George Rishmawi is a dedicated activist from Beit Sahour who I’ve known since 1999 when we stood in front of Deiheshe Refugee Camp
as he told the story of Palestinian nonviolent resistance against the background of the ordeals of occupation. Over the years we have visited each other’s homes and met at conferences. I have had the opportunity to travel with George through the varied landscapes of Palestine which he knows so well and meet his network of friends and associates from Hebron in the south to Jenin in the north. Today Dara, Jared and I joined George as he translated speeches from elected officials in Jenin to a special program out of UC schools including Irvine called the Olive Tree Initiative. About thirty three Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim and Christian students travel together to learn each other’s narratives and develop a sensitivity to ‘the situation’ by being on the ground. As we stood before a sculpture of a larger than life size horse constructed with ambulance parts collected after the Jenin battle of 2002, students expressed their deep appreciation for each other’s presence and courage. The Olive Tree Initiative tries to hold a neutral position in relation to the conflict in order to create bridges of understanding among both Jewish and Palestinian communities. Students on the trip struggle to make sense of the dozens of stories they hear throughout Israel and Palestine. Many people conclude, “It’s complicated.”
The upcoming UN vote is on the minds of many people. Many express their hope that official recognition by the General Assembly will give Palestine the right to take Israel to the World Court in order to sue them for damages caused by Occupation. People on the ground also hope Palestine remains quiet and secure during this period, but they are expecting trouble from settlers. People are tired of occupation, tired of armed struggle, tired of restrictions and harassment. They just want to live a normal life. The Olive Tree Initiative students missed a wonderful meal with a Woman’s Association in Jenin because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to leave due to a checkpoint closure and Jewish students didn’t want to miss Shabbat. The four of us however, enjoyed an unbelievably delicious traditional meal prepared by the women along with their warm company. Rice cooked with almonds, Arab salad (finely cut tomatoes and cucumbers bathed in lemon and olive oil), home made soup, yogurt, bean salad, chicken, cookies with fennel and chocolate, tea and coffee.
Almost every family in Palestine carries loss. Um Emad, the founder of the center, still mourns the death of her eldest son a photographer. He was shot during the second intifada while filming events. Like many injured people, Israeli soldiers on the scene did not permit the family or medical personnel to attend to his wounds and he bled to death in the street. Emad was a proponent of women’s rights and this particular center was initiated by his mother due to the desire to honor his memory. The women at the center recognized me from my last visit…as did the representatives of the village of Ramona which we visited after lunch. It’s a wonderful feeling to return and return again and feel people’s appreciation for the ongoing work of solidarity. One of the representatives, Husam, speaks Hebrew fluently so we moved into a deeper conversation. He shared his experience of taking his son to the sea for the first and only time in his life. A Jewish Israeli friend drove them to Acco. His son flew like a bird across the sand and didn’t want to leave. He asked his father, “Why don’t Palestinians have a sea?” Husam is a member of ‘The Golden Walk’, a peacewalk organization of Palestinians and Jews who believe in nonviolence.
Every month he enters Israel to be part of the circle.
For many people in Palestine life is confined to home and village or town. Majdi Shella, our host organizer in Nablus lives his life within a 6 kilometer radius.Two years ago, one of the students Majdi took to Spain asked him, “Is Spain before or after the check point in Hawarah (the entrance of Nablus)? Majdi is an energetic and passionate advocate for women and labor in Palestine. Tonight he accompanied us to his favorite spot in Nablus, a beautiful outdoor garden filled with families sitting at tables around a beautiful fountain. We drank lemon freeze mixed with pistachio ice cream that tasted like heaven called Barad, a hand made specialty of the house. Children with long curly balloons chased each other around the fountain, couples enjoyed apple flavored hukkahs and we talked about the politics of place. Majdi approved of our efforts to come and offer concrete skills and
then return home to spread the world of Palestinian life. We are staying at an International Friends Guest House (I don’t think they are related to Quakers). We have a terrace, large rooms, and a view of the desert sky that sings with the pink and blue colors of dusk and dawn that begin and end each day.
Blog written by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb