03 March 2013

Perhaps After the Rains

from outside מקום יפה לקפה in the Galilee
When we headed up North last week from Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights, we stopped off at Kibbutz Ein Shemer, to learn about their Ecological Greenhouse project they have developed in order to teach science to local Israel and Palestinian high school students who live in the area.

It's an inspiring little place, which began to lay the groundwork for an emerging idea that has brewing in my mind ever since boarding the return flight to Brooklyn:  how to actively engage youth between Brooklyn and Israel in a way to involve the community in meaningful work to achieve peace.  Our walk around Jaffa with the Coexistence Tour left us wanting.  It's always nice when people are talking but there was an impatience fermenting in the group for more action-oriented ideas.  Ein Shemer's Ecological Greenhouse is not overly ambitious but it is educationally meaningful and does what ought to be done with youth from different backgrounds:  puts them into teams to solve problems that are not directly related to the classically intractable problems like peace and security.  Developing alternative energy sources from algae; exploring ways to improve irrigation; farming fish and using their waste for fertilizer are all as much in their self-interest as peace and security, especially given the reality that besides what appears to be irreducible hatred among Israelis and Palestinians, there is a dangerous shortage of water.  And people have been saying for years that war in the Middle East is as much about water rights as anything else.

This became abundantly clear to us the next day when we took a morning hike in the Banias National Park, a verdant overflow of water falls and beautiful, blooming plant life fed by the springs that descend from the Hermon Mountain.  There is the territorial issue with Syria to contend with (though given Syria's present state of revolution and violent instability, it seems increasingly clear that Israel will never negotiate away that territory gained in victory after the Six Day War--I certainly wouldn't.)  But one of the reasons the Golan Heights is so valuable--along with its militarily strategic vistas into Lebanon, Syria and Jordan--is that it sits atop crucial water sources that feed all of Israel--Hermon tributaries, Jordan River tributaries, and the Kinneret.

I took some early morning runs up there in the Golan Heights--sunrise adventures on narrow roads with no shoulders, perhaps a bit careless on my fiftieth birthday but nevertheless a thrill.  Thousands of birds crowded the skies and watered areas, en route between Africa and Europe with their semi-annual stop-over in the Hula Nature Reserve.  Herons, igrets, parrots perched atop irrigation tents; an occasional car on a foggy, lonely road, lurching past a few of us running single file, aware of borders.  Later in the day, while hiking around Bental, we'd hear the sonic boom of fighter jets, as we had the day before at Kibbutz Ein Shemer, a message in the sky to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad in Syria that whatever troubles are brewing across the border ought to stay there.  

There's a kind of dug-in seriousness to things, a sense that no matter what, Israel is not moving.  I say this because so much of the nasty anti-Israel discourse that American Jews are conscious of can be its own debilitating, deteriorating force that sows doubt, division, and distance between Jews in the Diaspora and Jews in Israel.  Watching Israel from a distance, traveling there annually and leading dozens on trips each year, I am certain that despite the bloodshed of existential wars, rocket attacks, suicide bombs and the draining, moral dilemma inducing costs of ruling over the West Bank (with the pathetically requisite attempts of world leaders to turn Israel into a pariah state) Israel is strong.  Immovable.  Dug in.  

There will be peace.  There will be compromise.  I have no doubt about that.  It has to happen.  But it will only come from a place of strength--and it must, given the reality that surrounds Israel today. 

In the meantime, one can discern these small glimmers of hope on the horizon, at the edges, on the seam, but also right in the middle of the country.  

Matti Friedman captures some of this in his piece on Jerusalem in the New Israel Times.  He writes, "There is still no great love among the city’s different groups. There are steep inequalities in municipal services and funding between Israeli citizens and the one-third of the city’s residents who are Palestinian Arabs. The meeting of the different groups is often charged and occasionally violent. But Jerusalem in 2013 is a more integrated city than it has been in decades."

I found that to be true more than ever before--stronger than last year, which was stronger than the year before.  It makes you wonder about how democracies actually work.  Are the career planners and city administrators often more effective at making change than the politicians who are elected based as much on speeches and rhetoric more than actual results?

Teachers, transportation professionals, small business owners, hold more power in their hands than people may give them credit for.  While we wait for heads of state to sit down and draw borders, the impatient people pick up pencils and paper and do it themselves.  

"In this summer of wide-open-eyed hatred and blind love," wrote Yehuda Amichai after the 1967 war, "I'm beginning to believe again in all the little things that will fill the holes left by the shells:  soil, a bit of grass, perhaps after the rains, small insects of every kind."

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