I’ve been reading and writing and listening for a long time now. Maybe 18 years just about every day. I self- tasked with looking over the hill at Israel and its war of independence, its war for a place to call home in the world, a place to stop running. And most important of all a place that let you in because you were a Jew. To get it Israel had to become a nation and deal with an ‘other’ who wasn’t interested in fulfilling the destiny of the Jewish people because they believe they have a destiny of their own and it happens to be on the same piece of real estate.
I live in Pennsylvania some five thousand miles away from Jerusalem. I haven’t moved more than a few miles from the house I started this journey in. I’ve come to Israel. I’ve been to Jerusalem. I’ve met peace activists on both sides of the Wall and wild eyed settlers and a member of Hamas in Bethlehem and David Wilder in Hebron and Rabbi Froman in Tekoa and Salam Fayyad in Ramallah and I’ve listened compassionately to Mazan Faraj and Rami Elhanan of the Parent’s Circle talk about the loss of their Father and Daughter respectively and how with the help of Yitzhak Frankenthal they found a way to tell their story as a call for enough bullets and bombs and now knives in deference to admitting all they share and to seeking peace together.
And yet I haven’t moved, I am busy trying to live my own life, with a myriad of problems here in Pennsylvania and still I wake up early every day and I look at the Middle East with a goal in mind to learn enough to share it in hopes that my experience may rub off and actually provide some information to others. I did an article back in March of 2003 for the Trenton Times titled; “Life and Death in Nablus,” in which I looked into the 112 day curfew imposed by the IDF mostly through the eyes and ears of activists from the International Solidarity Movement such as Brian Avery and Susan Barclay and a bunch with only first names available after speaking with Huwaida Arraf, (the founding director). The descriptions were horrendous and when one gets too close to the edge of hell, (even from the outside), strange things happen. On the day my article was published, March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie was killed in Rafah. I had been talking to some of her friends and even one who was there in Gaza when it happened. I interviewed Rachel’s parents for an article in another local paper that never ran. Too much heat! And I followed Huwaida and her husband Adam all the way to their leadership of the Free Gaza Movement and an interview at the University of Pennsylvania after the Marvi Marmara incident. Was it an attack on the Marvi Marmara? Was it an IDF provocation that ended in murder? Or were the IHH passengers encouraged to resist on board with as much violence as they could summon by their leader? Did they? And what was the result? Well Adam Shapiro was thrilled because the international community was now paying attention. Oy vey! All the things that ran through my little warped mind came together differently after that. Not because one actor or one side may have used a murder as fodder for his beliefs. But because I finally realized that many on all sides did and do.
A large meal of recognizing how stupid I had been was only the beginning of a gradual re-calibration of my understanding of the situation. It is displayed on so many levels now bated and rebated by Internet trolls and worse that just trying to gain a comprehensive view in the short couple of hours I spend each day is one miserable down payment on my belief in social justice and a road forward to understanding two stories and peace. I read left and right, the Jerusalem Post, MAAN, Al Jazeera, Haaretz, the New York Times and many other news services and write when I can and am not comfortable with any side in this continuing war of attrition. I have made a bunch of Muslim friends, good friends beginning some 16 years ago when I didn’t know a single Muslim by conducting a Jewish/Christian/Muslim dialogue that connected me with a momentary taste of the enormous pain behind the explosion known as the Second Intifada. I went to a new friend’s house who happened to be a Palestinian American with family in and around Jerusalem. I couldn’t tell whether he was more angry at Sharon or Arafat. But he was ready to fight and on that day at that moment was mad enough at everything and everyone that he said he’d bring his kids with him.
It’s easier to believe we understand what we never can because we talked to this one or listened to that one or happened to wander into the edge of a war zone. But what I have discovered is that I have assembled a body of experience that may just buy me a seat to the next experience, little more. I looked on my YAHOO homepage today which should tell you a lot about my level of sophistication and noted a story culled for me through the magic of YAHOO on a Palestinian activist, Rafeef Ziadah who wrote a poem ; ‘We teach life sir,’ some five years ago, (which you can see on YouTube), that became an answer, that has become a song that says everything and yet explains only one face of a resistance that kills civilians in Jerusalem and Hebron and Tel Aviv and more and is unhinged and yet totally connected to the message of the Palestinian Authority and much more importantly the Palestinian people.