Some days ago I participated in the Jewish Media Summit that brought together hundreds of Jewish journalists and Social Media personalities from around the world, for a three and a half day conference in Jerusalem. Day one included a jam packed schedule of lectures and panels by experts and elected officials at a conference center in Mishkanot Sh’ananim in Jerusalem. The program for day two allowed the participants to choose one of four bus treks for an inside look at different aspects of Israel’s realities. The plan included one of four choices for the day: Track 1: The Start Up Nation, High Tech, Innovation, and entrepreneurship, Track 2: Security, Coexistence and settlements, Track 3: The Good Life of Israel: Art, Culture, Cinematography, Dance and Cuisine, Track 4: Jerusalem, the Heart of the Nation: Temple Mount and the Western Wall. I chose to get on the coexistence bus tour in Gush Etzion.
Over the past year I have led over 50 VIP tours on what I like to call the Shomron Impact Tour which is aimed at giving an opportunity to high profile influencers from around the world, a firsthand experience on the ground in Shomron. Many know of Shomron and Gush Etzion in a political context as the “West Bank.” And being that this region is over reported in the general news around the world, many people think that they already know all about it. But, again and again, I have seen my guests, like the guests on the tour in Gush Etzion, express great surprise to see the unexpected, when they dare to cross over the “dark mountains” of the reality they imagined here, based on the narrow picture shown to them in the media.
The plan for the day was to meet some security expert who would explain why the separation barrier is great for Israel. I really have no patience for hearing this argument, which I think is manipulative and false in many ways. So I didn’t mind missing this stop altogether and joining the group and getting on the bus at the second stop, at the village of Husan. This is a Palestinian village in the center of Gush Etzion, about 20 minutes south of Jerusalem and next to the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox city of Betar. In the past many residents of Husan were active in terrorism and regularly threw stones at passing Israeli vehicles. But, over the years that attitude has changed. Our bus entered the village with no special military escort, We might have forgotten that we were in the middle of the “wild west bank” and mistakenly thought that we were driving through some quiet Arab village in the western Galil.
Our bus driver skillfully drove down the very narrow winding roads of Husan and delivered us to an open stairway leading to the beautiful stream and manmade pond in the valley below. There we met Inon Dan Kahati and Ziad Sabateen, who together lead the Home, a non-funded grassroots initiative that brings together Jews and Arabs, (in other words settlers and Palestinians), to pick up trash together as a means to Clean the Hate.
The two spoke with our group of about 40 Jewish journalists and social media personalities, about their vision of a land so dear to its inhabitants, clean of trash and not less important, clean of hate. Over recent years, the two have organized mixed groups in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem to come together and pick up garbage in the public domain. Ziad tells that in the past he was active in different so-called “peace organizations,” but he left them after he discovered that Israeli leftists were not interested in fostering peace between Arabs and Jews who actually live in this area (Judea and Samaria). He says that living in peace with the Jews, whose homes he can see from his window is first on his list.
Although I came with the media group, I was also asked to say a few words as I too am a Jew who lives in the Shomron and am affiliated with “the Home” and support this agenda. Jewish people and Arab people live in this land and revere it as holy and special. International newspapers and governments see this as a problem that needs to be resolved. Many are convinced that the only way to resolve this problem is to uproot the Jewish residents and displace them, as was done, and failed so terribly, in Gaza and Northern Shomron in 2005.
Maybe the answers lie in the hands of humble people who are willing to bend down to the ground and pick up cigarette butts out of love for the land that we believe is holy and in a voluntary and sincere quest for peace.