Penny S. Tee
May You Live in Peace, שלום and سلام.

Peace Exists Today Between Israelis and Palestinians? Yes!

PEACE with Penny SEASON 5: Penny S. Tee Interviews

Phil Saunders of Path of Hope and Peace Part I

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone meshuga (Yiddish for crazy), as my mom would say, Peace is alive and well, even during the Israel-Hamas War.

It’s true, Peace exists today between Israelis & Palestinians, but you must know where to look. I’ve been trying to shout it to the world for the last three years through my vodcast, PEACE with Penny.

There are hundreds of Peace organizations whose members are Israelis and Palestinians, but sadly, the media has convinced the world that there never will be Peace. Getting past the horrific death scenes and morbid destruction takes effort that most don’t have the stomach, time, nor interest, to look further. They probably assume all they will find is more of the nauseating same.

Now that I’ve introduced myself in my first Times of Israel Blog,  let’s introduce our first Peace organization whose members are Israelis and Palestinians. The organization is Path of Hope and Peace (POHAP) and is led by Phil Saunders, a Jewish Israeli living in Tzur Hadassah and Ziad Sabateen, a Palestinian who lives in Husan, in the West Bank.

Our first interview with Phil was over two years ago and we have followed him and his partner ever since. Why? Because their organization is effective, engaged, and work every day to keep the Peace they’ve established in their towns. I specifically mention Phil and Ziad because as situations arise, they run toward it to ensure Peace prevails.

Although our point person is Phil, don’t doubt for a minute that Ziad isn’t also ensuring that life in Husan continues unabated. Ziad had been a member of various Peace organizations, and he became very close with Rabbi Froman, who was known as “The Settler Rabbi for Peace”. Together they formed “Land of Peace,” an interfaith Peace organization. Unfortunately, Rabbi Froman died, but Ziad later helped found POHAP. It’s my opinion that both Phil and Ziad are heroes, sans the capes and tights.

In Israel and the West Bank or Judea and Samaria, it is common for towns to be comprised of specific ethnic or religious residents. The distinct populations live closely, but rarely together.

Congratulations are in order because the bottom-line today, even during the Israel-Hamas War, POHAP has helped keep the Peace between their three partnering towns, each with their own flavors. Tzur Haddasah is 50% Jewish modern orthodox and Zionist, and 50% Zionist, secular Jews (Jewish culturally, but not religious) in a town of about 12,000 just within the Green Line in Israel.1

Husan is a traditional, Muslim, West Bank, Palestinian town of approximately 8,000.2 They once were known for growing many terrorists and stoking violence, like the Jenin of today, but smaller. Thankfully, however, for years now, they have lived in Peace with their neighbors.

Beitar Illit is an ultra-religious settlement of nearly 50,000. 3 You may be surprised to learn that they are not Zionist—you won’t see any Israeli flags flying there, the men study and pray all day, and aren’t required to enlist in the military like all other Israeli citizens and often live on welfare. They are located in Judea and Samaria.

With the hard work of all three towns, they are a triumphant triumvirate, Peacefully living closely together. What happened to make this change? POHAP began in 2014, initially as a connection between Peacemakers in the Israeli town of Tzur Hadassah and the Palestinian town of Husan. They’ve managed to transform hostilities into a win-win coexistence, and to become a flagship model of conflict transformation inspiring a pioneering new paradigm for Peaceful coexistence in the Holy Land, and they form the Husan, Beitar Illit, and Tzur Haddasah Model. POHAP has added a few other cooperating towns that they are working with as well.

At the entrance of Husan is still the ominous Israeli government red sign with foreboding white lettering, warning Israelis not to enter for their safety, a reminder of the dangers during the intifadas. Yet, Phil would tell you that the sign is out-of-date. In fact, as you walk through the Palestinian West Bank town, most of the signs are written in Hebrew, with attractive names such as the Carwash and Kiosk of Peace, because their livelihoods depend upon Israelis getting their cars fixed, or washed, or buying goods inexpensively—both sides benefit.

If you remember, in May 2021, there was a major outbreak of violence. Iron Dome was kept busy defending Israelis, blowing up the Palestinian missiles in the sky avoiding injury to Israelis, while Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad sent rockets from Gaza targeting Israelis.4 There were threatened evictions from Sheikh Jarrah and the Israeli police stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque using tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades.5  Riots were rampant, hundreds were killed, and thousands injured.

Yet Phil raised our spirits in a video, as he walked through Husan, showing us that despite fires burning throughout the land, in their haven all was still calm. In fact, at the end of May, 2021, normal activities had resumed and a group of Jewish Israelis and Arabs refreshed themselves together, splashing in the natural springs of Husan. They shared food, danced, and as the accordion and guitar music filled the respite, the folk singer playing her guitar happily sang lyrics which included the words yahad, which means together.

In 2021, POHAP’s Coexistent Communities prototype was awarded the IIE Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East.

One of my favorite stories about Husan is that they have a restaurant, called “The Lonely House” (English translation) with wide television screens for their customers to enjoy. At the end of 2022, during the soccer World Cup, the ultra-orthodox Israelis loved to come watch the games, but they also wanted to eat. What did the Palestinian restaurant do? They learned what was needed to comply with the strict rules, and they obtained a Kosher certification. I’d say this shows how much is going right in this enclave of Peace, don’t you?

In September 2023, at PEACE with Penny, we felt it was time to do an update of their work and had just recorded our interview when videos from October 7th, the monstrous attack on Israeli civilians coming back from a music festival, and in their beds in kibbutzim by the border of Gaza, slithered onto our electronic devices.

One of the ironies was that many of those innocents Hamas was mutilating, torturing and taking hostage, were Peace activists. But then again, Hamas has no interest in Peace, their intent repeatedly stated is to destroy Israel, bring genocide again to the Jewish people, and for the land from the river to the sea, to be theirs forevermore.

On October 10th, just three days after the horrific massacre, Phil sent us a voice message, and it was disturbing to hear his anguished tale, he said, “We’re now three days into this horror and it’s just getting worse and worse, and all the indications are that we’re just at the beginning. And from a personal point of view, I can honestly say that these three days have been the most shocking, distressing and frightening three days of my entire eighteen years living here.”

“Day One, we were blasted from complacency”—I had to smile as he intentionally used the title of my book to begin conveying the events, yet I recognized his meaning—his life also would never be the same.

“I awoke at 7 in the morning to the sounds of thuds in the distance followed by rocket sirens that began in our area at 8:15, and we scuttled down to our reinforced room, me, my wife and teenage daughter, and ended up spending the whole morning there, because there were so many rocket sirens. More that morning, than I had heard in my entire eighteen years up until that point. And while sheltering there, I was exchanging lots of messages with my Peacemaker partners, including Palestinian friends living in the neighboring villages, who had had rockets fall in their villages and we were all expressing solidarity and mutual support because we felt like we were experiencing this together.”

“And by comparison, Day Two was eerily calm, and I decided to leave the house for the first time, and went around Tzur Hadassah, my town and into Ziad’s town, Husan. And everything was eerily quiet. It was like the eye of the storm, and that was the day that the full truth descended upon us, that what had happened the previous day was Israel’s 9/11. Where Hamas flooded into Israeli communities killing and kidnapping at will, with apparently Israeli security forces nowhere in sight for hours. And as the second day proceeded the death toll just rose and rose from double figures into triple figures and was approaching a thousand by the end of the day leaving us reeling in shock, and horror, and fear of what might be to come.”

“And then on Day Three, Israel’s response began in full force, and now the Palestinian death toll is also rising and rising, and we are all suffering terribly, and I had to think whether it was appropriate to release our interview at such a horrifically dark time, but then I thought maybe its message is needed now more than ever. Because we have to show that there is another way, instead of fighting each other we can live together and that’s what we have been doing now for many years in this part of the land, and we are standing strong together because we are not willing to let violence and extremism drive a wedge between Israelis and Palestinians in this neighborhood. I believe our interview can be a vital message of hope at this terrible time.”

I’m happy to say that they have maintained the Peace thus far throughout the war. Along the way, there have been trepidations like the recent arrest of thirteen Husan residents, eleven of which were released immediately, and the other two also followed a bit later. As Phil verified to me, “They are not terrorists!” And there was the erroneous reporting of a terrorist attack by an assailant who was said to be a resident of Husan, but wasn’t. Irritations that didn’t help but left their “Zone of Coexistence” undisturbed.

Other nuisances were that at the beginning of the war, the army closed the gate at the entrance of Husan and blocked Israelis from entering the local Palestinian villages. It’s not clear why, but one of the Palestinian villages, Wadi Fukin, was left on the Israeli side of the barrier. They also shop in Husan and had to deal with the inconvenience.

So now the Palestinians bring their products up to the gates of Husan and the Israelis purchase products under the watchful eyes of the soldiers.

Because these are reservist soldiers, every 45 days there is a new contingent. Phil meets with them each time, so they are made aware of the Peaceful atmosphere between the local Israelis and Palestinians. The soldiers are reminded that they are not in Gaza, and there is no need for hardline attitudes with their Palestinian neighbors. The local Israelis and Palestinians coexist together Peacefully, and they want to keep it that way.

Most of the soldiers are receptive to Phil’s updates on the environment in his community—but not all. There was one soldier in the middle of October, who needed an attitude adjustment. Phil received a phone call from his Palestinian friends at the gate, that the soldier was threatening them. Phil walked up to the front gate and his friends identified the aggressive soldier. Phil went over and spoke with him and told him that they are trying to keep the Peace here, and that is what the soldier wants to do as well, so Phil said, “Let’s work together.”

But the soldier said, confrontationally “That’s not why I’m here.” So, Phil inquired, “Why are you here?”

The soldier replied, “I’m here for victory.”

Phil explained, “If you want victory, go to Gaza. There’s a war there, but there is no war here and we don’t want anyone bringing it.”

Having heard enough, Phil asked in a loud voice, ”Who’s in charge here?”

One of the three soldiers present answered, “I am.” So, Phil caught him up on the conversation he had with the soldier, advising the senior officer that the community didn’t need a soldier with that kind of attitude in this neighborhood. Within thirty minutes a jeep arrived, took the soldier away, and they never saw him again. Don’t know if he was Gaza-bound, but my mom, if she were alive, would say, Gay cocken offin yam! which means according to my mother’s translation, Go take a s__t for yourself!, or in nicer words, Go away!  As you can tell, my mother didn’t mince words, and as the expression popped into my mind, it put a smile on my face.

In Phil’s most recent message on February 19, 2024, he gave me an update. As we said previously, every 45 days there had been a rotation of reserve soldiers in the area. That meant any relationships and understandings in this sensitive location had to start again, and hope for the best.

However, two weeks ago in the most recent rotation, the reservists have been replaced with professional soldiers who have orders to stay in the area. Phil met with the new officer in charge and had a 30-minute meeting with him. Phil felt encouraged as the officer listened intently to the description of what had been achieved with the local towns and the soldier seemed to be on board. There even were discussions of the possibility of opening the gate to Husan during certain hours so that if the Israelis had cars to be fixed, they could drive them to the gate, and the Palestinian mechanic could drive the car back to his shop rather than having to bring his tools to work on the cars by the gate. This seemed to be moving in the right direction.

Path of Hope and Peace has several projects currently and proposed, that bring together Israelis and Palestinians:

  1. Coexistence Tourism: Israelis during COVID couldn’t travel abroad on vacations, so Husan offered their natural springs and relaxation which became very popular via word of mouth. Hundreds of Israelis came from throughout the land to enjoy the Palestinian hospitality and some joined the POHAP organization because of the comfortable coexistence they discovered. Many came back repeatedly. Phil told us that sometimes it took just one visit to change their mindset toward the “other.”
  2. Israeli and Palestinian Women Connections: Groups of Israeli and Palestinian women have meetings and go on excursions together, building and strengthening a bond of understanding.
  3. Early Childhood Education: Art, music and language classes for Palestinian and Israeli children taught by Israelis.
  4. Israeli-Palestinian Entrepreneurship: A few Israelis and Palestinians have started businesses together. They want to eventually put together a shared society Chamber of Commerce. The young also want to move away from agriculture and learn high tech skills for start-ups.
  5. The Abrahamic Tent Project: POHAP  wants to have a proper meeting place. They are developing a budget for the project.
  6. Intercultural Events: Collaborate with other organizations to celebrate holidays/events. They have held Sukkot in collaboration with the Abrahamic Movement. They made Kosher Maqluba (Using Kosher chicken made by Palestinian women with a traditional Levantine recipe, finished by flipping the brimming pot upside down and revealing the prized delicacy). You have to admire the cooperation!
  7. Local Farmers Market: Planning to do a farmers’ market for the Palestinians to sell their produce on Fridays. Also sell Palestinian cooked food.
  8. Environmental Programs: Work together on the Palestinian sewage problems, collaborating with the municipalities. Also worked on cleaning up trash in the fields and with the field schools.
  9. Preservation Programs: Renovation of Husan’s ancient irrigation system. The pipes in Husan are decaying so they are working on improving and looking for investors. These are UNESCO areas.
  10. Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) Program: Training Palestinians to use a public defibrillator and purchase defibrillators for them to be placed throughout their community, like in the Israeli towns.
  11. Pre-Army Group: Engage with young Israelis prior to going into the army and tell them about POHAP initiatives. It helps humanize the Palestinians before they encounter them when they are soldiers.
  12. Judicial Reform: Discussions with all groups to understand differing perspectives.

What Path of Hope and Peace have created with their neighbors is a model that if emulated, would move communities closer toward a goal of Peace. Their story is inspiring and exudes hope. Not bad for communities that the whole world thinks can never live in Peace.

For the complete interview with Phil Saunders from October 10, 2024, click here. I was about to close this blog when I received a call from Phil who was out on another adventure which I’ll tell you about in the next blog.

As a final acknowledgment to those suffering because of the Israel-Hamas War, illness, or any of life’s hardships, I’d like to share my favorite song for healing by Michael Hunter Ochs, called, “A Healing Song Refuah Shlema”. Refuah Shlema is Hebrew for Get Well Soon. I often send it to people when they need to heal. I find comfort in music, do you? I think all the world could use a listen. Michael graciously gave me permission to play it for you. I’ve decided to share it at least as long as the war persists. From my perspective, I’d say the whole world needs comfort. You can find it toward the end of the video of the interview with Phil Saunders above at the beginning of the blog at 25 minutes and 10 seconds. I hope it helps you. I know it makes me feel better every time I listen.

I hope you will share this blog and show your friends that Peace is not only possible, but it exists today, if you know where to look.

Let me know what you think.

May You Live in Peace, שלום and سلام


1 “Tzur Hadassah,” Wikipedia,

2 “2024 Husan,” Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics,

3 Population Hub,

4 “2021Israel-Palestine Crisis,” Wikipedia,

5 “2021Israel-Palestine Crisis,” Wikipedia,


About the Author
Penny S. Tee is a vodcaster, speaker, author, and educator. She interviews Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, together forging a better future. Why? Read her book, “BLASTED from COMPLACENCY: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel,” which describes her 2014 family vacation in Israel—daily touring sacred places, and cowering in bomb shelters at night. The missiles blew up her comfortable world—today she devotes her life to Peace.