Proximity Talks: The Israeli Phase

For a year, intellectuals from the far-right and left of Israeli society have been meeting to try to find a common language. This is the tale of their unlikely journey

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

Cries of joy that turned into groans of disappointment were heard in the banquet hall next door. Vacationers at the Kibbutz Lavi Hotel were glued to the World Cup semifinal match between Germany and Spain that was being shown on a giant screen. Every so often a stray guest opened the door to the conference room where we were sitting, gave us a bewildered glance, shrugged his shoulders and left. The faces of some of the people sitting in the tight circle in the middle of the room were surely familiar, but aroused confusion when seen in that group.

The motley assortment of people at the religious kibbutz near Lake Kinneret in early July certainly looked peculiar, to say the least. The face of the bearded man in the white shirt and black skullcap had recently graced the pages of the newspapers. This gathering took place after Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, head of the Har Bracha yeshiva, declined to show up for a hearing before the defense minister, to look into his support for soldiers who refuse orders to evacuate settlements. Melamed paid for this with Har Bracha being removed from the list of hesder yeshivas (which combine religious studies and army service ). Next to him, in jeans and a T-shirt, sat Prof. Yossi Yonah, a researcher of political philosophy and lecturer in education at Ben-Gurion University, a signatory to the Geneva Initiative and activist in a long series of social struggles. Dr. Tzvia Greenfield, a member of Meretz, an animal rights activist and the first ultra-Orthodox woman in the Knesset, was whispering something to a woman wearing a large, colorful skullcap: Rabbanit Malka Puterkovsky of the Tekoa settlement, who teaches Gemara and Jewish law, and is a member of the Takana forum (which works to curb sexual harassment in Orthodox society and was recently in the headlines in connection with complaints made against Rabbi Motti Elon ).

Participants in the Peace Dialogue.Credit: Emil Salman

Next to them sat Rabbi Yigal Kaminetzky, who likes to introduce himself as "the rabbi of Gush Katif." He was a prominent figure during the fight against the disengagement - "the expulsion," as he calls it - when he declared that religious, moral, ethical and Jewish reasons do not allow an order to evacuate a settlement to be carried out. He was listening attentively to psychologist Shifra Sagy, a professor who heads the conflict management program at Ben-Gurion University and was active in Shuvi, a women's movement that advocated for Israel to leave Gaza.

Next to her, wearing a fashionable hat, sat Adina Bar-Shalom, founder of the Haredi College in Jerusalem (where 600 men and women are enrolled ) and eldest daughter of the revered Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. TheMarker recently put her on its list of people with the most positive influence on Israeli society. Prof. Tamar Ross, a prominent philosopher and scholar of religious feminism, who immigrated from the United States at age 16, adjusted her colorful headscarf. Opposite her was Prof. Meir Buzaglo, the philosopher and social leader, and son of the renowned liturgist Rabbi David Buzaglo, who came on aliyah from Morocco at age five. Also on hand were Re'em Hacohen, rabbi of the Othniel settlement and head of the hesder yeshiva there, and Orit Vaknin-Yekutieli, a lecturer in Middle East studies at Ben-Gurion University and human rights activist.

I was there, too. Like everyone else, I listened and talked, presented my views and opened myself up to others' views. Not like a hidden camera, but as a journalist. Always a journalist.

One of the moderators went to the door and taped a note to it: "Siah Shalom (Peace Dialogue ) Group, Please Do Not Disturb." The encounter at Kibbutz Lavi, a marathon that lasted three days, was another stop in a unique journey through the dense entanglement of Jewish-Israeli society. Every three to four weeks during the past year, always on a Thursday at six in the evening, we'd been meeting - usually in a small room at the Mishkenot Sha'ananim cultural center in Jerusalem. Rabbi Melamed came to the meetings even at the height of his struggle against Ehud Barak to prevent the disqualification of his institution as a hesder yeshiva. Malka Puterkovsky attended even at the height of the uproar surrounding the complaints against Rabbi Elon. Yossi Yonah would return to the city the day after the encounters to take part in the weekly demonstration against the displacement of the Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah. I continued writing and speaking out in support of dividing the country in two and against the settlements, while being careful not to bring any products from the settlements into my home.

Hard-core ideologists

This was the first time I'd been invited to a dialogue with settlers. And not just "any" settlers, but the ideological hard core. The offer was made to me a year ago by the initiators and moderators of the project : Sharon Leshem-Zinger of Kibbutz Urim, head of the counseling school run by the Voices in the Negev organization at Sapir Academic College, and a teacher in the conflict management program at Ben-Gurion University; Dr. Avinoam Rosenak, head of the department of Jewish thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a research fellow at the Van Leer Institute; and Dr. Elik Isaacs of the Hartman Institute and the Hebrew University's Melton Center for Jewish Education. Both of the latter are observant Jews.

What would we talk about, I wondered. What could I possibly have to discuss with Rabbi Melamed, who praises the hilltop youth and justifies acts of vandalism against the Palestinians? They speak in the name of God and halakha (religious law ), while I come from a secular world, pledge loyalty to the laws of the state and devoutly oppose violence. I am convinced that a continuation of the occupation will lead to the end of the Zionist vision, while they are certain the settlements are the very embodiment of Zionism. I've never "done Shabbat" at a settlement - and now all of a sudden I'm going to participate in an "activity" with them, like in the Scouts?

"Let's talk about peace," began Leshem-Zinger, when I met with her and the other organizers at the Van Leer Institute. "Let's talk about an ethical and religious peace that demands living space for everyone. Let's seek to build a process in which every peace doctrine that is expressed in a group will have to take into consideration the home, the soul, the needs and the doctrine of the other. For all were created in God's image. We believe that the doctrines arise from a consciousness of connection rather than alienation and disconnection can yield innovative and pioneering peace philosophies."

Isaacs told how the idea of an internal Jewish dialogue on the religious meaning of the term "peace" began percolating in his mind following the crisis of the disengagement from Gush Katif and the Second Lebanon War, in which he took part as a reservist soldier.

"The standard peace dialogue in Western culture is based mainly on the conflict resolution by way of compromise and on the basis of hierarchies of interests," he explained. "In many circles in our region, compromise is perceived as a inferior cultural alternative; some even see it as a betrayal of their religious principles. Making peace in a religious dialogue means achieving an ideal that is connected to God's name and presence. We believe that without broad public support that includes a religious-Jewish peace dialogue and Muslim salaam - there can be no peace and Israeli society will not be able to emerge from the crisis it has fallen into."

Rosenak joined the discussion. "We haven't come here to create 'solutions,'" he added. "The solution lies in our understanding that opposite views are tenable and need one another. I believe that establishment of groups capable of leading the nation to an open and complex dialogue, devoted to a peace that is based on Jewish sources, is a national mission."

During the week after that first meeting, I kept going to bed thinking, "Am I out of my mind giving legitimacy to these land thieves?" - only to wake up thinking, "What's the matter with you? In the 1980s, you broke the law to meet with PLO people, and now you're going to refuse to speak with Jews?"

The winning argument in my internal debate was: "a serious journalist doesn't miss out on the experience of settlers talking with leftists about peace." Perhaps I would gain a better understanding of the group of people that has the most influence on Israeli society, on Israel's relations with its neighbors and on its image in the rest of the world.

I will try to attach faces, voices and feelings to that all-encompassing term "settlers," to find nuances, and perhaps even breaches, in the wall that separates us.

From ultra to post

At the first meeting, I sat to the right of Rabbi Melamed. I could almost feel the waves of resentment. "I read the things you write about us, and I feel like you hate me," he hissed at me. "No, I don't hate you all," I said, "but I'm very angry at you for what you're doing to your Palestinian neighbors and for bringing disaster upon my country."

At the next encounter, aversion gave way to wariness, and then curiosity. Leshem-Zinger got the session going with various group-dynamic methods like telling life stories, role-playing, "invitations" to a virtual room with figures who are significant in participants' lives, and so on.

One after another, the group members told their life stories. This one was the daughter of religious Holocaust survivors who fights rabbis that preach that women should have as many children as possible; others have made their way from the periphery to the peaks of academia; another woman grew up in an ultra-Orthodox household, earned a doctorate in philosophy and has joined the peace camp; and one woman, a rabbi's daughter, is swimming against the right-wing tide overtaking his party and developing the only college in Israel for ultra-Orthodox women.

Then it was time for the "peace doctrine." Hovering in the air the whole time was the question of what will happen when the government decides to evacuate (or "expel" ) settlers from the West Bank ("Judea and Samaria" ).

The witty Dr. Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, a senior lecturer in Jewish history at Ben-Gurion University, needled the leftist participants who he says want to be rid of the territories in order to be rid of the Arabs. He suggested supplanting the separation idea with "a binational coexistence of Jews and Palestinians with equal rights." At a time when movements like Im Tirtzu and the Institute for Strategic Zionism have been looking for "incriminating material" against lecturers who espouse these sorts of views, leading figures of national-religious Zionism listened raptly to one of the few Jewish intellectuals who stood by MK Azmi Bishara, former leader of the Balad party, and calls himself a "non-Orthodox Braslover."

The religious philosopher Tamar Ross proposed a post-modern model of cantons based on a differentiation between the concept of the state and of various national, cultural, religious and ethnic groups; each canton would enjoy self-definition, under the umbrella of a practical, political confederation (similar to the European model ). She admitted this was a utopian vision, however.

Meir Buzaglo expressed skepticism that the end of the occupation would bring peace between Jews and Arabs, but demanded of the settlers: "Explain to me, just what the hell are you doing there?"

The four settlers emphasized the feelings of brotherhood and friendship they feel toward the "other," including the Arab contractor and gardener. But to them the Palestinians are always "Arabs." (I guess this makes it easier for them to deny their national identity and their right to establish a state. ) According to them, "the Arabs" as a collective, and the Muslims in particular, are all cut from anti-Semitic terrorist cloth. Their leaders exploit the weakness and unrootedness of the Tel Aviv crowd, who don't understand that "the Arabs" will never rest until they throw them into the sea, too.

In countless encounters with Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians and even Syrians and Lebanese, I never felt so alien and distant. Hearing some of the stereotypical expressions about Muslims I often felt like fleeing. The moderators reminded me that I'd come to learn, and mentioned that the rabbis had decided to tell their students about the encounters with the leftists.

Breach in the wall

I understood this to mean that something was happening with these meetings, that perhaps a crack was opening in the wall, that for the settler representatives perhaps some of the exclamation points were being replaced by question marks. I wouldn't expect the students of Rabbi Melamed to warmly welcome me - but here he was, telling them about meeting with me and others like me. And perhaps the settlers would also permit me to publicize the whispers of good tidings that came out of the "direct talks" between Israelis and Israelis (albeit only Jews, unfortunately ).

It all happened in the final extended, intense encounter at Kibbutz Lavi. There presentations were made of different conceptions of peace, each given an in-depth examination and put to the test, encouraging all of the participants to take a good look inside and to expand their individual and group identities. We clearly saw how public leaders from the right, who'd felt excluded until now from the peace discourse, could be full partners to the discussion. The usual sense of alienation that prevails in most such discussions evaporated, even if the disagreements remained unresolved. And all this was accomplished through the participants taking another look at their Judaism and their Israeliness.

Before we parted fondly, Rabbi Melamed, who hardly missed a meeting but had hitherto stubbornly rejected making everything public, agreed to drop his opposition. He requested that to the next meeting in Mishkenot Sha'ananim we also invite Emanuel Shilo, editor of the national-religious magazine B'Sheva. At that same meeting, each member of the group talked about how the journey to the other side of the Israeli barricades had affected them (Dr. Tzvia Greenfield and Rabbi Kaminetzky were absent, and their remarks were recorded separately ).

Melamed: "The argument about the Land of Israel is a very charged and painful one. My ideas are well expressed in traditional language, which has an old-fashioned ring to it, and also carries the baggage of generations ... When it comes to discourse about ethics or about the deep currents that lead nations, my language has a worthy place among the religious and traditional and nationalist public. Within the secular public, however, the conditions and the language do not make a clear dialogue possible.

"I attach great value to getting to know people who live in a different way and hold different worldviews. I feel love for all mankind, for the different peoples, for their melodies, their stories, their cultures. I feel like the Jew from time immemorial, who loves the world, seeks to do good in society, nurtures positive initiatives - and yet despite it all, is hated for his very existence. He is blamed for all the troubles. This might sound ridiculous to some of you, but I am sure that because of this position, we Jews will continue to produce outlooks that will benefit the world. But apparently in the meantime certain things are not yet understood. We need to work to create an old-new language in which we can fully express our vision for bettering the world, for tikkun olam. But until then, we will still be blamed and be the object of people's anger."

Puterkovsky: "We've all been through some very difficult things in the past few years, each one of us in his own way. I look forward to people taking responsibility as an outgrowth of a genuine, honest and serious analysis, in light of which we will stride forward and make national decisions in the future. I want to be realistic and wonder whether, when the government proposes 'Gush Katif II,' there will be some members of the leftist side of the group, people who, beyond expressing empathy, will raise the serious, proper, practical, security-related and ethical questions that were not raised prior to Gush Katif.

"What affected me was not so much your doctrine regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, but the moral world that you, the people of 'the other camp,' believe in ... If Akiva and I can sit here and clarify our totally different attitudes, with honesty and objectivity - I have no doubt that the questions that will arise from our dialogue will spur both of us to a new way of thinking. Where does this confidence come from? From the feeling and the knowledge that we have a deep moral world in common. I pray that we find ways to disseminate the experience that we had here."

Yonah: "You're right. We didn't change our positions, but I have developed a new empathy. When I meet with Malka and the three rabbis, I'm meeting people displaying their true humanity - as parents, as people with anxieties, with a sense of humor. I understand you better. After getting to know you and learning how to connect with you I need to look you in the eye and imagine your evacuation, your children being forcibly removed, the tears and the screaming, the great crisis, perhaps even the demolition of the houses. And then to ask: Do I continue to adhere to my political position despite this? And the answer is yes: I do hope for another evacuation. Not because I want to see you hurt, but out of my faith that this is a necessary step to ensure Israeli survival as a sovereign Jewish state. But I say this in sorrow, in pain and empathy. I didn't feel this way in the past. These encounters have made me change my emotional position, not my political or moral position."

Two covenants

Hacohen: "What we have done here in these encounters may be understood in light of the distinction that Rav Soloveitchik made between brit goral and brit ye'ud - a covenant of fate and a covenant of mission. The covenant of fate is the historic covenant between all the members of the nation who have together endured so many hardships throughout all the years. The covenant of fate binds people in the face of their enemies and life's hardships; its strength becomes evident at times of trouble for Jacob [the Jewish people] ...

"The covenant of mission is dependent on an internal agreement that derives from ongoing dialogue and from acquaintance with your partners in the path and the mission. A deeper and more stable covenant of mission is ... a covenant that is dependent on education, and it leads the people toward a future in which there is a vision. The covenant of fate, on the other hand, while it may come with more fanfare and unite everyone and be endearing, still fades away again. The covenant of mission is built slowly, through listening and patience, but it lasts for generations. In these encounters we examined together the depth of the Jewish covenant of mission, which is the covenant of peace ... May the profound and thorough thought processes we have undergone here be undergone also by the country's leadership in an effort to determine the content of the nation's covenant of mission."

Yonah: "I can accept what you say. I see all of us as partners in the formulation of a common mission. But the place of this mission will be in the smaller Israel in which we will all gather; there together we will work to create a better, more humane society. I want you to know that when I demonstrate at Sheikh Jarrah and visit Hebron with Breaking the Silence, you are going to be there with me. I will see Malka and Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Re'em in my mind.

"We don't have the luxury of focusing only on peace between us. We all came here out of a very deep feeling that this place is in a profound crisis. If a historic decision is not made regarding the national conflict, Israel will become a Crusader fortress in the region. If that happens, its days are numbered. I was moved to come here by the feeling that there is a need to sound the alarm - to say that something has to be done, and urgently. Beyond the need to establish a Palestinian state, we also need to think about how the Arabs fit in our society and how Arabness fits into our cultural identity, for all of us. To me, the Arab is not an outside element that I wish to make disappear with a wave of a magic wand. And it's not a question of country of origin. "

: "We've all been through difficult experiences in the past years, in light of which it is very important to conduct a personal reckoning, each one from his own position, to take responsibility and admit in regard to certain things: 'I'm sorry, I made a mistake.' I say this and expect to hear it from my friends on the left, too. The test we are supposed to go through together is not for me to change the mind of one of the members here, not at all. The test is for me to examine myself and the way that I have chosen. I expect and hope that each member of the group will go through a similar process of a genuine examination of his path in light of the questions raised here."

Raz-Krakotzkin: "When I was asked what the difference is between me and the Zionist left, I answered that the Zionist left wants for you settlers to pay the price while our lives won't change. But I believe that we all need to pay the price, we all need to cut back. This contributed to my recognition that the binational thinking also requires creation of a common national Jewish project, and that the basis for this lies in the Jewish discourse. It's not just that dismantling the settlements means taking Malka's home away; there's a need to create a common place. And that's a lot more than empathy. But we haven't yet reached what I feel is the decisive and inseparable question of any peace dialogue, and that is: What are the Arabs' rights? It is now even more plain that recognition of the Palestinians' rights requires a new discussion within the Israeli-Jewish consciousness, that involves breaking the simplistic religious-secular, right-left dichotomy and posing the fundamental questions about the rights of the Jews and the rights of the Arabs.

"I think that what created the special framework here is the place of the Mizrahi figures in the group - Meir, Yossi, Adina, Orit - who weren't selected as 'representative.' Each has a different worldview, but they share a common Mizrahi awareness that questions the standard dichotomy of Jew-Arab and also secular-religious, and seeks to appeal to the Israeli public as a whole. To me, this is a central axis of the discussion, because decolonization does not just mean withdrawing from the territories, but requires a discussion about all the aspects of Israeli society. Without addressing Jewish existence, we cannot deal with the question of the Palestinians, and vice versa. It's not that I've changed my fundamental views, but I certainly felt that I had to reveal my inner conflicts and clarify them."

'Sweet illusion'

Buzaglo: "I joined this group after trying for years to avoid the 'swamp' of the conflict. And what stood out after this lengthy abstention is the lack of criticism in regard to the language in which the situation is depicted. This is especially true in relation to the key term: 'occupation.' Yes, the term encompasses checkpoints, bombardments, the separation fence and, above all, suffering - but it also has been around for more than 40 years without anything being done to alleviate Palestinian suffering. And worse, the phrase 'the occupation' encourages us to think of just one solution - ending this situation - which gives you the sweet illusion that things are up to you, and you alone. All you need to do is return to Kfar Sava, just as the French went home and gave up the colonies. Even if the idea of separation into two states is good for both peoples, I still have reservations about depiction of the situation as occupation ...

"What is the advantage of such discussion? The helpless feeling after it spurs the readiness to change. There is a soul-searching that is required of everyone. Is the vision of Greater Israel a prerequisite for redemption? Does my conduct match the conduct of the opposite side? How do national visions like a state of all its citizens mesh with the reality which is becoming more and more religious? Were we to achieve agreement between God-fearing Muslims and Jews that zealotry concerning land and the vision of Greater Palestine cannot compete with the worship of God - perhaps the settlers and the Muslims would be transformed from obstacles to resources in resolving the conflict."

Sagy: "My personal experience in the group strengthened my professional perception that in encounters of groups in conflict, personal dialogue is the most significant contributing factor in shifting positions, emotions and behaviors ... I was very moved that Rabbi Melamed, who to me symbolized right-wing extremism, responded with such emotional force to my question of whether my 10-year-old niece Zoe, who is not Jewish according to halakha, has a place in his peace vision. His answer was to bring his wife Inbal with him to visit my son and his wife at home. I sat there and happily witnessed the warm bond that developed through mutual listening and openness. Afterward, Rabbi Melamed accepted my invitation to participate in a conference I organized at the university with Muslim clergy. This is an example of what can be done in wake of the group's meetings.

"I would like very much to believe that there is a possibility that the personal encounter between us will infuse and illuminate the conflict on a collective level; that the personal connection created between us, the emotional understanding, the empathy as individuals, with a name, face and an individual voice, can repair to some degree the deep rifts among the political groups that were present in the room. But personally, I have to say that it is still hard for me to accept your political views and your actions in the territories."

These feelings were echoed in the comments of Adina Bar-Shalom, who in earlier meetings spoke wistfully about her childhood in Cairo, and about how upset she is with right-wing circles who attacked her father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in the wake of his support of the Oslo Accords.

Bar-Shalom: "Until I joined the group, and I only did so after much hesitation, I felt trepidation about meeting with people of the right and the settlements. After the first meeting I thought about leaving, because of the difficulty of hearing the comments of the extreme rightists and also of the radical leftists. I am glad that the moderators persuaded me to stay, since we need to find a way to dialogue among ourselves, and not only between us and our neighbors. One of the great achievements of the group is that we succeeded in increasing the readiness to sit together, even in the shadow of disagreements, and to understand the worldviews and values that guide people with whom we disagree.

"The encounters reinforced my desire to provide broader knowledge to certain groups in the ultra-Orthodox population. I've decided to open a new program at the Haredi College for conflict resolution and management. The program will be under the aegis of Ben-Gurion University, and headed by our fellow group-member, Shifa Sagy.

"At the same time, I must admit that I am still quite worried. What will Hamas do? Will it make peace possible or will it fight us to the very death? I believe that we must fight for peace and I've learned from the group that the people of the right want peace, too. After all, we all pray: 'He who makes peace in high places, he will make peace for us and for all Israel.'"

Where were the Arabs?

Vaknin-Yekutieli: "Incredible processes have happened in this group - not in terms of opinions and positions, but in terms of abandoning the use of oppositional language. Following these encounters, I found that in my classes I do less 'arguing' and more 'asking.' For me the significant change lies in the recognition that there is a necessity for dialogue, and that the one thing that does the most damage to peace, as a concept and a value, is turning it into the 'asset' of a single group. The discussion of peace has led us to a discussion of the deep, fundamental questions related to the maturation of Israeli society.

"When I told friends in Morocco about our group, they were very excited to hear about it. They wanted to hear about the process and the relationships that were formed between us. I discovered that what connects each one of us to himself and to others are powerful feelings of loss and the fear of loss: personal-family loss for some members of the group, or the uprooting of settlements, and for others a loss of culture and of identity. For me, the biggest loss of all is that our compassion stops at the boundaries of Jewish-Israeli society. If compassion is limited, it cannot survive as a universal value.

"For me, what happened thanks to the group was that the ability to recognize and make room for the pain of the settlers only underscored and intensified the pain regarding the loss of Arabism and the loss of the Arab within my concept of peace. The absence of Israeli Arabs from the dialogue is hard for me; there should also be Arab members of the group. If we do not find a way to include them, it will mean brutally cutting off part of who we are and of what connects us to this place."

Ross: "Reading the newspapers is depressing, you get the sense that we are losing the cultural glue of our society. Our group, despite the ideological differences, is managing to create a joint platform and to nurture an atmosphere that enables exposure [to other points of view]. I feel like the most striking shift occurred in the leftists, actually. The rightists, and the rabbis in particular, are still speaking in an ideological language - although it was also moving to see the social bonds that were formed here, which would not have happened anywhere else. Although I share the disappointment that came up in the course of the discussions - of not having the opportunity for a joint dialogue with Arabs, too - the connections we have made among ourselves give me hope that if we could do this with our very divided Jewish public, perhaps we can carry over the same kind of atmosphere with the Arabs. Via our shared Jewish background, perhaps we can also come up a common human background that will make possible displays of sympathy that cannot arise without a truly emotional connection. This is the main lesson that I take from our encounters."

Kaminetzky: "Before our expulsion from Gush Katif I thought that there was truth on the left, but I found it was all hypocrisy and phoniness ... They are sensitive to the rights of the Arabs and ready to trample the rights of the settlers. If such a group thinks that an expulsion of Jews is also possible in Judea and Samaria - the rift will be greater and more terrible that what we experienced in Gush Katif. I don't even want to think about what might happen. I was pleased to meet people from the left here in an up-close and human way. Even though it was sometimes very hard for me to listen to things that were being said in the room, I decided to stay and listen. Until all Jews share a sense of mutual responsibility there will be no peace. Arguments should be advanced for pure motives. The moment the disagreement turns to hatred, there is no chance for peace on the outside."

Greenfield: "For years I have been agonizing over the question of how it is that with the same people with whom I feel a deep common bond in terms of religious feeling, when it comes to political and human matters, there is a vast emotional and intellectual chasm between us. I haven't been able to figure out how serious people, gentle souls, who have proven their dedication over and over, could be so wrong, so aggressive, when it comes to the most simple human decisions. As if the Palestinians, oppressed and persecuted people with whom we are engaged in a terrible bloody conflict, are not just as deserving of rights as we are.

"We were partners in a group searching for a way to live together. But in my view, the absence of a two-state solution will lead to a loss of the Jewish majority, and to me this is the sole condition that makes possible the realization of our cultural visions as a people in a legitimate democratic way. In order to avoid such a disaster, we need to sit together and talk. I only hope that all of these good people, all of my fellow group members, will not suffice just with mutual admiration, but that we will be able to find ways to defend all the values and objectives that are precious to all of us."

'Human and beautiful'

At our last meeting I sat beside Rabbi Melamed again. I asked him if he still thinks I hate him and his fellow settlers. He thought a little bit and replied: "No. I've come to know the human and beautiful side in you, and I've come to see that your position is based on a responsible worldview and Jewish values."

Maybe it was a moment or weakness, or naivete, but I told myself that it had all been worth it. I was pleased that I'd overcome my aversion to "giving legitimacy" to people whom, according to my personal and political outlook, I considered to be an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians and to domestic harmony. In any case, they have no interest in whether I give them "legitimacy" or in my outlook or values.

But when the big moment of reckoning arrives, when they come to evacuate his home and his yeshiva, in accordance with a peace agreement, perhaps Rabbi Melamed will tell his children and his students that there are some of "them" who are not gloating at their misfortune and merely rejoicing. When his awful day and my big day comes, when Rabbi Melamed is forced to uproot himself from the place he considers his land and that of his forefathers - and which I see as the prized possession of a wretched Palestinian people - I will share his pain and extend to him a supportive hand and he will understand that I do not hate and am no longer angry.

We will meet again at some point soon. A second Peace Dialogue group is on the way.W



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


בנימין נתניהו השקת ספר

Netanyahu’s Israel Is About to Slam the Door on the Diaspora

עדי שטרן

Head of Israel’s Top Art Academy Leads a Quiet Revolution

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

Skyscrapers in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.

Israel May Have Caught the Worst American Disease, New Research Shows

ג'אמיל דקוור

Why the Head of ACLU’s Human Rights Program Has Regrets About Emigrating From Israel


Netanyahu’s Election Win Dealt a Grievous Blow to Judaism