There can be no peace with the Palestinians until the Israeli left and right find peace with each other — or at least start talking to each other. Two men from opposing political sides — Yariv Oppenheimer and Nathan Meir — have set the example.
Dafna Meir, a nurse and an Israeli woman’s health guru, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist in her home in the settlement of Otniel on January, 17, 2016. Thirty days later, her friends helped her husband Nathan to organize an evening in her memory, with the participation of a very unexpected guest — Yariv Oppenheimer, director of the radical left-wing organization “Peace Now”. The one who is known to be very anti-settler came to say kind words in memory of a woman who said about herself that she “chose each day to be Jewish, religious, a settler.”
I knew that Oppenheimer was invited to the memorial evening by Nathan Meir, and I wanted to ask Nathan, ”why?” but it took us almost another month to meet. As he had suddenly become the single father of six, Nathan still can “hardly raise my head and deal with anything beyond the most urgent affairs and just taking care of the children,” he told me when we met in Jerusalem last week.
With a gentle smile on his face and carefully choosing his words, Nathan explained to me that Oppenheimer called him soon after the murder, and asked if he could come to comfort the family during the traditional mourning period (shiva). After making sure the older children (ages 15 and 17) were alright with this, Nathan agreed. “And I saw a man who fully identified with our grief, I saw his heart was open to us. I felt I had a friend in him. When I invited him to the memorial evening, he immediately agreed to come, but was at first undecided if it would be appropriate for him to speak at the event. After the evening he called me to say that he was happy he had decided to do so.”
“I first learned about Dafna from Facebook,” Oppenheimer said that evening. “We were not friends, but when my Facebook feed became full of status updates with pictures of her after the killing, I found myself unable to sleep at night as I read and read. I read about a woman who often went against the grain, who spoke openly about feminism, women’s bodies, and foster care, and with courage, profundity, and humor. She broke down boundaries and made all the definitions so common in Israeli discourse—”settler”, “religious”, ”left-wing”, ”right-wing”—irrelevant. Her work in a hospital gave her an almost divine ability to save the lives of others, no matter who he or she might be. She saw a human being in everyone.”
He did not only praise Dafna. In a room full of knitted kippas, he was also brave enough to make a statement than could be considered political. “Our views differ, no need to conceal this,” he said. “These controversies are not just political; they touch deeper ethical values. But we don’t need to agree with each other. We need to start talking to each other.”
Basically, he offered the settlers (as almost everyone in the Gerard Behar Centre in Jerusalem that evening was a settler) the opportunity for dialogue, and at least one of them, Nathan Meir, was willing to accept it.
“Does it not bother you that he sees no value in the land you consider holy?” I asked Nathan, referring to the main source of controversy between the left and the right.
“I do not think he sees no value in it,” he replied. “I think our priorities differ. While for me having the Land of Israel in our hands is priority number one, for him priority number one is human rights, as he sees them. It does not mean we aspire to totally different things. On the contrary, I think we all want what is best for Israel and want to live here in peace. I have problems with the mantra of the left –“peace now”. I do not think this is possible, because peace comes slowly: through education of the Palestinians—something that Israel should engage in, and improving their living conditions. This takes time, and I would prefer the slogan “peace in 150 years”. But this does not mean people on the left are my enemies. We want the same things, we just differ slightly in what we believe the methods to achieve them are.”
After a slight hesitation, as if considering if he should say the following or not, Nathan went on: “Many people looked at my marriage with Dafna as exemplary, and it probably was . But it does not mean we did not quarrel. We quarrelled all the time, and there were times when we wondered if we should continue to be together. But this only made us invest more in our relationship, and made us both stronger, as individuals and as a married couple. It’s the same thing with the Jewish people. We may quarrel, but we all want is good for Israel. You just need to think out of the box and to try to see a human being in every individual, including in those who people tell you are your enemies.”
Asked if he indeed places value in the idea of dialogue between the settlers and the leftists, Nathan says, “I think it is extremely important, maybe the most important of all.”
In a bitter paradox, Dafna’s death has probably done more to promote the issues she believed in than she managed to do during her lifetime. She was an instructor in a fertility awareness method of contraception (FAM), and wrote a blog on fertility issues that had 150,000 visits before her tragic murder. Her colleagues reported that after articles about Dafna started to appear in the wake of the killing, more and more women started to learn about FAM for the first time in their lives.
Another widely reported fact about Dafna was that she was the mother of two foster children, and this has led to a growth of interest in foster care in Israel, with a noted increase in the number of families applying for foster children in the last two months. Israel’s foster-care law, which was passed by the Knesset a month after Dafna’s death, was named after her.
There is also a chance that another item on the list of her posthumous achievements will be dialogue between the left and the right in Israel.
“We’ve become friends with Oppenheimer, and this will not change,” Nathan Meir told me. “I’m stubborn. I believe in mankind. I’ve seen much in my life, but nothing can deter me from this.”
It takes courage to believe in mankind in the reality we live in. But if Nathan Meir dares to, maybe we all can try, too.