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Still in Israel/Palestine: Report Back Coming June 10

by Rabbi David J. Cooper

By the time you read this, I will be back in Berkeley, but I am writing from a hotel in Bethlehem and on the road in the West Bank.

Jim Haber and I will do a report back in greater detail on June 10 (see p. 9) about the trip we are on with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV). But for now, let me report this.

I arrived at the Tel Aviv airport on Friday afternoon, May 4 and with no problems at the airport, I went straight to Jerusalem where I could drop my bags and walk to Kabbalat Shabbat with Rabbi Rosalind Glazer who used to be one of our leaders in Kehilla and is now a resident in Jerusalem. She took me to the closest thing to Kehilla in the city. Kehilat Tzion is egalitarian and very musical, but it uses a Mizrachi nusach (modal form) and mixes in Ashkenazic music. It is politically progressive with a great rabbi. Her parents were a mixed Mizrachi Ashkenazic couple. More on that later.

I spent days in Jerusalem and, among other adventures, interviewed a number of people with different perspectives on the current Israel/Palestine situation. I have been writing these up but have not been able to prepare them to blog, but they will be available later on line.

I was in northern Israel for two days and stayed over with a family in a Palestinian-Israeli town. I also got their perspective. But my reason for going north was to explore a few sites that might be interesting for a Kehilla tour of Israel/Palestine and this produced some welcome surprises.

Early on Sunday, May 14, I met up with about 130 people outside a park in central Jerusalem. We were ready to board buses on the first leg of the CJNV trip to the occupied West Bank. Looking like a standard tourist group we were waved through the security at the intimidating high wall abreast the road to Bethlehem.

For that first day, we mostly stayed at our hotel in Bethlehem for orientation and for a mishpacha gathering which are smaller groups of eight to ten people who gather at times for checking in and talking out feelings and reflections in confidence. The leadership appointed several people to be facilitators of these groups and I was designated as one of these.

The nine days of activities are divided in three phases, a visiting phase, an action phase and a phase of report back. The first phase consisted of a few days of visits to five different sites around the West Bank to work with Palestinians who have invited CJNV to be with them. So we were divided into five groups; each would visit the same site for the next three days. My group came to a small Bedouin village in the south Hebron hills called Um al Khair (“the goodly community”), which has been under a demolition order for a few years that has not been carried out… yet.

The village has been there since the 1950’s where they resettled after the 1948 war. Stretching alongside of the village, separated by a high fence, is an illegal Israeli settlement that was established there in the 1980’s. The contrast between the village and the settlement is stark. Suburban houses with well-watered landscaping and air conditioning. And across, an arid collection of two village segments, a few buildings of corrugated metal, a few of prefab rectangles, and some of cinder block. Some frame structures are covered by plastic canvass, and one, a community gathering space, is covered by a fabric woven from the hair of the goats that they raise.

The village is not on the water nor the electric grid while the next door settlement’s chicken coops have water and electricity feeding off the towers that do not supply the village any power.

This village wants us there to develop a relationship and to be sure the world is aware of them in their lonely precariousness. Their form of resistance is to stay put despite it all. The expression “Existence is resistance” comes up a few times in conversation during the trip. The work we do with the villagers is about their determined steadfastness, sumud.

We help prepare the base of a new playground for kids who delight in running around us while we work and they also take a few turns at the shovels and rakes. On another day we weed their garden of thyme. We also paint a frame for their football (soccer) goals, clear the field of any rubble, and then with the settlement fence running right along the field, we play a game of football.

The second phase of this begins tomorrow with a direct action that, as of this writing, I am prohibited from explaining, but by the time you read this, you will know of it. I admit that I am nervous about it. But what I am confident of is that it is an action that has been designed with, approved by, and with the participation of our Palestinian and Israeli peace camp partners all of whom are committed to nonviolence.

Of course this writing is incomplete. Hopefully, there will be a more finished report back on June 10. Stay tuned.

For more details check out an article about Rabbi David’s project:


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