We started our morning at Givat Haviva (http://www.givathaviva.org.il/english/) a place I had never heard of before today but can guarantee will be gaining great traction in the coming months. Givat Haviva was this calm, tranquil, kibbutz-like center near Hadera in the north. One of those places where you pull into the driveway and feel your entire body relax. (Sort of like how I get when I arrive at a spa)
Givat Haviva, as you can read for yourself on the website above, is an extraordinary model for what can be achieved not only in the Middle East, but throughout the world. The place has a storied and tumultuous history; one that reflects the trends and movement of Israeli society, particularly over the last twenty or so years. The center has been around for decades, was filled to the brim during the "golden years" of Yitzhak Rabin, was a ghost town during the Second Intifada, nearly folded and had to be totally restructured in the late 2000s, and is now undergoing not-quite-as-agressive-as-Rawabi-but-still-impressive development under the new management of Yaniv Sagee.
The center offers various programs for children and adults that focus on one core thing. One might see it as incredibly simple but it is actually tremendously complex: relationships. The center focuses on face-to-face interactions between Arabs and Israelis, conversation and dialogue, shared experiences, and collective action. It reminds me greatly of the NewGround model (muslimjewishnewground.org) and not only touches but grasps hold of many of the concepts I'm reading about in Ron Wolfson's incredibly popular (amongst Jewish processionals) book, Relational Judaism.
We learn over and over how it's all about relationships. And yet, here is this grassroots organization working overtime to bring together neighboring towns, teenagers from Arab and Israeli schools, and parents of children to teach them how to see one another as human. It's so fundamental and yet so complicated. But it's so deeply necessary. It was inspiring to hear the facilitators and director, Yaniv, talk about the teens whose lives they have touched, their goals for the future (watch the video on the website; it can capture these ideas much better than I) and personally, it was so exciting to think about what is possible and achievable here in this country.
Following Givat Haviva we had lunch and explored the Arab town of Bartha with its former mayor (who also works at Givat Haviva), Riad Kaba. He took us on a tour of the city, unique for two reasons. First, it is split down the middle by the Green Line. Half of it is technically "in Israel" and half of it is technically in the West Bank. It's a complicated place for many reasons and truly representative of one of many levels of fragmentation in the country. But its citizens are hopeful about what can be achieved.
It wasn't explicitly said, but I do think that its proximity to Givat Haviva and its unique location in the center / north of Israel provides it with opportunities to really be at the forefront of this complicated situation. What that means, I'm not quite sure. But again, as this trip has demonstrated over and over, it was so important to be there and see it with my own eyes; to meet the people who are there and doing this and getting up every morning trying to make things better than they were the day before. I admire their dedication and determination so much. My admiration for nearly all the people we're meeting is through the roof.
The day concluded with a gala dinner at Noa Bistro with all of us trip participants and major players and Members of Knesset from the Meretz party. Aside from it being really exciting to have dinner with some amazing people heavily involved in Israeli politics, it was really nice to just put on some nice clothes and makeup and have a nice night out. The past few days have been so intense. We've been moving at a breakneck pace, seeing some really dark and upsetting things, getting more frequent feelings of despair than of hope and excitement. So to go out to a hot restaurant in Jaffa with a bunch of cool people, take selfies, and have a few glasses of wine was really necessary.
I want to end with a few trends I've noticed over the past few days:
1) Nearly everyone we've spoken to has referred in some way to Yitzhak Rabin. People look back on his time as Prime Minister with such fondness and hope. On the right and left, in Israel and in the West Bank, people have the greatest respect for this man who saw everyone - Jew, Muslim, Christian, atheist - as a human being and believed deeply in the potential for peace.
2) People are very impressed with John Kerry's commitment to the Middle East. They are also surprised. Time after time, meeting after meeting, people describe how genuinely determined he is to broker some sort of peace deal between Israel and Palestine and how meaningful that is to them. So, way to go John Kerry. Quitting my job in the summer of 2004 to get him elected as president might not have worked out, but I'd like to think it played at least some role in getting him to his current position of Secretary of State. Right? Right.
Finally, I'm still thinking a lot about the pursuit of justice and what it actually means to do so. What if "justice" means one thing to one person and a completely separate thing to someone else? (Typically, it does) Whose "justice" wins out over the other? What's the morality or ethical boundary of pursuing a more just community / society / world? Things to ponder.