Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 4

Today, March 30, is Palestinian Land Day, a day set aside to mark a horrific moment on this date in 1976 in relations between Israeli citizens (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.

I had not intended to write today in this series (see previous entries on March 3, February 8,  and February 4), but when I learned of the significance of this date, I felt it right to acknowledge history. I make no claim to expertise on this event or its celebration, but given the fact that few news outlets in the United States report much news about nonviolent events among Palestinians, and because I did see some shocking disparities in land and water allocation (with Palestinians at considerable disadvantage) during my visit in 2014, I decided to share this information.

Here is an excerpt from a post of two years ago in the +972 blog…..

On that dreadful day 38 years ago, in response to Israel’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes,” a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev. The night before, in a last-ditch attempt to block the planned protests, the government imposed a curfew on the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra and Kabul, in the Western Galilee. The curfew failed; citizens took to the streets. Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those in the refugee communities across the Middle East, joined in solidarity demonstrations.

Palestinians from the Galilee town of Sakhnin commemorating Land Day, March 30, 2013. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, about 100 wounded and hundreds arrested. The day lives on, fresh in the Palestinian memory, since today, as in 1976, the conflict is not limited to Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but is ever-present in the country’s treatment of its own Palestinian Arab citizens.

You can read the rest of the blog here. And here is a link to Wikipedia on the subject of Land Day, and here is a link to the report in today’s Haaretz daily newspaper in Israel about the strike being carried out by Israeli Arabs.

As I continue to learn more about the land, its history, and the current situation, I will offer other information.

What remains clear is that contest between these two portions of humanity is far from over. And my prayer remains, on this day and every day, that there be no more martyrs of any type for any reason. There is already enough blood to go around.

Can We Grow Our Lemon Trees?

The tragedy that is Israel/Palestine strikes deep into our hearts. How can people with such rich and beautiful spiritual traditions be so harsh with each other? The idea that many of us still call this the Holy Land seems almost a mockery of God.

Or perhaps the violence, the animosity and hatred, the intransigence and unwillingness to recognize the humanity in each other, the unwillingness even to talk with each other is actually a reflection of much of the world’s relationship with God?

A book that seeks to humanize–and for me that means also to reflect the divinity of those involved–the conflicting and conflicted personna is The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan.

This book is nonfiction, but reads like a novel. At its center are two people, Bashir Khairi and Dalia Eshkenazi Landau. Bashir is a Palestinian and Dalia is an Israeli, aThe Lemon Treend their lives are intertwined not by romance but by the fact that when Dalia’s parents emigrated from their native Bulgaria (she was a small child) they occupied the home of Bashir’s family in Ramla which had been confiscated by the Israeli government after the war of 1948 (and the Palestinian residents had fled the town).

The entire book puts their friendship–maintained across severe boundaries–at the center while all around whirls the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Tolan, a journalist, does not fail us in recounting all the ugly details of wars and jails and bombs and suffering while reminding us again and again that the entire story is a human one.

Anyone who wishes to understand this tragedy at a deeper level than political and military strategy, or beyond the geopolitical power games of the various nations, or even the competing claims of two peoples deeply scarred by the loss of identity and by global disrespect and subjugation, should read this book.

It does not have a pretty ending, things are not tied up in a neat bow. Tolan is a journalist after all, not a romance novelist. But still there is hope in this story, and even glimmerings of love and salvation.

When you read it–and I think every thinking person in the United States, Europe and the Middle East should read it–then you may do as I am doing, namely pray. Pray for all you are worth, pray that somehow human beings–even those whose lemon tree dies and who have trouble growing a new one–can find a way to transcend the limitations of their leaders and make peace on the ground, among themselves, heart to heart, person to person, villlage to village, family to family, faith to faith.

Such peace is hard work, because it means staying connected not only to your own desires and truths, but also to the desires and truths of those whose very existence seems to threaten you most profoundly. This is work that belongs to all of us, because only by recognizing that our humanity is dependent on the humanity of others will we ever have peace, even, or  perhaps especially, in the Holy Land.

We can only be truly, fully human when we see our humanity reflected in others, and theirs in ours. It is a lesson taught by a lemon tree.

Jerusalem Journal: First Impressions, Falafel, and Faith

[This was intended to be the first of the series of entries in my Jerusalem Journal–observations and opinions arising from an eight-day trip my husband Jonathan and I took to Israel in mid-October so he could attend the annual conference of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology.  Somehow, I never published it and only recently discovered the draft and published it for public view on January 15, 2015. Jonathan and I had some adventures together, and as you will learn if you read other entries, I had some of my own, in Jerusalem and in other parts of Israel and the West Bank.]

Our first full day in Jerusalem was a wonder of delights and moving moments.

How can one go to the Western Wall and not be moved? It is impossible not to feel the millions, nay billions or even trillions, of prayers that blanket the space in hope and fear and love and even anger of course. The power is palpable.

I felt great joy in noticing that even in separation there are more women praying than men. When will the men realize that we have so much to learn from women? At least, as a friend said, now the women are allowed to pray at the wall!

And who knew that people actually live in the Old City? I did not. It is not only an antiquity, but a living, breathing community. There are children playing after school, and cars in a parking lot, and people hanging out their laundry and making supper. And of course, the merchants–many of them Arab I think–selling everything from electronics to religious objects (for all three Abrahamic religions) to art and scarves and dried fruit and spices.

Be prepared….if you pause to look at something, the merchant will seek to engage you in conversation and draw you into his store. They are persistent and occasionally you have to be almost rude to break away. But there is sometimes a friendly repartee between passerby and merchant. At other times, the men–they are all men–seem sad and hurt when you keep going. One stuck out his hand as if to shake Jonathan’s hand and then tried physically to pull Jonathan into his store. But that is not typical.

And we went on a free two-hour tour (meaning you pay the guide what you want at the end).  We had intended to go on a longer, more expensive tour but we were so exhausted from 24 hours of travel that we overslept.

So we found Jaffa Gate, and looking like tourists–because we are–we were accosted by a tall, handsome man with a big sign–FREE TOUR–and he told us it would leave in less than an hour. We told him we were hungry and he said, “I will take you to the best place in the Old City, not far, and then you come on our tour!”

What do you do? We did not know which place to eat. There is no Panera or Chipotle (although I have seen McDonald’s in places), and besides, we want falafel, the Middle Eastern staple of chick peas ground up and made into balls that are are deep fried. We both really like it.

So, we follow the man and are introduced to the host who greets us as if we are long lost friends–after all, we are now friends of his friend, who brings him business– and seats us with a great flourish and takes our order.

And we eat falafel–it may be the best I have ever eaten, much lighter and more flavorful than what I usually find in the U.S. [Note: Jonathan went back to the same place for lunch on Friday, while I was on a tour out of the city, and as it happens, he sat with the “tour man,” who is Jewish, and they talked about the Middle East.]

“Tour Man” returns and leads us to meet our guide, a shorter, less charismatic man who has some trouble with English but who nonetheless knows much and shares freely. We are a small group of 10–various Europeans and U.S. people. We visit more of the market area, and the four Quarters–Armenian, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. In the latter, we visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (he never could pronounce it correctly).  Along the way, we receive an extended history lesson involving each quarter.

What really impressed me about the guide was his even-handedness. He told the story of each religion in terms of the Old City–for example, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre he straightforwardly told the story of Jesus being crucified and buried and rising–including the belief that the latter two events happened where the church was erected centuries later.  He demonstrated that practice with each.

After the tour, we went back to the Western Wall–the Wailing Wall it is sometimes called–to pray. As I noted above, the area is divided by gender. I wanted to go with the women, but it would have created a great scandal, and I am sure much trouble, probably including forcible eviction (there are soldiers even here, and visitors have to go through a security check to get in), so we went with the men.  I touched the wall and prayed as best I could–it was not easy because there was a man very loudly saying an endless prayer, or perhaps reading from the Torah. He did not seem to take even the smallest breath and every word came out sounding angry.

Despite him, I found it moving to be there. At the same time, it is so different from going into a church or synagogue to pray, and it was not easy to stay connected to a spiritual feeling, despite the holiness of the place.

So, we went in search of a good place to buy some dried fruit. If you can’t pray, you can at least eat! Jonathan had noticed beautiful figs and had tried to buy a few. But each merchant wanted to sell him a big bag. So he scouted many places before he found one who sold a small quantity of figs, as well as apricots (for me) and even kiwi. I am not a big fan of kiwi, but these dried kiwi were exquisite.

On our way back, we saw a bench and decided to rest briefly–it is a steady, if gradual, upward grade back from the Wall to the Jaffa Gate, and we were still dealing with travel fatigue. There was a woman taking pictures, and we spoke. Her name is Elizabeth and it turned out that she is a psychoanalyst from Chicago, attending the same conference as Jonathan (and staying in a room on the same floor as ours at the conference hotel), and they have a mutual friend.

She led us to a wonderful vegetarian restaurant later that evening (local friends of hers had taken her there for lunch).  It was great fun getting to know each other and sharing dishes.

We walked back to the hotel, and fell into bed, exhausted.

Thus ended our first day in Jerusalem.