There is Light in Dark Places
It’s part of the culture here to pick up hitchhikers. He told me, and so I did.
We were on our way into the West Bank when I opened the doors of my red, rental Peugot. A handsome 17 year old Israeli gently moved my bags, and hopped into the car. Berel spoke to him in Hebrew, and I wondered whether or not he could speak English. He told us very little, but we learned that he’s training for a special forces unit in the army. His energy was both strong and sweet, capable and kind. I liked having him in the car, partly for the novelty and partly for the brief connection. I dropped him off, smiling in my heart, and I continued on my way.
I was driving to the headquarters of Roots, an organization comprised of Israeli and Palestinian activists working together for peaceful coexistence. I visited Roots two months earlier, and my time there moved me deeply. I felt a fierce commitment to love, and I pledged my allegiance.
The Roots space is humble - a few, simple rooms, a plethora of homeless cats and a lot of big hearts. It was cold, grey and rainy as I walked in, and a hoard of young Israelis walked out. They were visiting as part of their Mechina, a pre-army academy that brings Israeli youth around the country to volunteer, learn their national history and physically prepare. During this year, most do a 3-5 day unit on Judea/Samaria, or the West Bank. Roots meets with over half of the 50+ academies each year.
This troup had just spoken with Noor, a Palestinian working with the organization. Noor shared his nation’s narrative, and his own personal experience. One of the Israeli youth said at the end of the session, “I’ve grown up here all of my life, and I’ve never heard this perspective. To be honest, I’ve always wanted to...”
I felt, or maybe just imagined, an energetic shift inside this young man’s heart. His demeanor read relaxed, comforted and spacious. Like an exhale. It was the perfect place for me to move into my interviews with Roots leaders, Rabbi Shaul Judelman and Khaled Abu Awwad.
These men are modern day prophets. They’re choosing to live in the middle of the conflict, and they’re dedicating their lives to creating a world in which we can all live well together.
“Is peace possible here?” I ask.
“Why not?” Khaled, says.
The biggest problem, according to Shaul, is separation, and our misguided ideas of the “other.” I liken this analogy to the inner worlds. We split along the lines that challenge us. We check out, and our departure exacerbates the conditions that caused us the pain in the first place. We suffer more, and at our own hands.
Pump up the volume with displacement, war, centuries of national trauma, and a wildly, amplified, demonized “other,” you have yourself here in the Middle East. It’s no wonder that there’s so much violence.
This energetic vortex moves people too fast, and few have the willingness to slow down to see what’s actually happening, but when we start to open up our vision, we can feel into the fullness of our own humanity and we can appreciate that everyone bleeds the same. We all want to be safe - and loved.
Khaled and his family offer a beautiful example of what might be possible on this land. While once violently active against the occupation, Khaled and his family changed their perspective after losing two brothers in the war. I think most people would harden their hearts against the proverbial other, but not this family. The Abu Awwad tribe paused, and moved into a deep recognition that human life has the highest value, and the fight must move around its protection. Khaled also went into a deeper study of his religion, and found in his tradition, a peace that includes everyone.
I think the peace is alive, and it lives through people like Khaled and Shaul. Both believe deeply in God, and they respect their holy brothers who are living in their own respective traditions.