In the coming weeks, we can expect to see a series of reflections marking the 10th anniversary of Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (such as this powerful photo essay from Ha’aretz this week).
I find that a lot of Americans – including members of our Jewish community – don't fully appreciate how heavily these events from a decade ago weigh on the Israeli psyche today. When JCRC study tours are in Israel, as a delegation is this week, we discuss the dilemmas in the region. A lot of folks I respect from all across Israel’s political and cultural spectrum are quick to bring up the Gaza disengagement. Many cite it as evidence of Israel's willingness to take down settlements and relocate their citizens in order to achieve separation from the Palestinians when a two-state agreement is reached. Many are quick to talk about the failings of the Sharon government in managing the disengagement. Some argue that he failed to work with moderate Palestinian leaders to establish conditions for Palestinian success in Gaza; others say that he neglected to fully address the needs of the settlers during the relocation in order to help establish new communities inside the Green Line, thus leaving some with broken communities and resentment that lingers to this day.
But what almost all of these folks talk about is the strain and trauma of that summer for the Israeli people. In a small nation, nearly everyone knows someone who has either had family that evacuated from Gaza, or someone who served in the IDF units that did the evacuating. Watching their beloved army uproot Jews from their homes and then tear those homes down was traumatic, even for those Israelis who agreed with the underlying policy. Israelis remember how heated the national political discourse became that summer as leaders who had dedicated their lives to the nation’s security and survival were labeled traitors. They tell us how they felt watching the Palestinian celebrations that often included burning down synagogues and greenhouses. And then, they will shake their heads and urge us to understand their resulting experience in what followed the disengagement over the past decade: Hamas taking control of Gaza, the rockets, the terrorism, the tunnels, the kidnappings, the armed conflicts.
The Israeli experiences behind so many of these events differ from our own experiences of watching from across the sea. Their yearning for peace, as well as their fear of a failed peace – namely, worries for a Palestinian conflict border that would ultimately be much longer and much closer to Israel's largest population centers – color every conversation
I don't share this to justify or advocate a point of view, but instead to help in understanding the importance of others’ perceptions, and why we at JCRC, with the generous support of our donors, are so committed to encouraging direct engagement with the actual people of this region.
This week, thirteen clergy from the Boston area, some of our closest allies and partners, are in Jerusalem for Shabbat. Rabbi Carl Perkins of Needham and Reverend Daniel Smith, a UCC minister from Cambridge, along with our Associate Director Nahma Nadich and Director of TELEM Barry Glass, are leading the group in meetings with Israelis and Palestinians and expanding their experiences and their perceptions. Much of this experience is pre-planned, much more of it will be happenstance (like arriving in Jerusalem just in time for the Pride Parade). From their experiences, they will bring home a deeper appreciation for the layers and voices that inform a complex and amazing place, and how its people are grappling with the dilemmas that we all focus so much energy on.
In an effort to better understand Israel’s hope, I invite you to join our ministers and JCRC as we work and learn to see the world through the eyes of those whom we deeply care about, but often struggle to understand.