Harvey Stein
Unforgettable digital stories

Freedom — for all “between the River and the Sea”

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(Police Spokesperson’s Unit)

In one of the worst attacks, three days ago, in a north Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood, two Palestinian teen cousins stabbed a man, and then pursued and stabbed a 13-yr old boy on his bike.

The 13-yr old Israeli boy was in critical condition, but it now looks like he’ll survive. The younger Palestinian cousin, also 13, was shot by police, and in an iPhone video seen now by over two million people on Facebook, both police and ambulance workers just look at him for several minutes, and pedestrians shout for him to die, as he lies in a pool of his blood in front of the camera.

Tonight, I roll my bike out the door of my Jerusalem home for my nightly bike ride, but it feels different right away. As I exit my yard I check left, up the alley that leads to Hebron Road, on the other side of which is the Palestinian neighborhood of Abu Tor. As I bike towards Bethlehem Road in the dark, I can feel pedestrians checking me out — the air is sticky with suspicion. Later, I pass a dark park where during the day Palestinian families often play — will someone be hiding behind a tree, ready to throw a chunk of concrete at me, riding up the sidewalk?

Yes, the 2-state “solution” fell apart (blame whomever you want), and now many younger Palestinians, and some Israelis on the left, have started to talk about another goal: human rights. We all need and deserve the same rights.

Being an American immigrant to Israel, I immediately jump to that amazing Declaration: we are all created equal (whatever we call the one who created us), endowed with those “unalienable rights….including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In the West Bank, Palestinians see Israeli settlers living only a kilometer or two from then, and have to ask: “Why can that Israeli travel anytime he wants to Tel Aviv — to put his feet in the Mediterranean, or to go to a business meeting — and I can’t? Why can that settler hop in his car to spend the day in Jerusalem and I can’t? Why don’t the same laws apply to him and me?”

And East Jerusalem’s 370,000 Palestinians are mostly not full citizens, only residents. If they leave Israel for more than a few years, their residency permits can be permanently revoked. Again, totally different rights than every Israeli Jew living here in Jerusalem.

During this terrible time, I noticed a Palestinian Facebook friend had posted a photo of one of the stabbers on her FB page, next to a photo of a lace wedding dress hanging on a balcony, the golden Dome of the Rock in the distance — and the caption (in Arabic): “Jerusalem groom to be received by the bride tonight in heaven. Glory and immortality.”

As abhorrent as this kind of thinking is to most Israelis, it is popular among young Palestinians this week. I opened a chat with her, wondering how she would respond: “I know many Palestinians are angry and frustrated now, but do you really believe violence will change things?”

“It’s not violence, it’s self defense. We can’t suffer anymore.”

Me again, “But you don’t think violence will just create more violence?”

Her: “We can’t stand it anymore, we will not stop until we get our freedom.”

She and I live in very different worlds – how long will this tragic, bloody war between our two worlds last?

I am currently finishing a documentary, “A Third Way — Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors,” about the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, the amazing Israeli “settler rabbi for peace.” We also followed several younger settlers and Palestinians who are walking in his footsteps. (You can help us finish it here).

Ali Abu Awwad, is an inspiring Palestinian activist whose brother was killed 15 years ago by Israeli soldiers. Like literally every other older Palestinian man I know, he spent several years in Israeli prison (him for throwing stones during the First Intifada). Behind bars, Ali read Gandhi, MLK and others — he came out renouncing violence, but still clearly expressing his needs — he told my camera, “The solution for me means, every single human being in this land will act, think, and behave — freely.”

The solution for me means, every single human being in this land will act, think, and behave — freely. — Ali Abu Awwad

Call me crazy, but to me it’s obvious, the young inflamed Palestinians who are stabbing innocent people are saying: we don’t have freedom — and so we want you to feel what lack of freedom is also. Like us, we want you to feel pure fear when you walk outside your door, when you go shopping, when you ride on the bus.

Rabbi Froman was living completely the Jewish path, the path of Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” In a way, this “Jerusalem Intifada” had to happen: We Israelis want our freedom, but our unresolved situation with our neighbors is depriving them daily of their freedom. And they want to shock us awake, to feel exactly what they are feeling.

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More than a few of of my “right wing” friends repeat to me the phrase attributed to Golda Meir: “There will be no peace until they learn to love their children more than they hate us.”

But if she actually said this, it was in the 1950s. In other words, after 60 years, they still haven’t learned their lesson, they’re still not ready for freedom. But that’s the colonial attitude, same as the British — of course the difference is, the Brits had a nation, across a large ocean. We Americans beat them in a war, and they all went back home. We Israelis and Palestinians don’t have another home to go to.

Many people on both sides think violence is the only answer: the only wisdom our fearful leader had yesterday was, “We will win this war.” And the Jerusalem mayor’s solution is — for anyone with a gun license, carry your weapon at all times. (It makes obvious sense, at least for the next 10 minutes….)

Many on the Palestinian side, even older people, are afraid to publicly condemn the stabbers. In the broken down society of East Jerusalem (where Israeli municipal services rarely dare to go), when a parent wants to bring things up with his/her child, the child just calls him a coward. So for now, the Intifada rolls on, each attack worse than the last, happening in more and more cities across Israel.

It may take many years until enough people see past the fear and denial raging in front of our faces. However we live, a kilometer or two away from them — they must live the same way. The churches of the early Middle Ages preserved Greek works of wise philosophers as decades-long wars raged all around them. Until this war between neighbors ends, we need to keep alive the vision of freedom, for all of us “between the River and the Sea.”

About the Author
Harvey Stein is a filmmaker and video journalist, originally from New York City, now living most of the year in Jerusalem. His last feature film was "A Third Way - Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors", about the unique Rabbi Menachem Froman and his protégés, both Israelis and Palestinians. Harvey believes that digital media can be a crucial force for positive change in these tough times. You're welcome to follow his work and contact him for any reason.
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