Savyon has had a great and ideologically-engaged week.
It all began with Netzer’s Veida Olami (where representatives from all of the international branches of Netzer congregate in Israel to discuss the future of the movement) was held. Four of us were given the privilege to partake in all of the decision-making processes, and the rest of us were able to join the Veida activities on the weekend, including Shabbat events and ideological sessions. It was incredible witnessing the differences between all of the different branches, such as during the Kabbalat Shabbat run by Noar Telem (the Israeli branch of Netzer), a Shacharit Shabbat service run by LJY-Netzer (an English branch of Netzer), and a Ma’amad (creative prayer service) at the Western Wall run by a Netzer educator, Rodrigo. We were also spoken to by the World Union for Progressive Judaism about their involvement with Netzer as a global movement, and were lucky enough to attend a talk facilitated by NFTY (the American branch of Netzer), where children from four families affected by the Parkland School shooting spoke to us about the crisis of gun violence in America. We also watched a livestream of the ‘March for Our Lives’ rally in Washington D.C.
On Saturday night, most of Savyon attended a demonstration in Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli government’s proposed deportation of refugees. It included musical items, speeches, and lots of chanting in Hebrew - which our Noar Telem friends were kind enough to translate for us. As Progressive Jews and Progressive Zionists, we feel it is important for us to protest any actions of the Israeli government that are not in conjunction with our belief in equality, so it was amazing for all of us to feel that we were standing up for the protection of human rights.
On Sunday, the main event of this week commenced - our five day seminar on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This week we have been into areas inside of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. The first day consisted of visiting locations at the heart of one of the most contentious and famous conflicts in the world, including settlements illegal under international law and outposts that Israel declines to support. During the tour, we were confronted with views that we considered extreme and ran counter to the ideology espoused by Netzer. Meeting what we consider Jewish ‘settlers’, such as the owners of an organic farm in a small and isolated outpost, as well as members of a larger settler community who shared the belief that the whole area of the West Bank belongs to Jews proved difficult, as this belief proves difficult for a peaceful solution to the conflict. We entered the community of Havat GIlad, who in response to the murder of one of their community leaders believed that the best way to retaliate was through developing communities in Palestinian territories. Although this ideology was confronting for many of us, it was extremely beneficial to hear these views, and for many of us - to say that we have actually visited the West Bank.
The next day of the seminar was also highly engaging. An early wake up saw us in Tel Aviv at 10am, ready to hear about the views of the people directly shaping policy in Israel. The day began with an opening presentation from a PeaceNow volunteer, which gave us all a greater insight into the practicalities of a two-state solution if it were to come into effect. This was followed by talks by MK (Member of Knessets) Michael Rozin (member of the Meretz party), MK Yitshak Herzog (the opposition leader), and MK Omer Bal-Lev (member of the Labor party). Their words greatly contrasted those that we had heard the previous day by providing a more left-wing perspective on the conflict. Interacting with the MKs was inspiring, and as a group we ensured to ask them many questions about their views on the conflict, what our roles are as Jews in the diaspora, and about global politics. We were also lucky to meet Dr Dina Lisnanksi, a Palestinian media expert, who spoke to us about the role that both mainstream and social media plays in everyone’s interpretations of the conflict. After this packed day, we all stayed the night in a Jaffa mechina (the Reform Movement’s pre-army program).
The next day we spent the day with the Geneva Initiative, an organization that advocates for the Two-State Solution. Throughout the day, we were spoken to by workers from the organization about the ethical and practical reasons for a Two-State Solution. They also provided us with the Geneva Convention’s model of the Solution. Their model was incredibly interesting, particularly that they are in favor of Jerusalem being both the capital of Israel and the capital of Palestine. We also spoke with Ayed Atmawi, a member of the Geneva Initiative’s partnering organization, the Palestinian Peace Coalition, who is a Palestinian. This was eye-opening, as it was the first time we had been able to hear the Palestinian perspective on the conflict. He is in favor of a Two-State Solution, and spoke of the Palestinian need for self-determination. In addition, we heard from a member of J Street, an organization that engages the Diaspora in solving the conflict. It was interesting to reflect on our roles as Diaspora Jews in the conflict, and resulted in many of us wanting to be more engaged with the peace organizations when we return home to our respective countries.
On Wednesday, we spent the day with Amos, a member of the UK organization, Yachad. Yachad advocates for the Two-State Solution, alike to the Geneva Initiative. We learnt about the timeline of Israel and Palestine, about the Palestinian political system and about our own narratives, which have shaped our own understandings of the conflict. We toured East Jerusalem with Ir Amim, a left-wing activist group that focuses on the Conflict, and learnt about both Israeli-Palestinian relations and the issues with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Following this, we had a forum with two members of an Israeli-Palestinian organization, ‘Bereaved Families: Parents’ Circle’, for Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members as a result of the conflict. We heard from an Israeli father who lost his 14-year-old daughter in a terrorist attack and a Palestinian father who lost his 10-year-old daughter when she was shot by an IDF soldier. While the stories were devastating, we were inspired by their resilience and ability to connect with the ‘other side’ of the conflict while working together to advocate for peace. They allowed us to see that what is needed to achieve peace isn’t necessarily just political change, but also a change to social attitudes, by pointing out to us how rare it is for Israeli and Palestinian citizens to interact. It was incredibly moving and made us really see that there is potential for a resolution.
This past week has made us all question everything we thought we knew about the Conflict. We have gained so much from it, and look forward to continuing to learn about the complexities of it all. We’re also excited for a week of Chofesh (vacation), and to celebrate Pesach! Chag sameach to everyone at home, we hope you all find the Afikommen!
-Jack, Tahlia and Sal