Part of me wishes I could say I have figured it all out. We have met with members of Knesset, Israeli academics, representatives from the Arab community, and Palestinian leaders and business people. We have traveled intellectually through difficult conversations on rocky terrain trying to understand this complex reality called Israel. And that is just two days worth of experiences.
Israel is a paradox, a combination of contradictory ideas that form this amazing country. There is a constant tension about living in a world as it is but aspiring for how it should be. It is fair to want to see justice, equality, security, and compassion manifest in daily life, expressed in civic society, enacted in government agencies and yet it is not an easy task nor does it always happen.
We traveled to the Rachel Crossing between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We arrived early in the morning as many Palestinians entered into Israel to work. Dr. Yoaz Hendel, the founder of Blue and White Human Rights, met us there and took us through in the same way the Palestinians enter the country from the West Bank. It had the same feel as standing in line at passport control or TSA screening in the states. However, most of us don’t have to do this every day. We also met Israeli soldiers, who were in their early 20’s who told us they work very hard with the Palestinian authorities to create a smooth crossing from the West Bank into Israel. I was surprised to learn that they let women and people going in for health reasons to pass through more quickly through a special dedicated line. It was very clear how important it is for the soldiers and the group Dr. Hendel formed to ensure as much humanity as possible. I believe their good will efforts despite the difficulty to manage the thousands of people who cross each day. I also felt their frustration of being the number ONE destination of human rights groups who prefer to come to Israel because it is safer than other places in the world and who are determined to find some abuse to document. Are there difficulties? For sure. Are they intentional? Not clear. Just last week, one of the women who were allowed to pass through stabbed a soldier in the neck. It was a grave but not fatal wound. Everyone is concerned for his or her own safety and well being wherever they live and wherever they are going. Good will is certainly present but so are restrictions. They have to endure these contradictions.
Attorney Mohammad Darawshe, an Israeli citizen, from the village of Iksal, whose children are the 28th! generation living in this land. His work centers on Arab/Israel relations. He has served members of the Arab party in the Knesset and knows his way around the Israeli government. And yet, even as a full citizen of the state, his opportunities are different that his Jewish Israeli neighbors. He works for social, economic, and political equality and still watches as the schools his daughters attend do not have the same opportunities. He smiles with pride about the number of Arab doctors, nurses, and dentists. His daughter will finally attend medical school this year. We applaud. Israeli Arabs populate the healthcare field in higher percentages. We witness his pain of wanting equal access and devoting his life to working toward that end. He tells us, “Politics is the art of what is possible, what you can do, not what you can believe.” He lives in a paradox, too.
We traveled into the middle of the West Bank to a planned community called Rawabe. The land used to be desert. Now it is filled with neighborhoods built around playgrounds, movie theatres, fields, and places for business. No one has moved in yet. In August, the first residents who have bought these beautiful apartments will move in. There is great excitement in the air as our bus passes through this self-sufficient inspirational community. We are awed by this mammoth effort of self-empowerment for the Palestinian people. It is a testimony to a desire to create a stable environment and home in which to live and thrive. It hasn’t been easy to build. There were difficult negotiations with Israel to get water into the city. It took years to resolve. Everyone knows the story. The Palestinian Authority has not kept its promises to provide assistance. Despite the difficulties, their excitement was contagious and we felt the energy this endeavor was bringing to the Palestinians.
Lastly, the reaction to the US agreement with Iran remains ever present. As people here worry over the potential for Iran to finance more terrorism with the billions of dollars it will receive as the sanctions are lifted and whether or not any agreement can truly deter nuclear proliferation, they vacillate between, as Ari Shavit has written, “prophets of doom” and “dynamic diplomatic players.” There is much more yet to be said, written, and resolved. The feeling of vulnerability and the continued existential threats Israel has faced is still everywhere even though the coffee shops, restaurants, streets, and shops are filled with Israel’s citizens living their daily lives.
Israel is a beautiful paradox with much strength and perseverance demonstrated by the Palestinians, the Arabs, and the Jews.