This courageous young woman was killed last Friday by one of Israel’s snipers. According to witnesses, she was wearing her white paramedic’s uniform, attempting to treat protesters near the fence when she was shot. Her story, her life has gone viral. I look at the interview with her on youtube, I course through her photos, I’m torn apart. It’s as though the Shchina, the feminine embodiment of God, was working there at the border fence, when she was shot.
The demonstrations have happened every Friday since Land Day, the 30th of March. We have gotten used to them, no longer headline news. The regularity of massive Palestinian losses is matched only by the total absence of Israeli casualties. And the land, the tortured land. Those fields burning by the border kibbutzim are a child, the child of mother earth, arms yanked by divorced parents, fighting each other for control.
These burning kites! What a darkly imaginative act of guerilla warfare. A few weeks ago there was a burning kite once, twice….. The Gazans are now mass-producing them. They are driving us crazy. As the summer afternoon westerly blows the kites across the fence and drops them in the fields, the very foundation of the Israeli ethos is under attack….devoted farmers working the land at the frontier, facing a mortal enemy…. who is burning the farmer’s crops to the ground, and melting the plastic irrigation. The same irrigation system that enabled Israel to reach around the world to help developing countries turn arid land green while conserving water. We once got to be proud of what we did for others.
I am not proud of the killing of Razan al-Najjar. She has captured hearts around the world, yet she is but one flower in the greenhouse. The numbers are staggering: Al Jazeera reports 131 dead so far and 13,000 wounded. Are their numbers off? Does it matter? In tedious mantras, my fellow Israelis shout out righteous defenses of the sniper killings: “Didn’t you see the films of them breaking through the fence? This is not a peaceful demonstration, force must be met with force, etc.” The justifications are full of righteousness, and they’re always shouted loud and aggressive. Why is that? The maiden doth protest too much, methinks.
Razan’s family name, Najjar” means “carpenter.” Listen to how close it is to the Hebrew word for carpenter, “Nagar.” We are kin, we forget that we are kin. Last night at the Sulha Project Iftar event, for a brief moment, we renewed our kinship. 60 Palestinians and Israelis gathered in Beit Jalla, a suburb of Bethlehem which is in “Area C,” to which both West Bank Palestinians and Israelis have legal access. Before Iftar dinner, we engaged around the meaning of Ramadan and the recent Shavuot holiday. We went into small groups to answer the questions, “Where have I seen grace recently, or been part of a grace-ful moment? And how do I create grace when times are tough?” We shared from our hearts, as we do at our events.
Two guys, we’ll call them Jamal and Sami, threw me for a loop. Jamal spoke of his academic degree and the frustration of finding no work until he was forced to do a medics’ course and now drives an ambulance in his West Bank city. Near his neighborhood there are Jewish settlers, some of them violent and provocative. His ambulance has sometimes been closest to an accident in which Israelis are involved. “I have always hated these Israeli people, my family has suffered from them forever. But when we went to an accident, I had to see that a wounded person is human, and we care for them just as we would for a wounded Palestinian.” Sami then told of getting a long-sought IDF permit to travel to an Israeli spa for a day of ease. One of his friends fell from a large swing, and he was seriously injured. Sami ran to the Israeli in charge and his first question was, “Where are you from?” Sami pulled out his ID and the permit, and the man became nasty. He demanded that Sami show that he has money to pay for an ambulance. Sami said, “I was so worried for my friend, and this guy was being so difficult. But then I saw other Israelis coming to offer help. They were very kind, brought water and a blanket. And I realized there are all kinds of Israelis, just like Palestinians.”
As we broke the fast over dinner, I kept re-running their sharing in my mind. What got me was the privilege of being in this magical moment, witnessing something most Israelis don’t get to experience…. two Palestinian young men confronting their own prejudices about Israelis and changing their outlook. Talk about moments of grace!
Once dinner was over and the smokers had had a couple of cigarettes after 16 hours’ abstinence, we ended the evening with a drumming circle, a dreaming circle, and we sang a song of peace. In several hours we had created an island of solidarity between warring peoples. Facebook names and phone numbers were scribbled amongst the lingering good-byes in the parking lot.
I should have been happier than I felt. But an invisible pall of sorrow hung over this Sulha event. Even amidst the gentleness of the connecting that happened all evening, none of us could escape the horror of these days in Gaza, the young dead Palestinians’ stories and images penetrating our space, our lives. The news clips of the fires that swallow groves of 70 year old trees along with the wheat fields. Clouds and clouds of smoke. And the face of Razan Najjar, hovering in the air.
Yoav Peck is director of the Sulha Peace Project