I’m in Israel with a small group of rabbis from across the US.
We’ve met with a high-ranking Palestinian leader in Ramallah, settlers in the West Bank, a kibbutznik who lives one mile from Gaza, authors, journalists, members of the Israeli parliament, a Palestinian peace activist, an Israeli Arab, and more.
What have I learned? While I could recite many facts and perspectives, the short answer is this: It’s complicated. Very, very complicated. Different personal narratives that lead to different conclusions. Competing societal narratives, each claiming to be “the truth.” Everyone thinks they have an answer, and everyone thinks there is no good answer.
One state solution. Two state solution. Three state solution. Annex all of the West Bank. Annex some of the West Bank. Annex none of the West Bank. Kick the Jews out. Kick the Arabs out. Let the Arabs stay but kick out the Palestinians.
The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the current situation is untenable. “One answer that doesn’t work but seems to be on the table? Let’s leave things alone and see if the next generation can work it out,” said one expert.
I sat next to the senior PLO leader and he was filled with despair. He used the word hope, but he was clearly not hopeful.
So what gave me hope? It was the trans IDF officer with whom I met this morning. He grew up on a tiny kibbutz where everyone knew everyone else, but as he got older and moved into larger Israeli society he realized that it is a highly diverse society.
He served in the IDF as an openly trans man for some six years and now works for tolerance and openness, and helps both trans soldiers and the IDF itself.
The LGBTQ center that he runs provides a safe space for Jews and Palestinians and Arabs, orthodox and secular, young and old.
Someone asked him if Israel is a progressive society. His reply: “It’s not that Israel is progressive — it is that Israel is progressing,” he said.
It would be nice to think that the rest of Israeli society could learn from him. But the truth is that his constituency has a shared reality that transcends religion and nationality, and a shared security issue that is quite different from everyone else’s. And they have little interest in the land issues that are so consuming to the rest of society.
One answer we heard that does speak to me: To forget about the political issues and concentrate on other areas. As one Arab professor said, “Success lies in moving toward economic integration and expanding the islands of success that exist.” I’m proud to say, as someone who worked for the American Technion Society for nearly nine years, that he cites the Technion as an example of this.
This thought was echoed by an Orthodox settler with whom we met, who has created a West Bank Chamber of Commerce that actively engages with both Palestinian and Jewish businesses.
I have no answers. All I know is that I hope they are making an effort to talk to each other, rather than one after another addressing groups like mine, and then each going their own way afterwards.
More to come on complexity… for now, Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem!