Moving Beyond

My mother was born in a small Czech village on the Austrian border. The rural farmland there is surrounded by forests and rolling green hills reminicient of The Sound of Music’s opening scene.

During one of our trips to revisit her birthplace, my mother and I spoke to a woman who told us about the Nazi invasion. Suddenly, she said, these peaceful hills across the border were filled with Nazis driving down the hills on motorcycles, invading their home.

From my balcony in Jerusalem I also have a view of historic and beautiful mountains from which armies have attacked. They are the red mountains of Jordan. While the mountains and the Dead Sea visible from my balcony can be a relaxing pastoral view, they are also a reminder of how close we are to the border of an Arab country. With a reminder like this in my view every day, it is hard not to remember the tacit threat looming on the horizon.

However, in the recent elections it seems that many Israelis refocused their attention away from the security concerns which have dominated previous campaigns to domestic issues, especially those of the growing economic gap. One-fifth of all Israelis now live below the poverty line, including the highest proportion of children in the Western world and a quarter of the country’s retirees (63% of whom have no pension). These retirees include the generation that survived the Holocaust and who fought in the Israel’s War of Independence.

Recent years have seen massive cuts in education, health and social-welfare budgets. These cuts effect every family in the country. With fewer differences between the major parties over foreign policy issues, much of the rhetoric heard during the recent campaign surrounded domestic issues.

Nonetheless, everyone was surprised that the Pensioners’ Party received seven seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset where previously it held none. Suddenly, this party is the seventh largest block out of the twelve parties holding seats in parliament and presumably they will be in the ruling coalition. Much of their support came from younger voters. This may be because of genuine concern over the issues the pensioners address and the honesty with which they do so, or it may be a protest vote, against the larger parties, none of which many Israelis were enthusiastically supporting. Whatever the reason, with the pensioner’s party, Shas and Labor all receiving a respectable mandate based on a platform of social issues, these issues now must be addressed. Israeli leaders will now need to refocus some of their energy inward.

After voting, my family took advantage of the election day holiday. With schools and workplaces closed, we drove to the Dead Sea joining many others, picnicking and enjoying the beach. Looking at Jordan on the other side of the sea, I thought, “Perhaps we really have moved beyond security concerns, after all, we all know there will be two states. It is just a question of how we get there.”

I recalled an Israeli speaker I once heard in college who told us that peace will not be made by politicians signing a piece of paper, but by people who interact, get to know each other and reach understanding and friendship. Perhaps, I thought, it is time to start dealing with people, not politics.

The next week I went to a friend’s house. He had just returned from the Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace in Seville, Spain (see He was having a gathering at his home to show slides, and to share his experiences as well as that of two Muslims and an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who were among the 267 Congress participants. These leaders met and spoke, and for some, like Israel’s Chief Rabbi, it was their first encounter with religious leaders from “the other side.” When they spoke, danced, sang and lived together for a few days, they realized that they had more similarities than differences. Even when the political tensions were raised and an Imam from Gaza complained about the closure and the humanitarian crisis depriving people of their daily bread, the Chief Rabbi of the communities bordering Gaza, told of his family member who was killed by a Kassam rocket and then offered to find a way that they could work together to alleviate the suffering on both sides, both of which know hunger.

Standing in a circle at the end of this meeting, we discussed that peace begins within each one of us. Thinking of the Austrian countryside and the view from my balcony, I thought how I would like to be able to let go of the past and appreciate the beauty of these mountains without feeling the threats I associate with memories connected to them. This, I thought, while I was creating new memories, holding hands with a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem on one side of me and a German woman on the other.

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