A Different Reality

I was sitting with a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, Dr. Fathi Darwish, when my friend and cofounder of Roots Ali Abu Awwad approached with plates of food for both of us. I remarked to Dr. Fathi that I learned from Ali not only about Palestinian identity and life. I also learned from him graciousness and manners. In response he told me that Yasser Arafat used to host many guests at his compound in Ramallah, and that no matter how many people were seated around the table, Arafat used to get up and serve each one individually. And he said it with great fondness and admiration!

Dr. Fathi and I were listening to speeches and to Israeli and Arabic music in a large greenhouse with over a hundred other people, mostly Jews but a smattering of Palestinians as well, on the piece of land near the Gush Etzion juncture that has hosted Roots since its inception two years ago. Those gathered had come to pay respects to the memory of the iconoclastic settler leader Rabbi Menachem Froman on the third anniversary of his passing. Dr. Fathi had apparently known Rabbi Froman well, for when he got up to speak to the assembled crowd, he spoke not only of the rabbi’s untiring efforts towards peace and reconciliation, but also of the close personal relationship between Arafat and Rabbi Froman!

READ: Rabbi Menachem Froman, West Bank Religious Leader and Peacemaker, Dies

Dr. Fathi wasn’t the only Palestinian with sincere admiration for Rabbi Froman. Many times in the past, I had heard Ziad Sabateen who was also there at the event, speak of him as ‘my rabbi’. Ziad used to attend the Torah classes that the rabbi had given weekly in his home!

One of the speakers was Michal Froman, one of the rabbi’s daughters-in-law. She opened by telling us that what got her onto the program was the fact that she had been recently stabbed by a Palestinian! Of course, just about all of those present knew the story. Not too long ago a young knife-wielding Palestinian had infiltrated Tekoa where she lives with her husband and had tried to kill her. The picture of her in a hospital bed had been plastered all over the local newspaper. She told us that until now she had not been involved in Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation efforts but her recent brush with death had galvanized her to take the plunge.

As I was walking out of the event, I bumped into a young Palestinian man from Bethlehem whom I had met only a month earlier. He and I already had had two powerful conversations during the last month. Later I had introduced him to Roots and to Ali Abu Awwad. Noor told me that Roots had begun to completely change his perspective and that this event had been absolutely wonderful. I responded that for me he was a treasure that I had discovered, and I gave him a big hug. I was so happy as I saw him walking off with two new friends that he has just met, one Palestinian and one not.

The whole day had been a study in the unexpected; little incidents one after the other that broke the mold of the reality that we thought we knew.

I arrived home and an hour or two later turned on the news. A Palestinian tried to stab an Israeli at the Gush Etzion junction and was “neutralized.”

One bitter and desperate Palestinian attempted to kill and was killed. Within minutes Israelis and Palestinians around the country knew of the violence. Soon after people around the world heard about it as well. On the same day and in the same place, a hundred people had made peace, not war. And you probably had no idea.

(Photograph of Rabbi Menachem Froman and Ziad Sabateen, courtesy of Harvey Stein)

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