Shaul and Ziad

There’s Hope! Palestinians and Israelis Can Get Along

Penny S. Tee Article

Is it a miracle? Fake news? No, it’s true. People who know me, have heard me speak or have read my book, “BLASTED from COMPLACENCY: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel,” know that the impact of being human targets while on a family vacation in Israel, led me to want to work on Peace―whether inside ourselves or in the world. After our experience, it’s what I feel I was called to do.

This summer will be six years since our fateful trip. I spent most of those years writing my book, learning how to rewrite my book and finally publishing it. If you’ve never written a memoir, those who have discover it has its own journey. I built my website, became a speaker and have written many articles.

And along the way, I’ve met incredible Peace activists—both Palestinian and Israeli.

I’ve written articles about Roots’ exciting work since 2015 with periodic updates and I felt like it was time for me to

Roots, Shorashim, Judur

Roots, Shorashim, Judur

do an in-depth review of what they’ve been doing during these past years. WOW! I couldn’t be prouder of their work. Looking in the mirror, I had to laugh—with these COVID-19 issues and no beloved hairdresser available, no wonder roots was on my mind. Oy.

In my book, I wrote about a Peace-activist organization that I met in 2015 called Roots/ Shorashim /Judur. All three names mean Roots, Shorashim is Hebrew and Judur is Arabic.  Why did they name their organization Roots? Because Jews, Arabs and Christians all have their beginnings in the same land—they all have their rights respected in this oasis.

Isn’t it time to hear good news from Israel about Palestinians and Israelis getting along? I know you’re thinking, IMPOSSIBLE! Oh, but it’s not. As Mother’s Day approaches, I know no mother on either side wants to have her child harmed. When a family member leaves for the day, in this warzone one never knows if they will return at days end harmed or worse.

Roots’ goal is to foster “a grassroots movement of understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among Israelis and Palestinians.”1 At Roots they “envision a social and political reality that is founded on dignity, trust, and a mutual recognition and respect for both peoples’ historic belonging to the entire Land.”2

Slowly but surely they are having success. The path they’ve chosen at times is painful and we all know human change is not usually a just add water, instant revelation. Add to that so many on both sides have been injured or lost loved ones and horrific violence can happen daily. It takes strength and psychological awareness to understand when you forgive someone for hurting you, the greatest benefit is to yourself—letting go of the pain and moving on to new expansive possibilities.

At Roots they say, “Don’t be just pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, be pro-Solution.” In my opinion what they do is Holy work, saving lives literally as well as rescuing people from the prisons of hate contaminating their minds.

You may be thinking that the Jews who are Roots cofounders must live in Tel Aviv, probably more modern and secular, all wanting to sing Kumbaya. Nope. The Jews are Orthodox, religious, passionate Zionist settlers. Everything about this organization challenges what you’d expect.

Shaul and Ali

Shaul and Ali

Roots was also cofounded by Ali Abu Awwad, son of a politically active family. During the First Intifada, he was arrested for throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and being part of a military cell. He had been shot and his brother had been killed by Israeli soldiers.

Then Ali studied the works of Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. during his second prison sentence and transformed his beliefs. His mother also was in jail and the two decided to go on a hunger strike to be able to see each other. It worked, and it was the first time Ali saw that non-violence could be effective. Non-violence was a better, more sustainable path. He understood this violence can’t go on and neither people are going away. Ali said, “Whatever the price of Peace will be, it is cheaper than the price of war.” Roots meets on a patch of land in the West Bank owned by the Awaad family.

I recently had the honor of interviewing Rabbi Shaul David Judelman, who was one of the cofounders of Roots and

Rabbi Shaul David Judelman

Rabbi Shaul David Judelman

helped me fill in parts of their background that I didn’t know previously, and he told me about current programming.

Our discussion reminded me of one benefit created by the COVID-19 virus. With the necessity to stay home, in-person speaking gigs are not viable. So, I’ve been having Zoom parties for fun with family and friends from the diverse parts of my life—even from around the world. During these discussions I’ve noted that there always seems to be something new that I learn about people I’ve known for years that I never knew. It always keeps it interesting. BTW, shoot me a message on my Facebook page if you’re interested in joining. They’re on Thursday nights at 7:00PM PST.

A synchronicity hit me right away when I was asking Rabbi Shaul about the beginnings of Roots. One of the first challenges they faced was in 2014. If you recall, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped. It also is when my book begins, and we were supposed to leave for our once in a lifetime trip in a few weeks. I was trying to evaluate if, or how the kidnappings would impact our family.  We lived in the United States and the situation thankfully was foreign to us. I called our rabbi and asked, “Should we still go to Israel?” He said, “I feel safer going to Israel than downtown Los Angeles.” Oops, we took a different trip! I’ve never felt the percussion of exploding missiles in the air above the downtown L.A. Arco towers, but unfortunately we did repeatedly in Israel.

For Roots, they were a new organization and had only existed for about six months. They were still discovering things about each other. Amongst themselves it seemed like they were living in somewhat of a “Peace bubble,” everyone (Israeli and Palestinian members of Roots) was getting along, but it looked very different outside their group of comrades. In their neighborhoods, the Israelis and Palestinians looked at each other with frightened, suspicious eyes.

The Israelis and Palestinians of Roots personally got involved in trying to find the boys during the three weeks they were missing. The boys had been kidnapped a kilometer from where Roots held their meetings. While deeply listening to each other revealing their personal narratives was important, this was their first attempt at doing, rather than talking. They shared each other’s pain, no one wanted to see their trail end in violence―but the boys were found dead.

Rabbi Shaul said that going through this together nurtured a strong trust. Their Palestinian brothers weren’t there just to be fair-weather friends. They looked at the Palestinian kidnappers with their eyes wide open, willing to self-critique their own people and show empathy to their new Israeli partners. The bond that was forged under these horrific circumstances moved the organization forward as they each discovered the skills, compassion and trust for one another.

The principles that are followed at Roots are:

  • Working within a broken reality without accepting it.
  • Taking responsibility to improve the situation.
  • Working on a local level to address systemic problems; community engagements.
  • Individual and collective/national self-criticism.
  • Inclusivity and engaging of different opinions and approaches.
  • Deeply engaging religion and religious leaders – Judaism, Islam and Christianity―in our search for commonality, understanding and the path to a solution to our conflict.
  • Reducing hatred and healing trauma.3

Is it difficult? Yes. Fraught with fear? Yes. Dangerous? Yes, but not impossible and it’s continued in this organization throughout these years. As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Violence can never work. Roots is an organization that engages Palestinians and Israelis and gets different, realistic, and better results. Thus far, they’ve reached 16,000 participants!

Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger

Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger

Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, one of the founders, says of his first meeting with the Palestinians, “I heard stories that were so different from my stories, stories that created strange unfamiliar narratives from the same building blocks as my own narrative, but which I could not reject out of hand. The stories I heard—of deep connection to the land, of exile, of suffering, of humiliation, of loved one lost in the conflict—were authentic and they were real. Never before had I heard such stories. And they affected me deeply.”

They meet at Merkaz Kerama, (the Dignity Center) and talk—many for the first time. Although they live neighborhood to neighborhood in the West Bank, they don’t speak to each other. They make assumptions that they understand the others’ identity—you’re Jewish, that’s a religion and that doesn’t have anything to do with land. There’s no such thing as a Palestinian, you don’t have a country, you’re an Arab.

They don’t speak the same language, watch different news, shop in different stores, live under different economic systems, attend separate schools and everyone they meet knows people who have been injured or who have lost loved ones and blame each other. Their relatives and friends ask, why would you speak to those murderers? It’s not the best circumstances for wanting to reach out to one another.

Rabbi Hanan says, the environment that they live in fosters “ignorance, prejudice, stereotypes, racism and rage…there’s lots of fear and collective and even inherited trauma.”

What Roots has established in their programming thrilled me. They’ve addressed every age group and learning what’s been established for the children up through the young adults especially delighted me in that there is now something for the next generation countering the violence, fear and distrust that is pervasive.

All of their leadership meetings, school visits, after-school activities, camps, non-violence workshops, multi-faith tolerance initiatives, family gatherings, dual narrative programs for teens and young adults and policy-maker and media engagements bring together both sides, and their interactions over time reveal to the participants the humanity in each person.

The women live in a patriarchal society, and just like the men, they haven’t had any interactions with their neighbors of differing religions. It is illegal for an Israeli to travel into a Palestinian village.

One of the programs that address specifically women is through photography workshops run by Saskia Keeley.  She

Women's Photography Workshop

Women’s Photography Workshop

is a photojournalist, documentarian, peace activist, speaker, and the creator of “Accompagnateur Workshops.” Through these multi-day workshops, the women are provided cameras and asked to take pictures of each other. By looking into other humans’ eyes, the women are able to communicate in their own way. By the end of the first day it’s clear by the smiles and laughter that the fear is being replaced by seeds of friendship. Amen.

Another program that spoke directly to my heart was the one that addressed hosting pre-military academies. All Israelis both men and women, graduate high school and then go into the military. This interaction of Israelis and Palestinians, I believe, has the potential to save lives.

The opportunity to hear from Palestinian and Israeli staff together helps them realize that you don’t have to agree with one another to act respectfully and provide a safe environment to disagree. When these Israeli soldiers encounter Palestinians someday at a checkpoint, they’ve had the opportunity to see beyond stereotypes and biases and hopefully act from a more informed perspective.

The programs they’ve developed throughout the years have been thriving, although like everywhere else in the world, the viral beast COVID-19 has caused some programs to change to virtual Zoom meetings or be temporarily cancelled. One benefit of holding Zoom meetings is that it is providing more continuous connections with their supporters throughout the world.

One of their programs is to have several Joint Iftars (break-fast meals) during Ramadan. This is a meal held during the month of Ramadan (which is now) that brings people to Roots from all sides of the conflict to eat and talk together. This year, due to the virus, they are trying it via Zoom and seeing how that works.

Roots also is trying to help feed some of their hardest hit poor families by providing food.

Finally, their programs that deal with visits to victimized families as a unified organization is incredibly emotionally powerful and has the ability to comfort at times when the worst may have happened. The pain of parents who have lost their children on either side is excruciating.

Another example of Roots fighting unfair circumstances happened recently. A Palestinian posted on his WhatsApp that his cousin had just been arrested in the Jordan Valley. His cousin, who is a farmer and was working his land, was harassed by some local Israeli teen ruffians, who then falsely reported to the police that he had attacked them. The Palestinian farmer was arrested.

It turned out there was a video of the incident, which clearly showed the truth. The Roots Israeli settlers were very upset at the injustice. They called many Israeli friends, all who were religious Zionist settlers to try and help. They contacted the police station and ultimately through Roots’ connections located an experienced Israeli lawyer who had the farmer released within thirty minutes. These Israeli settlers helped the Palestinian get released due to the injustice perpetrated by some young Israeli teens. Justice prevailed and each person involved learned valuable insights, that in the long run would help build trust among Roots’ members.

Finally, I asked Rabbi Shaul what gives him hope. He said, “I know my neighbors and there are good people on both sides…” Of the extremists who believe that the land rightfully only belongs to them, they are beginning to see the reality that there is more to the story. Much of what they’ve tried throughout decades hasn’t worked so they are looking for new ways to deal with the conflict. “We’re in the era of the slaughtering of the sacred cows.”

So, you can see why I respect and admire this organization. I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. If you have the means today, please donate to their cause.  With people’s funds being under so much strain, if not today, please keep them in mind in the future.

Friends of Roots is a registered US non-profit, which explicitly supports the work of Roots/Shorashim/Judur in the Holy Land. Please be assured that your charitable gift is fully tax deductible for which you will receive an end-of-the-year receipt from “Friends of Roots” for your tax filing purposes.  Friends of Roots received IRS recognition as 501c3 non-profit (EIN 47-4308704) in December 2017.

As always, I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…

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1 Friends of Roots, https://www.friendsofroots.net/

2 Friends of Roots, https://www.friendsofroots.net/

3 Friends of Roots, https://www.friendsofroots.net/

 

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