Okay first of all - please read the post below titled "Days One and Two" before you read this one. Please? Ok. Thanks!
Back? Great. Here we go ...
Today was a day I will never forget.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that interfaith relations/dialogue/learning has been my "thing" for a really long time. I majored in Religious Studies in college, I've participated in interfaith activities and events regularly throughout the last ten or so years, I wrote my curriculum guide for the Ed Year on Jewish identity formation through interfaith learning, and I was a NewGround Muslim/Jewish Partnership for Change Fellow this past year.
I have always believed, even when I wasn't able to articulate it, that engagement with "the other" (which I now define as, someone who does not share the same historical/cultural/religious identification as you) is a hugely powerful, significant experience. I have learned who I am as a Jewish woman largely through exchanges with those who do not identify as Jewish.
So, knowing all this, it might come as a surprise that I never wanted to visit the West Bank when I lived in Israel. Well, I was scared. I wasn't interested in putting myself in danger. Ramallah in particular sounded like a terrifying, disorganized, underdeveloped place. We were discouraged from going, which in hindsight I totally understand. That year our school did everything within its power to return us home safely. (Memories of students surviving the Second Intifada were strong)
Well I'm a few years older now, and maybe I'm less inhibited, or just plain curious. When I heard we were going to Ramallah I was excited. I had a feeling it was going to be ... I don't know. Cool? Exotic maybe? I thought hey, I'm going to be able to go back to California and tell my NewGround buddies that I went to Ramallah and said "shukran" (thank you) to everyone I saw. Again, I figured that the people we were going with would do everything within their power to return us home safely.
What I wasn't prepared for at all was how much it would move me. Not only the city of Ramallah or the absolutely extraordinary achievement that is the city of Rawabi, which you should Google immediately (and I'd provide a hyperlink if I could) but ... the people. The stories they told. The sprawling development of the cities. The incredible graciousness with which people welcomed us. Their desire to make us comfortable. Their creativity, innovation, and drive. Their hopes and dreams. Their humanity. It moved me to tears.
The most memorable and emotional part of today was sitting down for an hour and a half with Dr. Muhammad Shtayyeh. Now, if you Google Dr. Shtayyeh you will find that he is one of the two Palestinian representatives involved in the current negotiations between Israel and Palestine. He and his partner Saeb Erekat have the expectations of the entire Arab world on their shoulders right now. Needless to say, I was a little surprised that he met with our group.
But there he was, talking with us, being one part charismatic politician and one part human being, one part father, brother, & friend, and one part pragmatic and honest and hopeful optimist. Hearing his hopes and frank (and, frankly, relatable) expectations and goals for the process toward a two-state solution was ... I mean, how do you even blog about that ... ? How can I even put it into words? I feel incredibly fortunate to have been in his presence and to add his pieces to my continuously evolving narrative of Israel. It was a gift, even if I didn't agree with every single thing he said.
And yes, of course what he said was skewed. Of course it was loaded. But I can say the same exact thing for the people we met with at Knesset one day before. I can say it about any of us. We see our lives through the prism of that which we want to believe. Our truths are our own. And it became very clear to me after talking with him that in order for people to really, truly form an opinion on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, they need to actually see both places with their own eyes. In order to understand, we must first seek to be understood. And that means bearing witness to it all with our own set of eyes.
Rawabi was ... I mean, it was amazing. It's a planned city that's an investment by the billionaire Bashar Masri, whom we met. It's a commercial and housing development that is neither religious nor secular. The first buildings they built are schools. They've provided the local economy with thousands of jobs. There will be a church and a mosque. There's an industrial center for collaborative projects between Israelis and Palestinians. A third of their workforce are women. And the woman who gave us the tour was a carbon copy of Rumaisa, my friend from NewGround: energetic, brilliant, passionate, and just delightful. The best part of Rawabi? Aside from the fact that it was stunningly beautiful it was also a tremendous symbol: innovative, creative, entrepreneurial, and bold. I feel honored to have seen it going up.
There was a whole lot more that happened today, but I really want this blog post to be about this. I want those reading to know and understand that I love Israel with all my heart and soul and believe a two-state solution is the only true, real, and achievable path to peace. I know that the world is not simple and there is bloodshed, mistrust, lies, and deceit on both sides. But there is also hope, and collaboration, and friendship, and some degree of trust, too. And I hope that this trip and my blogging and my voice can contribute in some small way to that second part; to a world that is capable of seeing peace in our lifetime: peace between two peoples who are not perfect but who can achieve great things alongside one another.
Well, I finished my wine and we moved on to a jazz rendition of one of my favorite songs ever, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." I'd say it's time to call it a night.
Please, comment. Ask questions. Push and challenge. Let me know you're listening. And I hope you are.
Tomorrow is another day and another story. I look forward to telling it to you.