No, I haven’t been brainwashed, and no I don’t support the settlements. But on the Perspectives trip I’ve just returned from, I have seen the humanity behind some of the political positions that previously seemed untenable and even abhorrent, here in Israel, Palestine, and everything in between. While I still find the settlements a blockage to peace with the Palestinians and a two-state solution, I have a newfound empathy for Jews who make their homes across the Green Line.
Perspectives-Israel is a new, grassroots initiative, offering a two day study tour around Israel and the Occupied Territories for rabbinical students, Jewish educators and lay leaders that enables a new conversation by focusing on the issues and especially the people whose lives are entwined with the conflict. Terminology was not supposed to be important to our discerning ears, though it certainly got thrown around quite a bit within people’s narratives. We visited the separation/security/apartheid/separation fence/wall/barrier. We met with settlers/people/pioneers/evacuees/mothers/home-makers. Language is power, and it does matter, but each person must have the right to use the language that best expresses the truth in his or her story.
How can you “oppose” a group of people when one of them has invited you to their home (at your request, not theirs), served you tea and cookies, and looked you in the eye as their emotions flood out through their stories of pride and pain at the expense of politics. Jews you can see your own soul reflected in, just with a different manifestation of fear and a desire for a better life.
So many creatures in this world don’t receive enough love, or kindness. This theme among others, struck me over and over as I heard stories recounted of violence and terror and loss during the Intifada and today, which parallel the experiences I’ve heard from Palestinians. Stories of people traumatized by the sporadic yet tangibly constant barrage of rockets and missiles causing panic over the past ten years from the Gaza strip. Unquellable emotions over the injustice of being removed from your home for “nothing,” in your eyes. And too often with the creeping sentiment that nobody really cares about your suffering, just wants to use it for political power and then sweep you and your feelings under the rug.
I never thought I could have empathy for a settler. That I would understand some of their reasons for living in the West Bank. That I would learn that the government went so far as telling them point blank that they had duty to move to Palestinian territories, though in recent years where they don’t need to say it– they spell it out with the roads and services provided to Jewish communities across the green line every year while turning the other way and preaching a need for a “two state solution.”
Whatever that may mean. I heard convincing arguments, by the way, for a solution of one-state for two-people on the trip– check out Yehuda HaKohen, a brilliant and mystically-motivated guy who studies and works at Machon Meir. I didn’t think I could believe that security trumps freedom of movement in ANY situation, let alone one that has placed a cement wall between two of the most beautiful peoples and lands I have ever encountered.
I still hold my values of justice and self-determination for Palestinians, and oppose the illegal and unethical expansion of settlements into the West Bank. But when you hear personal stories, and visit the places you previously were quick to sever off your diplomatic map of who gets what– (let them take it, we shouldn’t be there anyways and those who are there are just crazy religious right wingers), it becomes more and more difficult to sacrifice because it’s no longer landscape– it’s people.