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Day #8 – Hope – Israel/Palestine

15 March 2024

In a way we end the trip where much of this difficult story begins … in the old city of Jerusalem.  It is a last minute decision whether we will go or not, because, of course, this is how we roll here.  It is the first Friday of Ramadan and while the opportunity for Muslims to come and pray at the al-Aksa compound is important on any Friday or any day of Ramadan, it has even more significance on a Friday during Ramadan.  The Israeli government has also been attentive and careful to who and how many they may or may allow into the compound given the current tensions.  Throw into the mix that Hamas has been encouraging Palestinians to rally and wreak havoc on Friday.  So, once the temperature is taken on what is actually happening in the Old City and within our group, we decide to take a walk around before we return for our closing sessions.  It is a fitting and emblematic conversation to have as we wrap up our time together.  We find a spot up on a roof where we can see the Dome of the Rock and the compound from afar.  It just the small group of us – participants who have some from the US and Canada; mostly Jews, but not all; most have been here before, but not all … and a few of us rabbinic types and our Israeli Jewish and Palestinian guides.  I can sense how full and fatigued we all feel from the people, ideas, emotions we encountered and the ways they made us all shapes and sizes of comfortable and uncomfortable; clear and confused; hopeful and hopeless.

At our last formal session, we sit with Gershon Baskin and Samer Sinjilawi.  Samer is a Palestinian political activist who has lived the Palestinian narrative and considers himself part of the political opposition to Mahmoud Abbas and his government. Gershon Baskin is a writer, thinker and political activist in his own right.  Baskin may be most well-known for his involvement through the years as one of those people who create secret channels of communication between Hamas and the Israeli government.  (In fact, in the midst of our conversation he whipped out his phone and read a text from a Hamas contact he received a text from the previous evening?!). The idea for this session was to look forward, to ask and hear from people in the know to tell what may be next beyond this terrible war.  Baskin is convinced that there has to be a Palestinian state … from his perspective Israel cannot expect 2 million people to live locked up with 80% poverty and keep quiet … the unfolding reality that there will be a Palestinian state … there is no situation where the occupation continuing is an option.  For Samer the chance for a Palestinian state moved from 0% pre-October 7th to about 5% now.  Not high, but for him it is something to hold onto … Israelis and Palestinians are both the bad guys in this situation and the conflict has turned both to darkness … it is time for Palestinians and Israelis to rescues themselves, “we need to go back to humanity.”

I cannot say for sure if these sentiments left us on a hopeful note.  The words and the ideas behind them point us in that direction, but we also have either acquired or deepened our sense of the myriad of complexities and stumbling blocks that stand in the way of getting from here to there.  

Its funny but around this intense trip I have found myself re-watching Ted Lasso – some fun, positive brain and heart candy to give myself a break.  One of the episodes is called ‘It’s The Hope That Kills You.’  The idea of hope is a theme throughout the whole show.  It has been an interesting juxtaposition of the way that the idea of hope (its abundance or scarcity) has also been a theme of this trip, as well.   There were places and moments during the past week that I felt it and others where I was bowled over by the lack of it.  In all of those moments, I heard people whose abundance or scarcity of hope was grounded in what they believed to be true and essential.  Whether they felt connected or disconnected to them, it was those values that held them.  And that truth is what resonates at the moment for me, that as messy and unrealized as those values may be, steadfastly keeping them as the true north of our spiritual compass is as important as ever.

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