We gathered in Jerusalem to begin our two week journey together, had no plans float the Dead Sea, view Knesset, or sample cafe life Tel Aviv. Sixteen Jewish people from America come Israel listen. Compassionate Listening Project, developed by Leah Green, brought us together with Israelis, Palestinians, politicians and journalists who represented a wide array of viewpoints experiences. met religious settlers on West Bank, secular Israelis Jerusalem, Imams Islamic communities, Palestinians Gaza, many engaged number dialogue groups where vastly different try understand how others feel.
Compassionate Listening means hearing someone’s story not in order to engage in political debate, but rather to engage in human connectedness. It means that as I listened to Zoughbi Zoughbi, a Palestinian who lives near Bethlehem, I was not trying to evaluate the facts of his case, but more importantly I was trying to hear his feelings, and empathize with some of the pain he has experienced. When his wife went into labor, their trip to the hospital in Jerusalem was halted because he lacked the proper papers with which to pass from a Palestinian area into Jerusalem. When we met with Jewish residents of Efrat, I heard their spiritually-rooted beliefs as to where Jews should live in the historic Land of Israel. We were not debating facts; we were listening to souls. When we met with the dialogue group, B’sod Siach, a group dedicated to the interaction of secular and religious Israelis, we heard how much they had learned from one another, and how their getting to know one another meant that they could disagree with respect and human care, and not see the other viewpoint as some kind of enemy or threat.
What could we, as non-Israelis, hope to accomplish where so many had tried without apparent success? We were citizens, not professional diplomats, who offered only our hearts, reaching out to those who would speak with us so that their stories could be heard, and so that the human feelings and hopes could be honored and affirmed, as well as acknowledging the pain and suffering of so many.
In Hebron,we stayed in the homes of Palestinian families who became our friends. Ata Jaber and his family live on land which has been their familyís for at least five hundred years. On the one hand, we heard their pain and uncertainty at how they and their neighbors felt, living under Israeli rule. On the other hand, we felt the warmth of their blankets, their tea, and their hugs as we became part of their family for two wonderful days. What a remarkable Shabbat that was: in the shadow of the place where Abraham was buried by his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, we recited Kiddush to bring in the Shabbat as our hosts were ending their day of Ramadan fasting. In that moment, when our respective religious traditions intersected in celebration, we could feel the joining of our souls in friendship.
We met people whose orchards had be bulldozed because they did not have the proper documentation to show that they owned the land they had planted. We met people who could not marry, because they were not permitted to build homes on their familyís land. How did we feel when we heard stories of suffering and torture? I felt as though I were hearing someone tell terrible stories about my mother. As it would if if were truly about my own mother, hearing these things did not diminish my love for Israel; it made me love her even more. It made me understand that the story of this struggle is not about lines on a map or about political negotiation. As Israel begins her second fifty years, we are telling and hearing the stories of the hearts and hurts of her people.
And there were hopeful stories, as well. Yehuda Wachsmanís son was captured by terrorists and after a horrific week, finally was killed by Palestinians when they were attacked in an effort to rescue young Nachshon Wachsman. A year later, a still-grieving father was contacted by the father of the Palestinian who pulled the trigger. The two met in Jerusalem, and from their meeting, they understood each other immediately. Each knew deeply and personally that too much blood had been shed. The Foundation for Tolerance which they founded together today is a source of encouragement to Israeli/Palestinian dialogue.
Rabbi Menachem Fruman is a rabbi in Tekoa who has had a series of meetings with representatives from Hamas. Fruman understands that religious Jews and religious Moslems have a natural point of intersection: they believe that God has called them to special tasks and a life of holiness. What a strong tie for the basis of common purpose, with which dialogue and shared efforts can blossom into mutual respect.
During our stay in Gaza, we were clearly in a Palestinian State. The governor of Gaza perhaps was rhetorical, but also hopeful when he addressed as ìmembers of the same familyî. “Peace”, he said, “is something which people have to be able to touch in order to believe in.” War does not bring prosperity, only peace will bring prosperity. It was in Gaza City that we met with Haidir Abdel Shafti, a founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He told us that the development of wholeness for the Palestinian people is something which is not negotiable. Acknowledging the reality and significance of another is the most basic element of human relationships. Likewise, this is the position of Eyad Sarraj, Director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (founded by Hanan Ashwari). Sarraj, a psychologist, believes that when Israelis and Palestinians can look at each other and acknowledge the humanity in the other, all necessary political solutions will immediately fall into place. Human rights are the basis of peace, and are simply another way to understand mental health or human well-being. Victimization will end when those who vicitimize participate in its abolition.
Hisham Sharabati is a journalist who lives in Hebron. During the Intifada, at 19 years old, he was a stone thrower. Now, close to thirty he is a political activist who spends his time immersed in youth group work to make Hebron a better place to raise his children. He says that today, this is a better use of his effort. He works, too, to make meetings like oursí possible, opening opportunities for dialogue and discussion. Hisham says that someday, if he had to, he would again throw stones. Now he believes in the future for his mother and his children and wants to be an active builder of peace. He spent many months in Israeli prisons, has been shot and victimized through terrible torture. But his smile and his soul both shine with hope: “I have to have hope,” he says, “it’s the only way I can live.”
And I agree with Hisham: Hope means listening. Peace is not a prize won in negotiation.
Peace means seeing and hearing the humanity in the other. Peace means starting not with assumptions about negotiations, but rather about wholeness in another human being. Martin Buber taught us that when you fully acknowledge the meaning of another, your relationship is forever changed. Thus we who traveled and listened have been forever affected by the opportunity to see into the eyes and hearts of Jews and Palestinians who will engage and struggle with the ideas of the other. I am convinced that it will be through that engagement that we will know the coming of peace to a land which we all love so very much.
First published in The Jewish Reporter, March, 1998
Reprinted with permission of publisher. © 1998 The Jewish Reporter