February 17, 2009

Mt. Tabor, Israel — lessons and gifts

Last spring, I spent a day at Mt. Tabor, north of Tel Aviv. Something about this mound of earth at the junction of ancient strategic highways — "the battlefield of the nations" (Mark Twain) captured my imagination. And the months following the visit, I felt a compulsion to learn more...

Now that I'm back in Israel, I'm looking forward to catching up soon with many people you'll "meet" here (5 minutes).

February 05, 2009

An Israeli Arab "Profile in Courage": Marwan Amer

With my "cousin" Marwan in Beersheba, in southern Israel
We met last spring at a celebration of families whose children attend the Hagar Arab-Jewish kindergarten in Beersheba. I traveled from Tel Aviv to meet the students, their parents, and community — an oasis of hope trumping ignorance, cynicism, and despair. My digital story Jewish-Arab Kindergarten relates part of their heroic tale.

Within minutes, Marwan and I discovered that we share a deep affection for my cousin Khanan, principal of Jerusalem's largest primary school. Marwan, an interfaith leader and trained facilitator for the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace, has worked with Khanan and other educators to break down stereotypes and teach nonviolent methods of conflict resolution in schools.

When Marwan introduced me to his wife, Sarah, she immediately said, "stay with us as long as you like" or to join them most weekends in Kafr Qasem, their hometown in northern Israel. We pledged to meet again.

Seven months later, Operation Cast Lead broke out
Beginning in December 2008 and ending in January 2009, Israel launched a military campaign in the Gaza Strip aimed to stop Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel and target Hamas members and infrastructure. It achieved little of value for anyone.

During the military campaign, I couldn't imagine life for Marwan and his family — dodging Hamas rockets while many fellow Jewish Israeli citizens are hostile toward Israeli Arab citizens. I was worried sick and called or emailed Israeli family and friends daily. At first, I hesitated calling Marwan, unsure whether a conversation might feel awkward for us or add to his stress.

Staying alive, together
Marwan's young daughter answered the phone. (He later told me that she watched on TV her school hit by a rocket.) When he came to the phone, he gasped. I stammered, weeping, "I am so terribly sad. For everyone. How are you?"

He explained that initially, he and Sarah brought their three young children to their grandparents in Kafr Qasem to escape Hamas rocket attacks in the south. Two weeks later, the children and parents missed each other terribly, so the children returned home to Beersheba. With local schools closed and rockets raining steadily, the family mostly stayed inside.

Peace work does not stop for war
"How are you, Marwan?" I pressed. "What about your peace work while escalating violence threatens the dream?"

And with his reply, Marwan, an unstoppable force for good, captured my Profile in Courage Award.

The Greater Beersheba Arab-Jewish teen group is continuing to meet. While the Jewish families would not allow their kids into Arab villages since the war, all the parents gave permission for the group to travel to Tel Aviv to meet [1.5 hours distance and requiring vehicles, fuel, and logistical arrangements]. There, in the Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Tel Aviv troop building, the teens are discussing the situation and how they feel and think about it. Our peace work has not stopped. And it will continue.

Related Post
Jewish-Arab Kindergarten