As they began the final half of the program year, participants saw growing tensions both inside and around Israel. Both participants and facilitators have had to confront their own fears and biases and challenge their perspectives in order to have productive programming and conversation and be able to relate to one other.
In Gaza, the weekly Return Marches were faced with violent reactions from the Israeli army, resulting in high casualties. They were scheduled to take place from Land Day to Nakba Day, overlapping with Passover and the Jewish national holidays (Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut). The Palestinian participants were greatly affected by the violence and deaths in Gaza, while some Jewish participants found it challenging to have conversations on this issue during holiday celebrations. These external pressures, felt in some capacity by all participants and facilitators, made productive dialogue amongst the groups harder to achieve. Thus, facilitators and participants had to be more mindful of creating an open space for everyone to voice fears and observations of the events.
In March, Jewish and Palestinian participants of the Community in Action project took part in a seminar that explored the complexities of Palestinians' lives in Jerusalem/Al-Quds. Participants learned about the unjust division of resources between the Western and Eastern parts of the city, as well as the human rights violations caused by the separation wall and occupation. Jewish participants met with Joint Arab List Congressman Dov Khenin and local peace activist Hamutal Blanc, while the Palestinian participants went on a tour in the ancient city to learn about the history of Palestinian culture and current local initiatives. This was the first time this cohort of participants had gained deep, close-up knowledge of Jerusalem, and both groups felt inspired to take action on the issues addressed.
Earlier this month, Participants of the bi-national group took a historical tour called “From Jaffa to Beirut” with Zochrot, an NGO that focuses on commemoration of the 1948 displacement of Palestinians from their homes. Participants began the tour in Jaffa and learned about the erasure of Palestinian identity from spaces where oppression has taken place. Participants went onward to the village of Iqrit in the Northern Galilee. Once a Christian village, after 1948, the village became occupied by the Israeli military. Now, Iqrit is dealing with constant demolitions and rebuilding. Participants met local Iqrit activists who maintain a small, yet strong, Palestinian community there. The last stop on the tour was Rosh Hanikra, on the border of Lebanon, at which the conversation shifted to the potential return of Palestinian refugees. Despite the tense atmosphere in the air these days, the bi-national group handled this sensitive dialogue with maturity, openness and empathy, resulting in their ability to acknowledge some of difficult events of the past while still holding on to different visions for the future. We expect that the participants will continue to grapple with the new information and process how to incorporate it into their existing narratives, both individually and as a group.
We thank you, as always, for your continuous support in this process. Even as we go through difficult times in our region, it's good to know that we have partners like you walking with us!