Facing Reality and Ourselves
It is Sunday morning and we are riding on our bus towards the Dead Sea and Masada and leaving the town of Ibillin – the place where Mar Elias campus sits and our Arab friends attend school. We leave them with good thoughts and good feelings – they were gracious hosts – befitting the Arab culture of hospitality and warmth. Despite the language barriers – only a few of them spoke English well enough for us to carry on a conversation without a translator (and needless to say our Arabic was VERY rusty) – the two groups developed a familiarity and comfort level with one another. We were welcomed with dinner and a dance – even a mini-simulation of a Bedouin wedding (it seemed like more of the reception than the actual wedding to me). We toured the Galilee with them yesterday – seeing the Golan Heights (perhaps before they become part of Syria again) and spending some time at the Mediterranean just enjoying the beach.
And yet, I do not think that any of us were surprised when we arrived at Mar Elias to find that there would be no Israeli Jews part of this next part of the trip. The lack of surprise did not lessen my disappointment in the absence of these Israeli Jewish voices and the importance of hearing their story from a contemporary (i.e. similar age of our group) perspective. Despite this absence in our experience, the warmth and welcome of our new friends this past day and half was something that we all needed after the experience of the White Night. Between the lack of sleep (as by design) and the nature of the program itself – as a group we had hit our limit with frustration in regard to the limits of our trip and of the situation between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. We all expected a long night of dialogue and fun with a group of Arabs and Jews who would be motivated and focused to be part of this program. The Israeli Jews from Kibbutz Harduf planned the program … and they were present to kick off the evening with some ‘ice breakers’ … and then they were not ‘present’ the rest of the program until a late morning discussion. Some were working on a play for a festival that the kibbutz was putting on. Some went off and went to sleep.
After dinner the plan was to show a very powerful movie called My Terrorist and the director of the movie was there to discuss it with us. It is a documentary for directed by and focusing on an Israeli woman’s experience of surviving a 1978 terrorist attack in London and how she came to know the terrorist who attacked her while he was in prison. She eventually began to fight for his release and the film addresses the reaction to her and how Israelis feel about how they should be responding to violence and how Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories perpetuate violence. Due to technical difficulties the movie was late, she had to leave and by the time the movie was shown … 90% of the people there were sleeping.
The 4:30 wake-up for the group actually left us and the Arabs in attendance ready to hike and ‘program’ together. We hiked to a small pond that was littered with debris and garbage and proceeded to try doing some group activities led by one of the adult counselors. Among the Arab group were some who did not even try and participate (and none of the others in their group attempted to include them) and many who were simply disrespectful to the person trying to lead. Our group — who were ‘stand-up’ the whole way through – was hungry, tired, frustrated and disheartened by the entire program.
What happened? What was happening? Were the Israeli Jews just tired and not physically or logistically able to be fully present? Were the Arab ways of participating merely cultural differences that hindered our grasp of what was happening? Was it the nature of the program itself and it was simply not working (we have all been a part of these) due to planning, implementation or those random things that can go wrong? I think that all of these elements were in play … and then perhaps something more.
With caution and care I question how much this program and our experience is a microcosm of the nature of the very serious problem between Arabs and Jews in Israel. I do not know all of the reasons why we did not or could not wrangle up a bunch of Israeli Jews to spend some time with us, but part of the reason I think has to do with the motivation of Israelis to do so. We have heard a few times in different ways that many Israelis do not know nor do they want to know what happens in the … yet less actually participate in dialogue with Arab (and Americans, too!). As I mentioned, we have experienced great warmth and hospitality from Arabs we have met, but have not been able to always connect on the level or manner that we have hoped to connect. There have been age differences … perhaps these differenced are not merely age, but maturity and the sense of accountability and earnestness that is part of having a mature world view.
And there is the ‘us’ part of the equation … what are we doing here? What is our role in this situation? Perhaps our expectations were too high … to come for two weeks and have intimate, life changing, world impacting conversations with people we just met? Maybe we need to take things a bit slower … while at the same time sensing an urgency about what is already happen and may happen to so many?
I must say that I have been wrestling with how to process and express the experiences of the last couple of days in this blog form … not knowing quite sure how to honestly share a sense of my experience while not also sending a message that it is miserable and we are all walking around with dark clouds over our heads. (Actually, we did not see cloud one until yesterday at the beach!) There is frustration, but I think it is the frustration and challenge that comes from it that is part and parcel of this country and anyone who cares about this situation. The warmth of the Arabs we have met, the beauty of the place and the magic of the holy sites all are also a part of this picture. For me while I am working hard to find inspiration from Israel itself and the quagmire of the situation, it keeps hitting me on the head in form of the group of teens with whom I am traveling. They are fun and thoughtful, they are compassionate and insightful, and they are agents of change and peace. They model what it is we seek a hint of here … and I hope it does not sound as if I need a positive note on which to end my entry and become too sappy or cheesy … because it is truly my sentiment. In my trip to this place I love and care deeply about and have found so many things which challenge, trouble and frighten me … they have been a balance, a blessing to me.