Looking for the Light: A Young Palestinian Woman’s Quest for Change

By Heather Renetzky and Morgan Furlong

(as part of our Stories of Inspiration series)

Haneen Majadhle has a modest goal in life: to change the world. She graduated from ICCI’s Between Memory and Reconciliation and facilitated at ICCI’s Face to Face/Faith to Faith’s New York summer camp program in cooperation with Auburn Seminary. Originally from Baqa Algrbiah, an Arab city in central Israel, Haneen moved to Jerusalem to study social work at Hebrew University ten years ago.

Her first experience in Jerusalem was not exactly positive. She was in Jerusalem for one week when there was a bombing at her school. Panicking, she fled to the street with her other classmates. The army seized her and everyone else who either looked Arab or spoke Arabic as suspects. Feeling afraid and unsafe, she kept repeating to herself, “Everything will be okay.” This nightmare shaped her image of Jerusalem.

At this point, Haneen realized that she had two options: to live with hate, or to find circles that would help her deal with the complicated city of Jerusalem. In line with her desire to “make the world a better place,” she chose the latter and joined the Young Adult programs of the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel (ICCI), later becoming a member or the organization’s Board of Directors.

“A lot of people use religion to justify what they do in the name of G-d. I want to change that,” Haneen said.

She wanted to have her voice heard, and she wanted to hear from people of other religions.

“[In my dialogue group at ICCI] It was really hard to listen, and really hard to share,” Haneen explained. She spoke about feeling “surrounded and overwhelmed by a lot of identities,” whether it was Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Arab, Israeli, or Palestinian.  However, she felt that there was a lot to gain in sharing her own story because of the role dialogue plays in helping get rid of ignorance.

Despite these challenges, Haneen also has more positive memories, especially from her ICCI 2010 study tour to Japan, with a group of Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians. She recalls being at a Buddhist temple with Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Being in a place where they all felt out of their comfort zone, the group realized that they had more in common than they had previously thought. In Japan’s unfamiliar environment, the group was finally able to recognize their similarities—culture, food, and language—more than their differences. Haneen returned from the trip noticeably different than when she started it: “Whether in a small group or big group, something happened to the people. I can’t name it. But I do think and feel something happened.”

Participating as a facilitator in Face to Face/Faith to Faith international camp in upstate New York –with staff and students from Israel, Palestine, South Africa, Northern Ireland and parts of the USA.–and learning about the internal conflicts in in all of these places, helped her better understand a struggle beyond her own: “You get to know that you’re not the only nation conflicted.”

She disagrees with those who think that other people’s problems are theirs alone and believes that “If you want to save the world, you have to struggle for everyone.”

“At some point, when you feel you have a common background, you see you have a common thing to fight for: To be safe, not to be poor. It’s the same wish list,” she explained.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has made the atmosphere very difficult, and Haneen expressed her inability to sleep during the conflict. Speaking about how Palestinian people need their basic civil rights– food, clean water, and education– she declared, “Unless we deal with the basic thing, I can’t see the light after that.” She described her dark moments and her criticisms of the current situation:  “As humans, we’re not putting our efforts in the right places. I have bad days—where I’m waiting for the ark and the flood and the world to start again.”

Still, she said that dialogue has helped her maintain hope that there can be change in this world:

“Whether we disagree or agree about what’s happening in Gaza, we can talk.”

“We have lost a lot of hope here, and it’s easy to do that. If you keep talking together…and you feel that other people are [on the same page], I think that’s really helpful. You can see that despite everything, something can happen in here.”

 

Heather Renetzky, a Core 18 Fellow interning at ICCI this summer, is finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Religious Studies from Macalester College.

Morgan Furlong, a Core 18 Fellow interning at ICCI this summer, just finished her Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and is pursuing a career in interfaith work.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ending the Violence, from Destruction to Dialogue

by Dr. Ron Kronish

first published on The Times of Israel, July 24 2014

We in Israel have been waiting with baited breath every day for a week for a ceasefire so that the ongoing attempts at mutual destruction will cease and so that innocent civilians on both sides can breathe easily once again and stop living in fear. The immediate round of mutual violence and recrimination needs to come to an end as soon as possible!

The Hamas military wing –and their Islamic allies –have shot hundreds of missiles all over southern and central Israel, causing almost no personal harm but instilling fear in the hearts and minds of millions of Israeli parents and children. They have succeeded in their psychological terror campaign . Since the beginning of the ground Invasion, they have killed 32 Israeli soldiers and injured more than 100.

Millions of people throughout Israel have been running to their shelters and “safe rooms” every day, and especially at night, in order to avoid incoming missiles from Gaza. The psychological trauma has been huge and it continues every day.

And, Israel’s army, navy and air force launched an invasion into Gaza during the last week, with the stated purposed of destroying the tunnels built by Hamas that reach underneath Israeli communities near the border with Gaza. The military has reacted with much force, bombing suspected Hamas military sites all over Gaza, and justifiably destroying terrible tunnels that are dangerous to Israelis living in communities near the border with Gaza. This is been done to get the message to the Hamas leaders that they must stop their insanity!

At the same time, his has led to hundreds of innocent civilians killed and over three thousand injured, many of them women and children; moreover much property has been destroyed and 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Yet the Hamas and other Islamic militants in Gaza keep firing more and more missiles, with seemingly no or little concern for the losses on their side.

Is the military pressure bringing Hamas to the negotiating table? It seems that the answer is negative. More force seems to make them insanely more stubborn.

And, do the diplomats who are shuttling all over the Middle East have any sense of urgency? It seems that the answer is negative, since they are not convincing either side to compromise on its demands, and the talks drag out from day to day.

In the meantime, there have been some outrageous “leaders” in Israel who called for the Israel Defense Forces to go on the offensive and reconquer Gaza! How outlandish! They apparently forget about our 18 years in Southern Lebanon! They live in the past, still thinking that military force is the best mode of conflict resolution.

Fortunately, our current political and military leadership ignored their irrelevant and irreverent bluster, and did their best to avoid a ground offensive for a long time. But now that we are one week into the ground offensive, many questions are being asked: is there any end in sight? Are the goals of the operation limited and realistic? Is it just a surgical operation? The Defense Minister said 3 days ago that it would take 3 days! But another senior military man said last night that it will take 2 more weeks!

Can all the tunnels leading to Israeli communities near the border be destroyed? And, what does it mean “to restore quiet”? How long will this take? Is it achievable? At what costs? Are we entering the Gaza quagmire, reminiscent of the Lebanese quagmire? Are we sinking deeper and deeper into the mud? Are we on the brink of a mini war of attrition? Is there an exit strategy? These questions are on the minds of everyone in Israel.

After the guns and the missile launchers fall silent—hopefully the sooner the better–the key question will quickly become: can we move from destruction to dialogue, from negating the other to entering into serious negotiations? When will we come to the realization that military power is limited and that it cannot achieve lasting peaceful coexistence?

How exactly will the ceasefire be achieved if not through dialogue and negotiations? Israel doesn’t talk to Hamas, but it talks to the leaders of Egypt, who talk to the leaders of Qatar who talk to the leaders of Hamas for us! For many years, we didn’t talk to the PLO either, until we realized that talking is the only effective way to make progress, and eventually also peace.

Some of Hamas leaders even floated some ideas for a 10 year “hudna”, Arabic for “truce”. This is amazing and should not be totally ignored. Maybe some of the ideas are even mutually beneficial to both sides?

We can talk indirectly to the Hamas, at first, as we have been doing for years. This is, of course, what led to the release of Gilad Shalit! And this is the way a cease-fire was reached in the past. Talking is better than shooting –it is less harmful to human beings on all sides.

But some will argue that negotiating is very complicated, and often very confusing. And, anyway, it only works at the end of a military campaign, they say. And, the other side makes too many unrealistic demands, they will add.

Maybe so. But at the end of the day, there is no real alternative to dialogue and negotiations, if we really want to live in peace with our neighbors in this region. The military path—even when it is justified to blow up dangerous tunnels that come underneath our communities– is too full of damage and destruction, of life and property, and, it just generates more animosity and hatred.

Now is the time, therefore, to move from damage and destruction, to dialogue and deliberations.

The Lessons of the Fish and the Sun

By Hauke Z iessler

July 10, revisions by RK

 

I recently read a blog post by Rabbi Ron Kronish, Director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel , which reflected exactly what was running through my mind at the time, and I felt that it is important to highlight his notion of hope amidst despair in a more psychological manner.
Through various situations in which I have been involved in recent weeks in Israel, I have noticed that the breakdown in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians has caused a wave of despair and frustration that has engulfed many people on both sides of the conflict, which has led to a stagnation in both collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian organizations and a complete cessation of the Peace Process. As part of this process, both sides have assumed the position of victim even more than is usually the case. This is a large psychological burden, as both sides have fallen into patterns of despair.

If one believes that there is an ominous oppressor/enemy that cannot be stopped, one quickly judges oneself as inferior and falls into the thinking that the situation is hopeless. This builds in-group bonds and weakens any readiness to interrelate with or even trust the out-group. As shown by Robert Putnam (a researcher in the field of Social ties and relations with books such as “Bowling Alone” published in 1995), there is a so-called bridging and bonding social capital in every society which is vital for the trust and structure of these communities. He identifies a strong presence of bonding capital which is the extent of interrelations with people who are alike and within your group. He found that this already is a step towards a peaceful society in a homogenous community. But in a diverse multi-ethnic and heterogeneous community, that bridging capital is vital. Bridging Capital is the extent of relations with people that are not alike. If bridging is not present, distrust is fostered and this fosters prejudice and thus causes societal stagnation.

In a recent informal conversation in Jerusalem, I was told by an Israeli Arab that the conflict is like a lion cub. If one treats the lion cub humanly it will grow up as a kind respectful animal but if you treat it with brutality, at some point it will attack its owner violently (the lion cub, in his view, refers to the Palestinian people). While there is some truth behind this, I think it is sad that this is the narrative which is being recited.
This reminded me of the phenomenon of “learned helplessness”, which was first conceptualized and studied by Martin Seligman in 1967 at the University of Pennsylvania. In his study rats were thrown into a water pool where there was no hope of getting out. At one point, the rat would give up and stop trying to escape. If the rat was put in a new situation where there was an escape the rat would not even bother trying to find a way out as it assumed the situation was hopeless.
Similar patterns were found in tests with humans. The problem is that this frustration amidst the constant danger of violence for both sides has created a mutual self-victimization and thus a rationalization of figurative lion attacks occurs. I have heard comments from Palestinians that Jews who tell me they are involved in dialogue and want peace are lying. Similarly, I have been told by Israeli Jews that all Arabs do not accept Jews as neighbours. Generalizations induced by frustration and despair incited by diverse sources, which is a whole different topic, are the cause of distrust and thus a breakdown in social ties.

So how do we combat this?
We need to seek dialogue and seek relations with people that are promoting peaceful coexistence. Do not sit and wait for someone to join you in your lonely, fishbowl but take a risk and jump out of your bowl and join your neighbour. A single fish in the ocean is doomed but as a swarm you can protect yourself against the attacks of frustration and despair. Things can only change if hope is what is written on the flags and not hate, frustration and anger.

As I continue to work on the new ICCI Internet Radio Station called Microphones for Peace. I have hit many moments when I wondered how I am going to find motivated individuals who will unite to make their voice heard. But through my last few meetings, I have been positively impressed by people who are excited to fight the plight of despair by bringing people together under the umbrella of unity.
This reminds me of a statement I recently read in a book called The True Jihad. This book talks about how the idea of non-violence in Islam is (contrary to popular believes) the essence of the religion. It says that “the habit of tolerance prevents a man from wasting his time and talent on unnecessary friction. When negatively affected by another’s unpalatable behaviour, your mental equilibrium is upset. But if you remain emotionally untouched by such behaviour, your mind will fully retain its equilibrium” (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, 2002). Now I don’t fully agree that we have to become unemotional robots that are unaffected by any form of “unpalatable behaviour”. But the question is: do we let the fear, frustration, and the despair– that is there and should not be ignored– conquer our very being, or do we carry on like the sun. We rise in the morning with the same unrelenting splendour spreading the warmth of tolerance that is inherently taught in Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike.

 

Hauke Ziessler studies Intercultural Relations and Behaviour at the Jacobs University in Bremen where he co-founded a local Mentoring Program (Explore Bremen) and has founded a campus Radio Station. He is now a summer intern with ICCI, with a focus setting up ICCI’ new Internet Radio Station entitled “Microphones for Peace.”

 

 

Comforting a Bereaved Palestinian Family

by Dr. Ron Kronish

first published on Huffington Post, July 9 2014

Yesterday, I joined about 350 people–mostly Jewish citizens of Israel–to pay a compassionate condolence call to the family of Mohammed Khdeir (killed by young Jewish extremists), in the tent of mourning in the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat, in northern Jerusalem. The visit was organized by the Tag Meir (Light Tag) Forum, a coalition of more than 40 Jewish, interreligious and Arab-Jewish Coexistence organizations from all over Israel, including my organization, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel .

We were welcomed warmly by the family who clearly appreciated our act of solidarity and embrace. An uncle of the slain boy who spoke to us explained that while the family did not welcome members of the Israel government to their tent of mourning, they were glad to welcome us because they felt that our act of comfort was sincere and not an act of public relations.

The chairperson of the Tag Meir Forum, Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu, who organized this condolence visit in close consultation with the family, spoke eloquently about why we were there:

We have come here to embrace and console. We are ashamed and very sad about the murder of your young son, Muhammed… our Tag Meir Forum has been saying for the last two years that he who burns a mosque will burn a person…. We who are second generation survivors of the Holocaust feel that the burning of people is an inhumane act which makes us feel chilled in our souls…we are here to offer sincere consolation to your family and to mourn with you.

All of us who were there yesterday felt that we were fulfilling an important religious obligation of comforting a bereaved family. We were deeply moved by our welcome by this family, especially in the midst of the escalation of violence in the south of Israel yesterday. Our visit was warmly received by our Palestinian neighbors, who live no more than 5 minutes from where I used to live in the neighborhood known as French Hill, in northeast Jerusalem. They were emotionally moved by our empathetic act of good will.

Most of us remained in the male section of the tent of mourning for the entire visit. However, there were some exceptions to this rule. My daughter, Rabbi Dahlia Kronish and a colleague of hers went briefly into the women’s area, and paid their condolences to the mother of the slain boy, and to other members of their family. It was a very meaningful emotional moment. According to Rabbi Dahlia:

The pain in the women’s section was far more palpable. Whereas the men conveyed restraint, the women, particularly the mother, were quite emotional. Holding Muhammed’s mother’s hand for a brief moment, I tried to assert that this act was not done on our behalf and that we were speechless in light of such cruelty.

Continue reading

Expressing Condolences to the Bereaved

Dr. Ron Kronish

first published on Times of Israel, July 7th 2014

 

At the end of April, I wrote a post on this blog, which was entitled “Stop the Hate Crimes Epidemic in Israel Now.” It was translated into Hebrew and also published on the Walla website.

At that time, I felt, along with many other people that the acts of extreme “religious” Jewish youth –which have been sanctioned for years by their rabbis and by many political “leaders” in Israeli society— had already reached epidemic proportions and were endangering the moral fabric of Israel society.

At that time I wrote:

“The hate crime epidemic in Israel must be brought under. This has got to stop. It is urgent and can no longer be swept under the carpet!”

And, what has been done since then to combat this phenomenon? Nothing! Just lip service, but hardly anyone has been arrested or brought to justice.

In the wake of the horrific murder of three Jewish teenagers who had been kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank, passions have been inflamed and there have been calls for revenge in Israel.  And now, after the arrest yesterday of young Jewish suspects in the alleged revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager from the North Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat, the lip service of some of our political leaders is nauseating and simply too little too late.

It is very difficult to ignore all the  incitement to commit acts of vengeance which have been voiced in recent days, which led to this disastrous development.  Now, this murder has ignited a powder keg, resulting in   a huge amount of anger and rioting within Arab towns and villages all over Israel, and in Jerusalem.

I  and my organization, The Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel–are part of a coalition of more 40 organizations in Israel—representing thousands of people from all over Israel called Tag Meir—Light Tag—which has been combatting this phenomenon, without much fanfare, in Israel for the past 4 years. We have been responsive and empathetic up till now. But this is not enough.

We are now becoming more active by mobilizing the masses in Israel not only to raise a Jewish and interreligious voice for morality and sanity, but also to demand quick action by our government now to put an end to this dangerous phenomenon in our midst.

A few days ago, our coalition organized a demonstration within 24 hours that got over 3000 likes on Facebook, which brought out about 2500 people in downtown Jerusalem, and received major mainstream media coverage, to counter all the cries for vengeance and to make a plea for sanity. “Mourning and not vengeance is needed now,” we argued.

And tomorrow, we will go to comfort the bereaved family in Shuafat. After posting this event on Facebook yesterday, we already have 4 busses of people who will go with us to offer comfort and empathy for the horrible murder, a murder which was waiting to happen after the last few years and weeks of incitement.

A few years, ago, I took a group of Israeli rabbis and imams, kadis, sheikhs and priests to a seminar on the theme of reconciliation in Northern Ireland for an intensive week of dialogue and discussions. It was a difficult and important week, but a meaningful and worthwhile experience. When we returned to Israel, the brother of the leading Muslim Palestinian Israeli in the group died suddenly. All the rabbis in the group responded to my phone calls the next way, and we all paid a condolence call to the home of this man in an Israeli Arab village in the center of Israel. This condolence visit was well received by the family, and it cemented good personal relations for years to come among the Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship in the group.

Now it is time once again to offer condolences and say clearly to our Palestinian neighbors: this is not the Jewish Way!  Desecrating the Name of God by murdering innocent civilians in a brutal way is inhuman and not Jewish.

I am already gratified that hundreds of other citizens of Israel will be expressing solidarity with a Palestinian family that has been harmed so deeply. This is a wake-up moment in our society. Let us band together and take action so that the voices of sanity and human dignity will be heard over those of vengeance and insanity.