Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author

Replenishing Hope for Partnership and Peace

Photo courtesy of Times of Israel
Photo courtesy of Times of Israel

I, an activist for peace and partnership between Palestinians and Jews, was emotionally and spiritually down Monday after participating the night before in a webinar with West Bank Palestinian activist, journalist, and trauma healer Ashira Darwish. She is featured in the new documentary film, “Where Olive Trees Weep”, and there was a webinar with her, moderated by Rabbi Cat Zavis after a screening through Beit Tikkun, an organization spun off from Tikkun Magazine (which no longer exists).

I watched the film before the webinar and was already upset about its one-sided anti-Israel nature. It presents the occupation without any context, except as saying it is part of a colonialist project of the West to take over the East which culminated with the settlement of white Jews in Palestine.

There is no mention of the Hamas attack when discussing the current war in Gaza; no mention of the rejection of the Partition Plan and attack on Israel from the surrounding Arab states and expulsion of Jews from those lands, when discussing the Nakba; no mention of the 2nd Intifada except to praise the suicide bombers as martyrs and freedom fighters. Etc. Etc.

Moreover, the people living in Sderot (and by extension the entire Gaza Envelope) are referred to as “settlers”, thus further trying to legitimate the October 7th attack and the continual barrage of the area with missiles from Gaza.

The film also centrally features trauma healer Gabor Mate, who I, a spiritual companion, find to be an extremely problematic figure on the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He abuses his status as spiritual teacher and Holocaust survivor (he was an infant at the time) to bash Israel and Israeli Jews in a shockingly unsympathetic way (especially for someone claiming to be a spiritual trauma healer!).

Photo from the website of the film “Where Olive Trees Weep” (Screenshot, taken in accordance with Clause 27a of copyright law)

Despite my reaction to the film, I decided to give Beit Tikkun and Ashira the benefit of the doubt and join the webinar. I was extremely disappointed. First, the film was not discussed at all. Second, the meeting was basically a platform for Ashira to further paint Israel and Israelis as racist monsters and Palestinian activists as freedom fighters who rightfully have no interest in compromising their all-or-nothing approach. She said the only way we can have peace on the land from the River to the Sea is if the Jews leave.

When Rabbi Cat asked Ashira if she really means that, she said she meant just the Zionists not all the Jews. The land belongs to the Palestinian people and was stolen from them, she said, but Jews who are willing to live under Palestinian rule are welcome.

The fact that she was unwilling to admit to any unjustified violence on the part of Palestinians, nor condemn Hamas for October 7th or the call in their charter to destroy Israel and the Jewish people, however, did not make that option very inviting even to me, who in an ideal world believes in sharing the land without national borders. But not if it is not safe for Jews!

To my dismay, instead of condemning Hamas, she not only condemned as “normalizing” joint Palestinian-Israeli peace organizations and initiatives like Combatants for Peace and the Bereaved Families Forum, but she said they pay off and use Palestinians to make themselves feel good. She, who was once involved in such organizations, mentioned again and again the trauma Palestinians have from the occupation, and the trauma Jews have from the Holocaust, but she did not mention the trauma Israelis have from Palestinian terror.

This is a huge problem, in my opinion. Israeli society is extremely traumatized by Palestinian terror since before even the founding of the State. Most recently, we are traumatized by October 7th, and will continue to be for a long time — especially if the hostages are not returned. Until both “sides” take responsibility for the conflict and recognize each other’s narratives and humanity, I fear there is no chance for a solution, nor for reconciliation and healing. As a trauma healer, how can Ashira not see this? It became clear to me that healing and reconciliation are not her agenda, and this made me very sad.

Rabbi Cat told Ashira she was going later that day to speak at a peace rally to support the peace rally happening in Tel Aviv the next day (which I was planning to attend) and asked if Ashira had a message for her to relay to those gathered. Ashira’s answer: tell them the only way to have peace in the region is for the West to offer a huge apology to the Palestinian people, dismantle the Zionist entity, and give back all the land to the Palestinians.

I wonder if this is what Rabbi Cat conveyed at that sister rally in California on Sunday; although she freely used the word “genocide” to refer to what Israel is doing in Gaza now, she did seem flustered by what Ashira was saying. I have asked to meet with her on Zoom to discuss the webinar, and have also asked to be connected with Ashira so I can dialogue with her — although I highly doubt she will be willing to speak with me, since I am Israeli.

Either way, after that webinar with Ashira and Rabbi Cat, I was close to despair. If this was what Palestinian activists were saying, if they are not even willing to talk to Jewish Israelis, let alone take any responsibility for the conflict and try to build trust, how could we achieve peace? And if these are the Palestinian voices the Jewish left are promoting, who are my Jewish partners? I felt very alone.

Thankfully, I pulled myself enough out of my black hole to get on the organized bus to the peace rally in Tel Aviv, the one Rabbi Cat’s demonstration was intended to support. I told myself that I cannot make Palestinians try to overthrow their extremist government, but I can try to overthrow mine. And I cannot force Palestinians to recognize Jews’ right to be on this land, but I can fight for Jews to recognize Palestinians’ right to be here.

I cannot force Palestinians to let go of a destructive and unproductive all-or-nothing approach to the conflict, but I can try to convince Israelis to do so, and fight against those in power who have that same all-or-nothing agenda as Ashira is promoting only with Jews ruling over all the land from the River to the Sea instead of Palestinians. And I cannot force Palestinians to believe in a vision of true peace and equality for all, but I can try to promote that vision here in Israel, at least.

From the minute I arrived at the event in Tel Aviv, I felt a weight lifted. There the message was in tune with my vision. Around 6,000 people (Arab and Jewish) from across the country filled a huge auditorium on a Monday evening to talk and sing about TRUE reconciliation and peace. And TRUE Palestinian peace activists spoke from the West Bank on large screens, activists who are willing to be in dialogue and recognize one another’s pain and suffering and take responsibility.

Photo by Haviva Ner-David

There, both October 7th and the war in Gaza were front and center, with bereaved people from both “sides”. The event was a call to end the war (and return all the hostages) and the occupation and find a political solution to the conflict, so that everyone on the land from the River to the Sea can live in equality and peace. There, there was compassion for everyone involved in the conflict and this cycle of bloodshed.

We can stop this and work together for a better future. Photo by Haviva Ner-David

The event, which was held in both Hebrew and Arabic (and sign language), featured both Palestinian and Israeli (Jewish and Arab Israeli) artists (writers and singers); Palestinian and Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli activists; Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders; politicians (past and present Knesset members — Arab and Jewish — who declared on stage their commitment to working towards ending the conflict and the occupation); and people (Arab and Jewish) who lost close family members in the conflict, especially in this war.

One of the main initiators of the event was Maoz Inon, whose parents were both murdered on October 7th in their home on Kibbutz N’tiv Ha’Asarah, who since then has committed himself to making this the last war in the conflict. But he was not the only one. Many people there were bereaved family members who are committed to peace now more than ever.

Maoz Inon speaking at the event, photo by Haviva Ner-David

Popular author and historian Yuval Noah Harari spoke powerfully of how the overwhelming pain and despair of both peoples has led too many from both nations to totally negate the other and create a narrative that centers only around themselves. This, he said, is a recipe for disaster and will only lead us to collective suicide. But it is not too late to change direction and create repair, he said. “War is not a law of nature. It is a decision.” This was comforting for me to hear, as I have been struggling with this question. I hope he is right.

The event was sponsored by a long list of peace and shared society organizations, each of whom had a seating section, including those Ashira condemned in her Zoom talk, such as Combatants for Peace. I sat in the Standing Together section, which has also been boycotted (because of  “normalization”) by the BDS movement. But I could also have sat in the Rabbis for Human Rights section, or the Women Wage Peace section, or a few other organizations I support and in which I am involved.

The Combatants for Peace booth at the TLV event, photo by Haviva Ner-David

I felt embraced by my people, who are not divided into Arabs and Jews or Israelis and Palestinians, but rather, into a group of humans who believe in the vision of a peaceful future for us all on this land.

It was a long event, but I was on the edge of my seat — except when I stood for standing ovations and to sing along with the uplifting music and turn on the light on my phone to join in the call to bring some light to the darkness.

Photo courtesy of Times of Israel

This event helped me personally recommit to the struggle for peace. As the mishnah says, even if we do not succeed in completing the work, we are obligated to stick with it. And it is certainly easier to do that when one feels part of a greater movement of people with this common goal. That was the power of last night’s event. It gave those there a boost of hope and faith to continue the struggle.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of two novels, three spiritual journey memoirs, and the first and only children's book on mikveh. Her memoirs include: Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual companion (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. Her debut novel, Hope Valley, is available at: Dreaming Against the Current: A Rabbi's Soul Journey, is available at: Yonah and the Mikveh Fish is available at: Her new and second novel, To Die in Secret, is available at: Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: Preparing for your Life Together with Ancient and Modern Wisdom, is slated for publication in 2024. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.
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