Harvey Stein
Unforgettable digital stories

Bibi – It’s NOT about winning


It’s that difficult time of year in Israel/Palestine again: Israeli drivers are snatching up flags from street vendors, flags on little plastic poles, that stick upwards from car windows and proclaim themselves in the wind.

This Monday evening, fireworks will shoot skyward, marking the triumphant day in May, 1948, when the Israeli Declaration of Independence was signed. Yes, after the Second World War, and the unspeakable Holocaust, it indeed was a miracle.

And literally the next day, is Nakba Day (“Catastrophe Day”)  – for Palestinians, marked by events to commemorate the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who fled their homes and land during these very same days of 1948. (There are about 7.2 million descendents of these refugees today, still living as displaced persons in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.)

Not only that, but last year the Israeli Parliament passed the “Nakba Law”  –  which can literally take away public funding from any Israeli institution that uses funds to mark the day as a “day of mourning.”

And there we have it. The zero-sum thinking that is coded into the Israel/Palestine software. My celebration is your catastrophe. If you win something, it automatically means I lose something.

I’ve been making a documentary film called “A Third Way – Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors” (you can help us finish our movie here) – whose main character is the inimitable Rabbi Menachem Froman, the “settler rabbi for peace.” Rabbi Froman’s strength was that over and over he tried to replace the old software with something new, unexpected, a little crazy.

Froman’s whole adult life he was a settler, and the Chief rabbi of Tekoa settlement. But at the same time, he was notorious for being longterm friends with Yasser Arafat, and especially for his many meetings with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (including visiting Sheikh Yassin in Israeli prison), the spiritual founder of Hamas.

For me, Froman is sort of a Jewish Zen master – smashing peoples’ expectations, almost always with humor, to soften the blow. At one meeting with American Jews in his home, he teased the group, “You know what a settler is?” – and then he play-acted, growling threateningly at the camera. At that same meeting, Froman asked the group, “Do you know what happens when you put two fundamentalists in the same room, without introduction? – They become human!”

Do you know what happens when you put two fundamentalists in the same room, without introduction? – They become human!

Froman naturally thought win-win. Regarding the stumbling block of Jerusalem, he offered a variation on another rabbi’s wisdom (Hillel and his Golden Rule): “I want a Jewish state, I must want there to be an Arab state. I love Jerusalem, I have to want them to have Jerusalem, too.”

I want a Jewish state, I must want there to be an Arab state. I love Jerusalem, I have to want them to have Jerusalem, too.

Bibi Netanyahu said no dice: speaking at a Jerusalem Day ceremony two years ago, he said, “Israel without a united Jerusalem is like a body with a weak heart.” In this time of the right wing triumphant in Israel, Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, put it even more dramatically: if the Palestinians want a capital in Jerusalem, “Let them rename Ramallah ‘North Jerusalem’. “

So much for win-win.

Rabbi Froman was known for his “clapping ritual.” He said it was from one of his mentors, Rebbe Nachman of Bratslov.

One time I saw him, Froman led an audience in slowly clapping together, saying that the hands coming together could resolve all opposing forces: “Left and right in Israel, Israel and the gentile nations, man and woman, heaven and earth, everyday political discourse and words of Torah about peace.”

Froman’s younger proteges, several of whom are also in a “A Third Way”, say similar things about “coming together.” Ziad, who lives in a town outside Bethlehem, and met with Froman many times, said: “The best way to kill the fear between people – is meeting.”

Something happens when you meet face-to-face with “the enemy” (preferably sharing strong coffee here in the Middle East) – we might say that trust can’t begin without such meeting. Meetings mean hospitality, hopefully as much listening as talking, and definitely sharing laughter.


Reconciliation (from Latin re-conciliare, ‘to bring together again’) is the ultimate win-win. Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian activist who has met with many Israelis, and who is now working with Hadassah Froman (Rabbi Froman’s wife) says, “After years, I finally realized, that Palestinian freedom should pass through Jewish hearts.”

Contrast this with Benjamin Netanyahu. He probably got his attitudes first from his father, Benzion, an activist in the Revisionist Zionism movement (a precursor to the Likud party of his son). Netanyahu the elder said in a 2009 interview: “The Jews and the Arabs are like two goats facing each other on a narrow bridge. One must jump to the river – but that involves a danger of death. The strong goat will make the weaker one jump …and I believe the Jewish power will prevail.”

In Israel, the microcosm is often the same as the macro: there’s a winner and a loser. Anyone who has driven in Israel, probably knows this scenario: you’re driving on a main road. Someone wants to enter your lane from a small side road. So they simply stick the nose of their car into your lane, forcing you to make a choice: either stop and let them in, swerve into incoming traffic to avoid hitting them, or hit them. When I want something, one of us – or both – have to lose.

I would be very glad to fly two flags from my car windows, one for each of the two peoples who, one way or the other, will eventually have to learn to hear each others’ narratives – to find a win-win. But I don’t think my windows would last long in this classic win-lose world….

Happy/unhappy Independence/Nakba Day!

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.