It's Easy to Hate an Abstract

Trip Start Aug 20, 2013
Trip End Jun 19, 2014

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Flag of Palestinian Territory  , West Bank,
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

 I have been back in Israel for about a month, and I have not written a blog since my fraught visit to Hebron.  It seems weird for me that living and working in Israel has become just a part of my everyday life, and thus I do not feel the need to express myself in blog form for the most part unless I go on a trip, attend a rally or do something else very exciting. This blog is going to talk about the second Tikkun Olam trip to Jerusalem and it focused on a lot the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy City.  

 The trip was divided into two parts, a bus tour of East Jerusalem given by Ir Amim, a left-wing Israeli NGO, which strives to educate people about the conditions of the Israeli occupation and its effect on East Jerusalem.   In 1967 Israel captured Jerusalem and expanded the city limits of the municipality to annex land, but also to control the high ground surrounding Jerusalem.  This meant that many Palestinians who lived in the West Bank, were placed in the municipality of Israel.  The tour took us to many spots I visited on my MASA Shabbaton, as talked about in Blog Entry 18, including Gilo, Nof Zion and the overlook of the Old City near the UN Headquarters.  I drove through the Separation Barrier, which cuts into parts of the Palestinian West Bank separating Palestinians from their crops and livelihoods.  However, the barrier helped bring suicide bombings down to nearly zero, but nobody knows if that was the only reason they were brought down.   So the problem with the barrier is that it was effective, so people do not want to remove it.  Looking at the barrier I think it’s a necessity of living in Israel that it had to put up, however it’s a scar on the land and cuts off people from getting to know each other, which is how the conflict is going to end.  I will talk more about this at the end of the blog.   The tour forced me to confront many uncomfortable facts such as the fact that the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem look nicer and have better infrastructure than do the Palestinian ones.  This is wrong and it is a major problem and the thing I remember being most shocked about what the Israeli barrier cut off about 90,000 Palestinians from the municipality of Jerusalem.  This means that the municipality does not give them services such as water or trash pickup.  The area is a no man’s land, when it comes to building codes and almost all of the homes would not pass.  The city has not collected taxes in these areas in years.  These areas on the map are Kafr’ Aqab,  Qalandia and Shu’fat Refugee Camp are part of the city but behind the barrier.   

 We finished the depressing part of our tour and visited two places that give me hope about the future.   One of these places was Hand in Hand.  Hand in Hand teaches both Muslim and Jewish Israelis in a joint curriculum, in both Hebrew and Arabic.  The students learn about the other’s past, culture, religion and their narrative in history.  The school brings students and parents together in a way that they would not ordinarily mix.  The concept of the school is have children start in Kindergarten and end up graduating being in school with “the other.”  Hand in Hand is programs that now has five schools, but hopes in the next few years to expand to ten or fifteen which means it will soon service 20,000 Israeli citizens.  It was refreshing to see this NGO building peace from the ground up.  The most moving part of the trip for me was seeing the final stop Kids For Peace.   

 This organization is world-wide, but in Jerusalem is 1/3 Jewish, 1/3 Muslim and 1/3 Christian, that starts at age 12 and brings students together in after school activities, where they talk about everything including the conflict.  It was fascinating to hear the Palestinian co-director of the organization talk about his family and even his wife question what he does.  The Israeli women who works with him was in an combat unit in the army ten years ago.  She said, they are focused on helping reduce hatred now and hopefully it will continue the future.  She spoke about a Jewish high-schooler from Beit El, which is one of the most extreme Jewish settlements, who asked Kids For Peace, to get him in touch with the Palestinians who lived near him.  He tried four other NGO's, but with no luck.  He now comes to Kids for Peace, but still has not meet the Palestinians whom he wanted to, because it is very hard to facilitate it, even though they live next door to each other.  All of the students who spoke to us, were very shy and told stories about signing up because they wanted friends and to know “the other.”  They all said that their opinions had changed and one I remember in particular who was from a mostly right-wing Jewish neighborhood.  This young man wore a Kippa and said he used to be yelled at his home, when he expressed his views about Palestinians, because “he didn’t know anything." He said now I can tell my family, I do know Palestinians and they are not all evil.  It was very emotional to see these students take such risks for the sake of peace. 

I'm going to end this blog entry with a positive message.   There are times when I do my work with the Peres Center and I wonder does my work matter at all?  Is it going to change anything, am I having a real impact.  Honestly, after seeing Kids for Peace, I realize that the work I do is very important and I've come to appreciate it even more.  During this whole time, I remember my friend, from Poland, Anna Ostrowska-Burzynska.  She told me about her belief about prejudice and Anti-Semitism in the world.  “It is very easy to hate an abstract, but it very hard to hate a human being.”   East Jerusalem has many problems and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians seems like it will never end, but there is hope.  I agree with Anna, that most people, who have prejudice, do not know any of the group that they hate, because as Anna said it is hard to hate as human being.  This conflict won’t end until the people force the government to make peace, and that won't happen until both sides view each other as human beings and not as abstracts.    
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