|From Yoav Peck |
Once again, on Saturday evening I joined “Speaking in the Square” in
downtown Jerusalem. New activists joined us, the horror in Paris bringing an
oppressive pall to the conversations, as furious right-wingers descended on
us, screaming and shoving, coming right to the edge of violence, while our
activists responded to fury with listening, quietly speaking our truth,
facing down the fear and standing firm.
Once again, I encountered a father who has lost contact with his son. Last
time, it was a worried Haredi man whose 16 year old son had slammed out of
the house and gone off to join the “Lehava” activists who ostensibly seek to
keep Jewish women safe from intermarriage but in practice are terrorizing
Palestinian Jerusalemites, hunting and beating them. This time, it was a
secular father, whose son has cut off all contact with him, who knew that he
was likely to be in Zion Square. He approached his son and was rebuffed, but
he refuses to give up, seeking an opening to reopening their connection.
Lost sons, searching fathers.
Sons go off to become themselves by rejecting their fathers. The way of the
world, but tough on the fathers. I expect it’s not easy for the sons. Why
coming into your own must involve hurting the one who raised you… not clear.
There is anger there, fuelling the quest for identity. So damned painful for
the fathers who look inward to find their sins, hoping for a chance to make
it right, knowing they must give space, yet missing their sons so.
And now, after November 4 has come and gone, all of us the sons and
daughters of Yitzhak Rabin, who, like a good father, saw an opportunity to
bring peace to our lives but lost his life trying. We gather in the Square,
beneath the patio where twenty years ago Netanyahu stood, urging on the
seething, gleeful, hate-filled crowd below, where youngsters waved posters
depicting Rabin in an SS uniform or Palestinian kaffiyeh.
Rabin, so clear that he was doing for us what he knew to be right, to risk
from strength in order to bring a future possibility. Shot and killed by a
smug young man, a distorted Oedipus, his intelligence twisted out of shape
so severely that he was sure he was saving mother Israel by murdering the
We are left without the father who will come to look for his sons and
daughters, and now there is no father seeking us. We’re on our own, brothers
and sisters, orphans. Like the orphaned children of the poor, we must now
piece together our own purposeful family, siblings caring for each other, if
we are to survive this grim Israeli reality.
How do orphans build a family? Skirting the gaping wound of Rabin’s murder,
we ask “What is the leadership we must provide each other now?” Last month,
a ray of light shone through the fog when five young women face-booked and
brought together thirty people in Jerusalem, creating a demonstration
against the current violence. The demo was unique, powerful, and it was
created by sisters’ leadership. At the organizing meeting, the leaders were
quiet, clear, open, inclusive, ego-less. And within two hours, we had
ourselves several clearly-mandated task-teams that birthed a demonstration
in three days.
We will build the coalitions, nurture the teams, treat each other with the
decency required of people when there is no parent to step in. No authority,
no one to make the rules. Just our own knowledge that we have no choice
other than to work together, to support each other through the harsh winter
that looms before us. To listen, to hug and comfort, to plan, to do the work
of finding and creating partners to join us as we carry on.
While the coming winter may be harsh, we know that the pines and firs in the
forest are finally drinking, after six months’ survival of arid summer.
Israel/Palestine is coming alive with the first rains. The delicate sitvanit
is blooming along the paths, the wild weeds are sprouting an eager, fresh
carpet among the boulders. And soon, a flurry of wondrous wildflowers will
adorn our beloved land.
Zion Square, downtown Jerusalem
Thursday, I went down to Zion Square to do another evening with the
“Speaking in the Square” team. There, in the street below the patio where
Netanyahu stood, encouraging the hateful crowd that waved pictures of Rabin
in SS uniform. These young folks have been at it since the war last summer.
I went with their leaflet, challenging passersby to confront prejudice and
inviting them to talk. Some of those we meet are regulars, the “Lehava”
admirers of Bentzi Gopstein, a current Meir Kahane, guys in black shirts who
roam the streets of Jerusalem, looking for Palestinians to beat, in the name
of preserving the sanctity of the Jewish people. (race?)
Thursday I had the misfortune of engaging with Lehava supporters right off
the bat, and one of them was particularly obnoxious and drunk. As I began to
talk with him, not yet aware of his intoxication, he lunged at me and
snatched all my leaflets from my hand. His friend followed up by lighting
his lighter in my face. Foregoing the adventure of seeing this through, I
chose another battlefield.
After some lighter interchanges, I wandered through the square, and a nine
year old in a faded red sweatshirt and grapefruit-sized kippa on his head,
asked if he could read the leaflet. As I handed it to him, delighted at this
opportunity, his eyes glazed over with hate and he looked at me while
shredding the leaflet and speaking the praises of Yigal Amir, who killed
Yitzhak Rabin. I noticed a Haredi man watching this, and he muttered, “You
wonder where his parents are,” and we were off!
I suddenly had the opportunity to be with Moshe, the Moroccan Haredi, with
sweet dimples beneath his beard. As we talked, and he understood that he’s
talking to someone from another world, he said into my eyes, “Though you and
I disagree about some things, violence is not the way, and so says the
Torah.” He stood so close, up in my face, and his gaze was steady. We spent
some 40 minutes talking, that is, he talked for 35 and I squeezed in here
and there. I was honored to be hearing him. Moshe’s 15 year old had gone
missing, having recently become enamored of Bentzi Gopstein and his ilk.
They had argued, the boy bolted, and Moshe left his other eleven children at
home to search for him. The last time it happened, he had wept in the
street. We talked parenthood, and politics, and as he spoke against
violence, I could see he would like nothing more than a confrontation with
Moshe spoke with warmth about the Arabs he has known, and the workers who
are building on his street, the coffee he brings them. The enjoyment that
infused the way he spoke of these Arabs, I wondered if this wasn’t just the
Middle-east at its best. I could feel his Moroccan affinity for Arab
My own seventeen year old, hangin’ with friends at the other end of town,
had put her cellphone on silent, and got none of my five messages. I didn’t
know whether they were out on the streets. And I shared my own concern,
though his fear for his boy was senior to mine. But there we were, two
worried fathers, in a frightening Jerusalem.
In his religious take on life, what was common to us was the longing for
another, the other Israel. That good land where Jews live a decent life
together. I told Moshe that I am blocked in my contact with Haredim in that
I worry they want to return me to the fold. He reassured me that I am ok as
I am. (for now?)
I hooked one of the younger Lehava kids with a provocative question and
Moshe began questioning him about his son. As I left, I offered him my card,
said I wanted to be in touch. He refused to take it, said he wanted to
On the news last night, young settlers were interviewed. They were all
peaceniks! Each said they would leave the settlement for the sake of peace.
All knew that they/we have to get along with the Palestinians, who will not
rest until they have a home. Good news!
How do we turn these settlers into a movement? How can Moshe be moved to
gather around him the people who also believe in the dignity of his way? How
can we touch the 100,000 people I was with last night in Rabin Square, where
just a hundred yards from me, Yitzhak Rabin was murdered twenty years ago?
Since then, how many physical and emotional scars have we left in so many
people? How can we touch and move people to come out of their living rooms
and demand a better future?
Yoav Peck is a Jerusalem organizational psychologist and director of the
Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for people
to people contact