Amid ongoing violence between Palestinians and Israelis, a school in Jaffa seems more determined than ever to teach Arab and Jewish children about coexistence.
In a sunny playground here just 3 miles south of Tel Aviv, children paint recycled tires in vibrant colors and refurbish wooden furniture to beautify a place that many in the community say is their best chance at a peaceful future.
This is the Jaffa branch of “Yad b’Yad” — or “Hand in Hand” in both Hebrew and Arabic — a school made up of four kindergarten and two first-grade classes that aims to respond to growing Jewish-Arab segregation and violence with mutual respect and open dialogue.
“Psychologically, this is the only place where we feel that my children, and my neighbor’s children, are secure,” said Hani Chamy, an Arab engineer and generations-old resident of Jaffa who was one of the first parents to send her two girls to the pre-school.
“It’s a great relief.”
On the first day the Palestinian flag was raised at the United Nations, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared his intent to break agreements with Israel, including the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords, which proposed a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, The New York Times reports.
“We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power,” said Abbas.
Despite Abbas’ strong words, it is unclear what practical consequences will follow.
An interfaith group gathered in a private home Sept. 21 to head off potential tensions over how Jews and Muslims celebrate Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha, two holidays that overlap this year.
The meeting of the Abrahamic Reunion took on added significance in Jerusalem, where more than a week of violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians on the Temple Mount have spilled into the streets of East Jerusalem.
Two dozen people of various faiths heard a rabbi explain the laws and traditions of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and a Muslim sheikh explain the laws and traditions of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that honors the willingness of Ibrahim (the biblical Abraham) to heed God’s order to sacrifice his son.
The day culminated with an interfaith peace walk between the eastern and western parts of the city. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and considers it part of its capital. The Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
“What did you do on your summer vacation?”
Even now students may be answering that question in essays at the start of this new school year. Maybe you wrote such a paper years ago. No matter what you did or where you went this past summer, it was almost impossible to escape the heaviness of the headlines. #BringBackOurGirls has become a distant refrain, almost forgotten beneath the crush of summer tragedies:
Thousands of children traveled alone from Central American countries to enter the U.S. as refugees. Ebola deaths spread to more West African nations killing hundreds including many health workers. The forces of ISIS, intent on carving out an Islamic caliphate, took over major Iraqi cities and beheaded a U.S. journalist in Syria. Russia usurped Crimea and threatened the rest of Ukraine. The U.N. refugee agency announced in late August that “the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.” Gaza has been reduced to rubble while Hamas rockets still fly toward Israeli cities. Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old African American man who might have started college this week, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the waning days of August.
After such a summer, how can we do anything but scoff at Paul’s words from Romans?
Saturday marked the third time since Israel began military operations in Gaza on July 8 that I let my voice be heard. I stood and marched alongside some 20,000 other individuals that like me have become utterly disgusted by what is unfolding in the Middle East.
A cease-fire has been struck, but as of yesterday, at least 1,800 Palestinians, most of whom are civilians, have been killed and nearly 7,000 have been wounded. Another 200,000 have been displaced in a territory whose infrastructure is now in ruins with mass power and water outages.
Despite the horrific events that have happened halfway across the world, the protest last Saturday, which took place at the White House, was a beautiful sight. Among the 20,000 protesters were Muslims, Jews, and Christians. There were blacks, whites, Arabs, Asians, and Latinos. There were women and men, both young and old, who had come from cities like Chicago, Tampa, Baltimore, and Boston. Many barriers were broken as we stood and marched in solidarity with the people of Palestine.
There were times when my heart was completely broken as I saw signs with photos of dead and mutilated bodies and others that listed the names and ages of children who had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. But in those same moments I would look across the sea of protesters draped in black, white, green, and red yelling phrases such as "Free, Free Palestine!" and "Stop the killing, stop the hate!" and I would once again become a prisoner of hope. I take refuge in the rock that is Christ Jesus. I know my God stands with those being oppressed, with those seeking justice and peace. I know my voice and prayers along with millions of others around the world will be heard.
Although I am pro-Palestine, that does not make me pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. I recognize and condemn Hamas's involvement in the failed peace talks and inability to find solutions. I also mourn equally for the loss of life on the Israeli side. However, despite the part Hamas has played in all of this I do not find Israel's actions to be justified. So I march.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God calls us to love and show compassion to the stranger, particularly those who suffer. But first, they must become real to us. And there is nothing more viscerally real, perhaps, than the face of a dead child.
Is it possible to let our hearts by broken by the dead children of our enemy? Is our God big enough to allow us to imagine that God loves those we fear and despise?
Not until, I believe, they have faces.
Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza – though religious fervor is alive and well in these embattled areas, loathing, horror, and hatred seem to reign, darkness to rule. In the grim night, we cannot see each other’s faces.
The first thing that visitors and volunteers see at the Tent of Nations just outside of Bethlehem is a large stone on which are written the words, “We refuse to be enemies.” As Israeli settlements draw ever closer to their land and the Israeli Defense Forces destroy their orchards, the Nassar family continues to pay a heavy price in their practice of Jesus’ teaching, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).”
The Nassars refuse to divide the world into friends and enemies, challenging the rest of us to do the same.
As a Christian, I was raised to be pro-Israel. Since going to the region many times, I’ve become pro-Palestinian and pro-peace, too, which has led me to explore the narratives of Palestinians as well as Israelis. I grieve the deaths in both Israel and Palestine. Every human life has extraordinary value. The loss of even one life is a loss to all of us.
In the bright light of these days’ events it is helpful to be reminded of unalterable truths that transcend party conventions and oppressive governments. The political gatherings and increasing pain of the Middle East conflicts confuse the consciousness. They divert attention and trouble our slumber. Corporate callousness and individual hopelessness has set in and we have turned our faces to that which inures us from the persistent discomforting news.
Pick your own, even if momentary distraction. For me it has been Washington National’s baseball in the drive for a championship and maybe a World Series appearance. My spirit rises or falls on the team’s performances and batting averages of the Nats mini gods.
The biblical Job sought less superficial solace from his and the world’s sufferings. He responded to one of his “comforters” saying “when the land falls into the hand of the wicked He (God) blindfolds its judges” (9:24).