As part of the Israel trip, we met with different groups working on coexistance. One group–Encounter–focuses on bringing American and Israeli Jews into the West Bank to meet with Palestinians. They describe their work thus:
Encounter provides the only opportunity for mainstream American Jewish leaders to visit Palestinian territories in the West Bank. On our Middle East program, a pluralistic group of Jewish leaders meet Palestinian civilians and leaders in Bethlehem, Hebron, or East Jerusalem and engage in thoughtful conversation about the complexities of Israel and the conflict.
A diverse array of Jewish leaders-– rabbis, Federation Executives, lay leaders and Jewish educators from every denomination-– sleep in Palestinian homes, play with Palestinian schoolchildren and gain unique, multifaceted insight into Palestinian life. These programs include rich Jewish conversation amongst Jewish participants who have disparate political and religious affiliations and perspectives. Many participants identify this internal dialogue as an equally powerful part of the trip.
We heard from the leaders how important facilitiation skills (based on the Public Conversations Project) are used to help groups listen more carefully and respectfully to those perspectives that are often difficult to hear and one of our Muslim students noted that she thought this would be a terrific program for American Muslims–to come to Israel and hear a perspective that they normally do not get.
A later meeting in the day was with the Parent’s Circle about which Art and I have blogged before here and here. We heard again from Robi Damelin, a mother who had lost her son and one of the primary forces behind the Parent’s Circle, and an American woman named Moira who had moved from the U.S. to live with her husband. Here are some student reflections from that meeting from Jason Lilovich and Tiffanie Mosey:
On this trip, I don’t think the full magnitude of the conflict really hit anyone until we heard from two members of the Parents Circle on Monday night. The Parents Circle is a group for the family members and loved ones of those who have been killed on both sides of the conflict to come together. It was hearing from these two women that made it clear that studying conflict is one thing, living through it is something else entirely. One of the women, whose husband had been killed by IDF soldiers, described her situation. She met her Palestinian husband in the United States during college. She chose to go back to the Middle East with him, and eventually even converted to Islam. Even with proof about the circumstances of her husband’s death she was unable to get justice from the courts, a situation not uncommon for Palestinians. She was set to go to court again in two days, but her lawyers had already warned her that the prospects simply weren’t good. [Ed. note–the Israeli Supreme Court remanded the case–this was considered a good outcome rather than dismissal] Hearing the pain and the anger in her voice was heart wrenching. It made me realize that like hers are why peace is so desperately needed, but they are also why peace is so hard to achieve. Proposing plans for peace that work in theory is easy, putting them into practice in a conflict filled with stories like this woman’s is hard.
The Parent’s Circle meeting was perhaps one of the most emotional settings on the trip. This provided us with a current and real story on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The whole group could have been analogized to a group therapy session, but also could have been analogized to a type of restorative justice setting. There definitely seemed to be a long process in the forgiveness concept that Robi spoke of, but it seemed to always fringed with elements of hatred. The Palestinian woman seemed to be at a different stage of this type of therapy, but then again her situation was different. It was also interesting to note her cross-cultural background which may or may not have made a difference. Apparently native Palestinians are also part of this Parent’s Circle group though. One of the lessons I took from this session was that repairing the underlying emotions in the conflict will likely take a generation or two and will probably continue long after functional damages of the conflict have been repaired.