Here is our group on the roof of a mosque in Barta’a, a town in the West Bank that is divided in two by the “Green Line,” the border which differentiates between areas administered as part of Israel and those administered by the Israeli military or the Palestinian Authority. As we are seeing, this is both a place where the holiest sites in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are literally on top of each other and a pivotal battleground of global issues of peace and human rights. If that sounds like a paradox, it is. We are being exposed to a mosaic of views, each person telling us their truth, each one important. After our visits to the holy sites Sunday we took a bus tour of East Jerusalem, and saw “Where the Sidewalk Ends” – along with the public transportation, garbage collection, and many other services – in Palestinian neighborhoods. We saw “the Wall” that our Jewish hosts on our first night in Israel call a necessary anti-terrorism measure, but which has divided neighborhoods and families, impoverished, and humiliated Palestinians. At the end of the day our guide said that “finding a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians is about as easy as driving a bus in East Jerusalem.”
The next day Lydia Eisenberg, who works with Givat Haviva, an Israeli peace education organization, gave us a tour of her kibbutz, Mishmar HaEmek, and its museum and took us to Barta’a. She told us that her goal was to get us to put ourselves in the place of the other. She did a good job – and so did our students. They are knowledgeable, inquisitive, engaged, and prepared. All of them have studied World Religions, and many have studied the Middle East conflict in their History and Current Events courses, and they are enjoying learning about them first-hand, and so am I. Their wisdom and compassion are remarkable. The most powerful part of our experience with Lydia for me was meeting at the Holocaust Memorial at the kibbutz, looking at the sculpture of a mother reaching down to protect her child. The sculpture itself has bullet holes in it from the war in 1948 which have intentionally never been repaired. Lydia shared her own experience as a mother during the Six Day War, and then reflected on the pain of both the Jews and the Palestinians – “Two nations that the world didn’t want…you’d think they would get together and create peace.” She urged us to do all we can so that no children will have to go through what her children and Palestinian children have experienced.
Time for bed- tomorrow is another big day. We are getting up at six am to go to the Dome of the Rock, and after checking out of our hotel, to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem.