Brother Olivier, one of the veteran monks in the Benedictine monastery in Abu Gosh, loves singing. He loves it so much that he is sometimes standing alone in the old church and sings his favorite songs. A local Jewish-Israeli policeman loves singing as well. As luck would have it these two discovered each other which led to their performing together at a recent ceremony of the Israeli police.
The Israeli-Palestinian women in the community center of Abu Gosh are proud of what they achieved. A few years ago the center was built with the help of the Israeli government and since then female Israeli Palestinian director of the community center has organized special empowerment workshops for the women of Abu Gosh. One of the workshops dealt with health care and was organized by Jewish women from Hadassah College Jerusalem. These seminars have totally changed the lives of the women in the town. They are now exercising more, including swimming weekly in the swimming pool of one of the neighboring kibbutzim. And they are raising their children with more freedom and more friendship, in a less authoritarian style than in the past.
The Israeli Arab city of Kafr Kassem is known for two things: Firstly, they are located in the area of central Israel known as “the triangle” – populated mostly by Muslims – and surrounded by Jewish cities and communities. Secondly, it is famous for the massacre of 1956 done by Israeli border police. Until today the massacre is very controversial and when a few years ago seven rabbis in ICCI’s KEDEM program went to the memorial to express their moral outrage without making a political statement, it was a huge step in the direction of reconciliation.
What else have these three stories in common? They were all heard by participants of the “Islam in Israel” study tour organized by ICCI in the frame of a summer program at the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem.
On July 5th, a group of American Jewish laypersons visited the monastery, where they met with Brother Olivier, one of the veteran monks, the mosque, and the city council, where they met with Mr. Issa Jaber, Director of Education for the town, and the community center of Abu Ghosh. At the end of the day the group was privileged to meet with Mohamad Zibdeh – the Kadi of Yaffo and former Kadi of Jerusalem –to learn first-hand about the inner workings of the Muslim courts in Israel.
On July 12th a group of North American rabbis, participated in another study tour led by Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish – director of the ICCI. The participants saw the only Palestinian teacher-training college in an Israeli Arab village in Israel – the Al QassemiCollege in Baka El Gharbiyah – where they learned about the way Islam is taught to emerging teachers. Later in the day the rabbis visited Kafar Kassem to learn about the implications of the massacre for the consciousness of Palestinian citizens who live in that town today.
As a German student intern with ICCI this summer, I personally learned a great deal from these two study tours. Although I live already for a several months in Jerusalem and have been in many Palestinian cities both in Israel and in the Palestinian territories, and I have worked for an organization who helps build up democracy in Palestine and have many Palestinian friends, I still learned more than I expected during the trips.
I got an insider’s view into the internal dynamics of Palestinian society in Israel, the way Palestinians understand education and how they manage their daily life in a a very complex situation. One statement by one of the Israeli Palestinians whom we met fascinated me: “There is a lot of discrimination going on in Israel, we are not accepted by the Jewish majority but I also have to admit that we Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are one of the best treated minorities in the world.” I knew about the ongoing discrimination and the attempts by some Israeli Jewish politicians to make the life of their Palestinian citizens even harder, but I would not have expected such a sentence from a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
These study tours deepened my already existing thoughts about how gray the situation is. Gray in the way that there is no black and white – no good and bad – but also gray in the way that there might be existing projects which give me hope even though their impact in Israeli and Palestinian societies is not large enough yet.