We were two Christian Palestinians, four Muslim Palestinians and six Jewish Israelis. The Christians were from Bethlehem, both veterans of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. One had been deported from Israel over 25 years ago because of the danger he was deemed to pose to the State of Israel. Two of the Muslims were former members of the Palestine Liberation Organization who had spent many years in Israeli jails for acts of violent resistance. The Israelis were religious settlers, longtime residents of Gush Etzion in Judea, fervent believers in the right of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel. Two of the Israeli were rabbis, myself among them.
It was the eve of the eve of Rosh Hashanah. At least for the Jews, presumably not the most auspicious time for such a get-together. Many of us had pressing preparations for the approaching holiday to see to. But I had just returned to Israel the afternoon before from a speaking and fundraising tour in Switzerland, and two of the Palestinians were about to leave the country for the USA and Jordan respectively; it was the only time that we could find to sit down together.
We were there to discuss our joint vision for the future of our peoples in this war-torn sliver of land that we both call home. For about a year we have been in the process of creating something absolutely unique, Roots/Shorashim/Judur, the Palestinian Israeli grassroots initiative for understanding, nonviolence and transformation. It was time to see if we could begin to formulate a vision statement for this fledgling movement.
We expected it to be difficult, even stormy. It wasn’t. Over the course of the last 16 or so months, we have learned to listen to each other and to absorb what we hear. We have come to understand each other; we feel for the other and his nation. We know what they need and we fervently desire for them to have it. It used to be that we each carried on our shoulder the burden of our nation. Today all of us also carry on our second shoulder the burden of the other nation. While each of us identifies first and foremost with our own People — its struggles and its triumphs, we have developed a new language, perhaps even a shared identity.
After a long and fruitful give and take, we came up with something that we all felt we could all agree upon. It was far from what I had expected, but I was satisfied, although still challenged. Until a year and a half ago, I would never have imagined myself participating in such a forum, let alone feeling comfortable with such a statement. I have come a long way. We have all come a long way – together.
Again and again we read it over, tentatively, wondering to ourselves how we had come so far, and if we were ready:
We envision a new social and political reality that is founded on dignity, trust, and a mutual recognition of and respect for each People’s historic belonging to the entire land.
And then it dawned on me with utter clarity: This discussion was not an interlude taking us away from our preparations for Rosh Hashanah. This was of the essence of Rosh Hashanah itself, as we repeat again and again in the Amidah for the holiday:
May all human beings create one brotherhood to do Your will with an undivided heart.
For 2,000 years we have prayed that we may make one brotherhood with those who have been our enemies to do good and to make peace together, but have been unable to take practical steps towards the fruition of this dream. Now we can … and we must … and we are.