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Day #7 – Complicated – Israel/Palestine

14 March 24

One of the the things we have heard from pretty much every person who has spoken with us – and something we confirm with each new piece of information or perspective on life here – is ‘it’s complicated.’  Somehow, some way when it comes to trying to respond to a question or summing up what it is we need to know we hear some version of this short, simple phrase.  Sometimes it is uttered in exasperation or exhaustion, sometimes in frustration or anger and at other times in simple wonder and awe for the ways that (to steal an image from yesterday) this crazy one big, ball of string ties itself into interconnecting knots.  

We had a small taste of the knottiness and nuttiness today.  

Weirdly, I need to start by explaining to you that Israel does not have a 911 system.  When there is an emergency, there exists no formalized, state run system for emergency responders.  There are ambulances and police there to address these needs, but there is a gap in the administration of getting from the moment of crisis to the professionals that could help.  And so, in an example of one of the most wonderful things about Israeli society, what has evolved in its place is a private donation funded, volunteer (Volunteers are Jewish and Palestinian) organization that coordinates trained first responders to be on the scene of an emergency call within 90 seconds.  It is called United Hatzahalah. So, with that information in mind … 

We traveled down south the the Bedouin town of Rahat.  We were there to learn more about the work done there to support the Arabs living in the recognized and unrecognized Bedouin towns and villages in that region.  We met with Aisha, a young Bedouin woman, who coordinates some of these efforts and also shared how this community has been impacted by October 7th and the war.  There were Bedouins killed on October 7th.  There were also Bedouins who heroically risked their lives to save lives on October 7th, as well.  To hear these stories told from an Arab perspective moved us all deeply. 

After that meeting we headed north back to Jerusalem, for our tour of United Hatzahlah.  We stopped at an unforgettable plaza off the highway.  Think of your average turnpike plaza, with a few restaurant options,  a falafel place, McDonalds and Aroma (kinda like the Israeli version of Starbucks) a gas station and mini mart.  It was ‘meh’ at best – easily the least memorable eating moments from the last few days.  The redeeming culinary moment for me was the stop in the mini mart and the purchase of a container of an iced coffee that I remember fondly from my time living in Jerusalem. And speaking of Jerusalem, onward we went for a tour of the first responders headquarters, United Hatzahlah.  

We arrive at United Hatzahlah and are swept up in their impressive and coordinated presentation of this incredible place.  (Including color coordinated orange walls and swag to match the orange vests worn by the first responders.)  And, the work they do is incredible.  They literally save lives because they have a highly evolved system of volunteers, dispatchers and technology that enables them to get to injured people quicker than anyone else in Israel.  They, too, had an October 7th story about their work and how their first responders rushed towards the scene of terror – of how their Jewish and Palestinian volunteers rushed to help and preserve life.  I was both awed by their organization and the work they do and I wrestled with the contrast of how they told the story of the ways that Arabs and Jews worked together on October 7th and how Aisha told us that story earlier in the day.

In any case, the tours wraps at the control room.  We get to witness the massive, high tech, well oiled machine of screens, phones, computers and human beings receiving emergency calls from across the country.  We watch as they answer phones, study maps, enter urgent data and get their volunteers to where they need to go. We can see the number of ‘active’ calls, the statistics from the day and the week, and there is even a list of current ‘events’ on the main screen.  One of the events was listed in Rahat.  (If that name does not sound familiar, scroll back up a couple of paragraphs, because we were just there.)

When we return to our bus, we learn why Rahat was on the control room screen listing current events.  Some 40 or 50 minutes after we left our unforgettable little lunch stop, a Bedouin man entered the mini mart where I had just grabbed my iced coffee and stabbed a soldier purchasing his own snack.  As we reacted and reflected on this freak of timing, we also all grabbed our phones to see what the news could tell us.  In the category of ‘a picture paints a thousand words’, there was an image of that same, dinghy little plaza (complete with golden arches)… and in the foreground there was the distinctive orange vest of the United Tzahalah volunteer who, of course, showed up on the scene while we sat in the very place that received the call.

Jews, Arabs, Bedouins, Palestinians … terrorism, heroism … small, inconceivable, improbable gaps between life and death.  It’s most definitely complicated.

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