By Jeff Parness | May 15, 2018
One week ago Friday, I had the privilege of speaking with two Palestinian journalists in Gaza on the phone, Jamal and Mohamed. I spoke with them in both Arabic and English.
Mahrhabahn yah Jamal Minshawe wah Mohammed O. Al-Astal (Hello Jamal and Mohamed) Ismi Jeffrey. (My name is Jeffrey) Ana min New York. (I am from New York). My grandfather was born in Jerusalem, Al-Quds.
To which Jamal and Mohamed responded: “Wow! Jerusalem is a very special place.”
ANA YAHUD. (I am a Jew). ANA MIN AMRIKA. (I am American) AND I CARE ABOUT YOU.
Jamal and Mohamed immediately responded:
“Thank you for those feelings Jeff. We send them back. We care about you too.”
I believe Peace is built one relationship at a time. Between one person and another. I believe that Peace is about recognizing the fundamental humanity of the other. I believe God wants us to build connections between people. And I believe those connections between people are Holy.
Most importantly I believe in the right of Palestinians and Israelis to both live in freedom, dignity, and security, as equals in the eyes of God, our Creator.
This special phone call with Jamal and Mohamed was made possible by some wonderful people from Holland, Ton and Annelise, who traveled to Gaza to provide trauma support for Palestinians. Ton and Annelise and their friends then travelled to Israel to come to The Lighthouse to Gaza, a very special place near Kibbutz Be’eri and very close to Buraij, where Israelis and Palestinians have been gathering each Friday for the past eight weeks to open their hearts, open their minds, and open their ears to listen to the voices of the people from Gaza.
I traveled from New York to be at The Lighthouse to Gaza four times in the past month. I brought with me Stars of HOPE, wooden stars painted with messages of love and compassion by children from around the world. But the real reason I keep going back to the weekly meetings at Lighthouse to Gaza is to learn about Hope.
Rami taught me about the power of walls. Walls separate. And walls make it easy for us not to see the people on the other side. But when we build physical walls to separate and protect us, we also build walls in our heart that make it harder for us to feel the humanity of the people on the other side. In doing so, walls diminish from our own humanity.
Roni taught me about the power of love. A resident of a village right next to the separation wall with the northern part of Gaza, Roni had rockets land on her house. She had a friend killed by rockets. But Roni taught me that her humanity means that she MUST care for the people on the other side. To have love in her heart for the people on the other side. To hope for a better future for them and their children. They are our neighbors. We must care about them too.
Ghadir, a Palestinian woman from the north of Israel has travelled to the Lighthouse to Gaza and brought friends many times. I watched as she cried openly one day knowing that her Palestinian brothers and sisters would be wounded, some killed, by Israeli army sniper fire not far from where we were sitting. I watched as Israelis comforted her, put their arms around her, shared her pain.
I believe Humanity is about acknowledging and feeling the pain of the other.
As a Jew from America, I recognize how painful this week will be with the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. My heart breaks for all the Palestinians mourning the loss of their homes, their villages, their homeland, and their way of life. My heart breaks for all the people, young and old, who will die this week, or be injured physically or emotionally from the continued trauma, from expressions of rage, from the military response with bullets, with bombs, with tear gas. Your pain is real and I acknowledge it.
As a Jew, I must also acknowledge the pain of the many people on this side of the border too. Of the many Jews who were uprooted from their beloved communities across the Arab world in response to the Nakba. I have met many here who still mourn the loss of their connection to their beloved villages and cities and way of life from Tislit, Morocco to Baghdad, Iraq.
And as a Jew, I must acknowledge the pain of all the people here who still bear the trauma of the Holocaust, of the six million Jews, men and women – 1.5 million of them children – who were systematically marched into the gas chambers by the Nazis in the years leading up to the Nakba. Their trauma, their pain is still very real too.
What I learned at The Lighthouse to Gaza is that if we do not transform our pain, we transmit it.
But with all this pain, I still have Hope.
There is a Holocaust survivor here in Israel by the name of Azriel who volunteers his time to drive Palestinian families from the checkpoints in the West Bank to Israeli hospitals so that their children can receive dialysis and chemotherapy. He is a volunteer with The Road to Recovery בדרך להחלמה, a group started by Yuval Roth whose brother was killed by Hamas fighters in Gaza. Yuval chose to transcend his pain by helping Palestinian families receive medical care. He built something positive. He is a shining star of hope. A symbol of Humanity.
I have hope because of Robi and Bassam, and Rami and Ali, and all the other Palestinian and Israeli families who chose to mourn the loss of their loved ones to this conflict TOGETHER – as a way to create relationships with their grief. These holy relationships are what break down our fears and our hate. Robi and Bassam and all the other members of פורום המשפחות השכולות Parents Circle Families Forum منتدى العائلات الثكلى know that our tears are all the same color.
I have hope because of my friends Sulaiman and Chen, Osama and Maia, and all the other members of Combatants for Peace who decided to throw down their weapons and follow the path of non-violent political protest to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and independence for the Palestinian people. They are not naïve or foolish. They are honest and self-reflective. Maia shared the painful words in a movie about the group: “When I was in the Army, we put our boots on the necks of the Palestinians just to let them know who had the power.” These are painful words to hear as a Jew. But they are genuine.
I have hope because of Ahmed, a former member of Hamas whose family came from Gaza. He paid his respects at my Jewish grandfather’s grave in Jerusalem with the words “It is an honor to meet you and to know that your family cares about Peace as much as my family does.” It is possible for people to change.
And I have hope because of all the extraordinary people I have met in recent weeks from נשים עושות שלום – نساء يصنعن السلام – Women Wage Peace, Other Voice קול אחר صوت آخر עומדים ביחד نقف معًا and Machsom Watch – מחסום ווטש who are aspiring for moral and spiritual perfection. Who are doing things with their actions, with their voices, to say: “People of Gaza, we hear your pain. You are not alone. We are with you.”
I have hope because of the moral courage of a former Israeli tank commander in the Yom Kippur War from a very prominent military family who sat at The Lighthouse to Gaza, pointed to the border, and said: “1.8 million people over there are living in the world’s largest open-air prison.”
Each one of these people are trying whatever they can do as citizens to change the political situation, the military situation, the consciousness of the people and leaders. Each one of these people is a living example of the biblical commandment to LOVE THY NEIGHBOR.
And I have hope because of the friends I have made in Gaza through the use of technology to create genuine connections of respect, compassion, hope, and love. Jamal, Mohamed, Marwan, and Omar.
One of my favorite videos on the Internet is of the mystical Rabbi Menachem Froman, of blessed memory, who walked into a Palestinian Muslim village in the West Bank in a Jewish prayer shawl after radical Jewish settlers burned the mosque. Rabbi Froman spoke to the crowd: “Real men of God do not burn houses of God.” He then led the crowd in a chant of Allah Hu-Ahkbar! He was right. God IS great.
But my God, our God, the God of Abraham, also demands we speak the truth.
On the eve of Israeli Memorial Day, the saddest day in the Israeli calendar, David Grossman, the recipient of this year’s Israel Prize for Literature, addressed thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who gathered at a park in Tel Aviv to mourn together. He proclaimed that after 70 years, Israel does not yet have a home. Israel has a fortress. But not a home. A home is where people can relax. And Israel will not have a home until the Palestinians have a home.
He spoke the truth. He feels your pain.
There is a story in Jewish tradition that a woman came to her Rabbi with a very difficult problem, a very emotional problem. A problem of grief and loss. The Rabbi responded to her: “I cannot solve your problem. But I can cry with you.”
I realize my words here will not bring any immediate help to our brothers and sisters, our neighbors in Gaza. My words will not restore electricity. Put food in the bellies of children crying out in hunger. Provide clean drinking water. Put needed medicines on the shelves of hospitals. And my words may not speed up the process to help the Palestinian people live in freedom, peace, and dignity.
This will be a difficult week. A painful week. And I pray for the moral courage, vision, and commitment to our shared humanity for all the leaders on both sides.
But I hope in some small way, my simple words may reach across the border of Gaza and touch your heart and soul. And in some small way give you hope to know that there are people on the other side who have genuine love in their hearts for you, your families, and your future.
I AM A JEW. AND I CARE ABOUT YOU.
May 13, 2018
The Lighthouse to Gaza