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Day #3 – Context – Israel/Palestine

 10 March 2024

We started our first full day on tour together getting some grounding and context.

The grounding came in the form of some listening exercises.  In order to be able to encounter more than one narrative, one needs to be willing to sit and listen to those narratives that are unfamiliar, challenge one’s assumptions and generally cause discomfort.  Israel and Palestine is the kind of place guaranteed to push many of our intellectual and emotional buttons.  

The context came in the form of an experienced, seasoned journalist who lives in Jerusalem and has been reporting on Israel and the Middle East for decades.  As most of my (and I think the rest of the group’s) understanding of what has been happening since October 7th has come from my consumption of media, it was a great to have a media professional share their take on what we have been consuming and what people in Israel and Palestine have consuming.  Of all the conflicts our journalist friend has covered over the decades, this one has been the hardest.  The war seems to have entrenched governments and its citizenry further into their own views of themselves and the other.  Media outlets in Israel are generally not giving much attention to what happens in Gaza.  Media outlets in Gaza and the West Bank (mostly Al Jazeera) do not give attention to the experience of Israelis.  Distrust of the ‘other’ side, either as a collective or on an individual level is rampant.

And so somewhat grounded and contextualized, we were off …

First a return to Hostage Square … with some time to look around at the ways that Israeli Jews have taken over this space to keep in mind those taken hostage.  The pictures of the hostages – which are prominent throughout the city – have center stage here.  A makeshift gallery of images of the hostages adorned a tent in the center of the pavilion.  The images shared by families of the hostages were obviously taken from happy moments, and it was eerie to walk around and see images of these people from many ages and stages of life smiling back at me.  I could not help but to linger on the many 19 – 21 year olds — I assume who attended the music festival — who are the same age as my own kids.

Part of our scheduled time here was to meet with the cousin and brother of one the hostages who had been released with the negotiated cease fire a couple of months ago.  They shared with us the horror of their loved being taken by Hamas while they were visiting one of the kibbutzim where she and her family had previously lived.  Their cousin/sister ran with her child in her arms after they became aware of the attack.  In desperation and fatigue, she handed her child over to her husband so that he could carry the child to safety.  He was able to run and hide, she was not … and was kidnapped to Gaza.  We heard about the initial horrific first hours of not even knowing if she was alive.  Once they knew she was alive, they sprang into action .. working with the families forum and even creating their own ‘war’ room where they tried to come up with ways to put pressure on anyone – Hamas, Israel, etc. – who could help to bring her home.  They worked tirelessly until the very night before the exchange of prisoners, they learned that her name was on the list of those who would be sent home.  

Even though they were successful and knew the profound relief and gratitude of having her home, they continue to work with the rest of the families to maintain the pressure to work towards the release of the rest of the hostages.  It seems that part of the crisis for Israeli Jews in this moment is the broken trust in their military and government.  They are not trusted to keep the hostages front of mind and do what needs to be done to prioritize bringing them home.  As happened on October 7th  – when individuals across Israel ran and drove towards the massacre to help – they feel they must depend on themselves to step up and do what they can.  Israel has always been a place where security is front of mind, but now it is a place where when Israelis arrive at an unfamiliar place they check to see if there is a safe room and if there is enough water in it and where they could hide their kids.

We wrapped up our afternoon meeting another family member whose life was deeply impacted by Hamas’ massacre on October 7th.  Ma’oz Inon lost both of his parents on October 7th.  I was taken aback by my experience of meeting this radiant soul.  I know no better way to say it – he radiated.  This man about my own age, who parents were brutally murdered on October 7th spoke to us of peace, love and hope.  It was all incongruous with the nature of his loss and with the atmosphere in the rest of the country.  ‘Hope is not a feeling it is an action,” Ma’oz told us, “I don’t see it, I make it.”  I did not anticipate to find such radiance, and expect that I will need to keep that light in my mind and heart as the tour continues. 

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