at war, but we have arrived at a crossroads at which our vision for the future is severely threatened: especially, for those of us who believe in peace, who not only preach pluralism, but also practice it on a day-to-day basis in the Galilee.
A few years ago, David D’Or wrote a song called “Take Care of the World, Child.” His lyrics suggest that children, unlike adults, are more free from and pure of hatred, revenge, and violence. Unfortunately, it seems, he was not singing about the Middle East. And, so we must rethink our plans.
* * *
I live on Hannaton, a kibbutz in the Lower Galilee. My neighbors to the east are the residents of a Muslim village. Most of the residents were once falachim, loosely translated as farmers. To the west of Hannaton, there is a village called Bir al Maksur, a Muslim village too, but Bedouin. Not too far down the road, on the way to my children’s school, is a third village, also Bedouin.
When the new “children’s intifada” started a few days ago, the residents of Kfar Manda began holding demonstrations in the village and throwing stones from the roads. Not just any road, but the road my wife uses every day to travel to and from work. It’s the road I use to take my children to the doctor and the road that leads from my neighbor’s village to our kibbutz. The junction at which they were throwing stones is less than a minute from my house!
I have set the scene for you. Now I present you with the dilemma.
My neighbors were throwing stones on this road. Why? Did they want to kill me? My answer to this question is, “Yes.” I am sure they wanted some of the stones to harm, not just land on the road; to injure, not just scratch the windshield of a car.
What is confusing to me is that I also have friends in this village. This is a village in which I insist on doing grocery shopping so I can say hello and mingle with my neighbors, people I know by name and who know me. This is a village in which my students, participants in the pre-army mechina program at Hannaton, volunteer each week in a school for special needs children and at the local community center teaching Hebrew.
And this is a village in which I have been trying for months to organize a joint soccer team for our children and theirs. My son and his friends had just started soccer practices there last week.
Right now, however, I feel unwelcome and unsafe in this village. Right now, I check police reports before driving by. Is this the reality of neighbors?
Residents of the Galilee are familiar with this type of cognitive dissonance. It’s not the first time that stones have disrupted the normalized lives we’ve created for ourselves up here. But, again we are forced to consider, which reality trumps which? Which emotion wins out? And which values, which vision will triumph this time?
I spoke with my friends from Kfar Manda, some of whom are local layleaders, and asked them to explain what’s going on. Why are people throwing stones from the road? I asked. “Martyrs,” they answered. “Al-Aqsa.”
“What do you mean, Al-Aqsa?” I replied. (By the way, theirs is an answer representative of the general response for this current wave of terror, an answer I believe is based on over-publicized lies and misrepresentations.)
I could hear the shrugs of their shoulders in their silence.
“You have to put a stop to this,” I said. “You must get control.”
Their response? “We wish we could, but in the meantime, you might not want to come here.”
Me? I insist on returning and refuse to give up. I insist on trying to build a joint leadership with my neighbors that will eventually win out over those who seek to destroy it. Am I naive? Yes. And is my vision, despite my naiveté, still a possibility? Yes. Is it all up to us in the end? YES.
In short, if we as individuals do not continue to try to live together, our future is indeed very clear.
* * *
This week, I also got a call from my friend who lives in Zarzir, the Bedouin village on the way to my children’s school.
“Yoav, we have to organize a joint rally of Jews and Bedouins,” he said to me. “Let’s call it, ‘We Refuse to Be Enemies.’” I said to him, “Fantastic idea! Let’s do it. We’re in!” We had 16 hours to organize.
What happened? At first, people were afraid to come and asked why, what good would it do? Others had even stronger opinions: “Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies? Why bring Jews into it? It’s the Arabs who are causing this trouble.”
We pushed through and succeeded in gaining support. On the main street of Zarzir we voiced our vision for the future.
Did every resident of Zarzir attend? No. Did everyone from Hannaton? No, but there were many. Does one rally negate terrorism? No. But, a rally generates positive energy, not just for the participants, but for the people who drive past it, for the people who hear about it on the news; one rally in the Galilee can shift the thinking of one person who can shift the thinking of another. And little by little, this wave of good energy may overcome this current wave of terror.
* * *
In the Galilee, there are, too, stones. But not all are used to destroy.
Some are used to build.
Little by little, we build the foundations of living together as neighbors. And, yes, sometimes the little we’ve succeeded to build crumbles in an instant. Destruction, after all takes one minute, no more.
But if you believe a vision can be destroyed, you must also believe it can be fixed.
And so, we take to fixing once again.
This is our plan in the Galilee.