Once upon a time in March 2001 I boarded a bus from Lambertiville to Newark Airport to fly to Ben Gurion and begin my first journey to the Holy Land as a member of Leah Green’s Citizen Diplomacy Delegation. I’d spent two years studying the Middle East conflict and thought it was time to see it, at least to begin to see it for myself.
I chose this method to try to get closer to the conflict by sitting down with Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers, politicians religious and community leaders to listen with my heart open. This Compassionate Listening process was new as Leah had learned herself from its source, her mentor Gene Knudsen Hoffman who said;
“An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.”
We began by leaving our hotel in East Jerusalem and taking a tour of the City that began with Sarah Kaminker, a former City Planner who lived in French Hill, on to Issawiya and a meeting with the Muchtar, then Gilo and a discussion about the perimeter of southern Jerusalem, the impact of the Second Intifada, the shooting by Tanzim Militia from homes in Beit Jalah and the purpose of the tank sitting on a bluff overlooking Beit Jalah. Then onto a discussion about the new, (2001), settlement of Har Homa as we looked down at it and to our left at the young Palestinian shepherd tending his flock. Finally, we traveled to a new Yeshiva built on the Mount of Olives smack in the middle of a Palestinian neighborhood.
We met an amazing array of people in Jerusalem from Sheikh Buchari and Eliyahu McLean to Jeff Halper of ICAHD, MK Yuval Steinitz and Captain Peter Lerner.
But this is more about a question from someone we encountered during our overnight stay in Hebron. It was suggested that anyone wearing a religious emblem put them away since we would be spending the night with Palestinian families. We had a Palestinian bus driver who knew his way around and through most of the closures. We began by stopping at an exhibition, (well not exactly), of Palestinian martyrs sponsored by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. To find myself walking around large photographs and memorial candles honoring young Palestinians who blew themselves up or were shot and killed while attacking Israeli civilians was so far beyond outrageous that I am still speechless.
Of course after that it was time for lunch, Shawarma, which we grabbed at a roadside stand with our guide Hisham Sharabati. Eventually we met the Governor of Hebron and the twenty or so of us were divided into groups of two and driven at night to our resting places. Maureen and I were driven to the outskirts of Hebron and then up and up and up some more a winding hill. We got out and walked up even more to the top of the hill which included the home of Musa Hash Hash his wife and family. We had dinner, brought little gifts for the children and then listened/talked a while.
Musa was an English Teacher and part-time Field Reporter for B’Tselem. He told us he was the oldest child of a large family that all lived, (except him), in the Refugee Camp at the bottom of the hill. His home had been built without a permit. At one point he asked if we were peace tourists or working to end the occupation. I gave him the answer he wanted to hear and that I wanted to say.
The next morning we left early. Musa walked us down the hill to catch a ride into Hebron. We met Leah and walked on to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. We took a tour spent time with David Wilder and then went to see the Museum to commemorate the 1929 Massacre of the Jewish population. As it happened, Yaakov, a member of our delegation’s Grandfather had been a Rabbi in Hebron in 1929 and was killed in the massacre. He was too frightened to join us in Hebron during the Intifada. So after visiting the Museum we walked on to the Jewish Cemetery formed a circle around the grave and Jerry and I said Kaddish for his Grandfather.
We had lunch in the Palestinian City of Hebron walking along the narrow pathways with the netting above and plenty of soldiers to keep the peace. Then we went on to meet Atta Jabber and his family on the outskirts of Hebron. His home was demolished twice, rebuilt and then occupied and burned by settlers. The Jabber family had been farmers in the Beqaa Valley for many generations. The family home just across the road from Atta’s, was built into the rock wall and included a cave that his Mother showed us where the family hid when it was under attack. Behind the wall were settlers stringing barbed wire at the top of the wall during our visit.
I am older now. I have spent a fair amount of time thinking, writing, speaking and acting on behalf of Middle East Peace. And yet the question from Musa comes back to haunt me because I know there is more I can do…