May our enemy become our friend
that we may share earth’s goodness.
May our enemy become our friend
that our children may meet and marry.
May our enemy become our friend
that we may remember our shared birth in the one human family.
May we grow in grace
may we grow in gratitude
may we grow in wisdom
that our enemy may become our friend.
In the wake of a string of attacks and deaths of Jewish settlers and Palestinians over the last few days I am completely undone. My emotions—my life—are so tightly wound around these people, the closeness of our relationships, the hope of their freedom, the dream of their reconciliation, the work for their equality, the prayer for their peace, that I find myself amidst these tragedies like unravelling thread, turning from fury to devastation to hopelessness to listlessness to… whatever I spin into next until the spinning stops and I am left a bewildered, tangled mess. I cry out, “When will it stop?!”
At any given moment Palestinians and Israelis are at risk of having their lives stolen from them. Not at the hands of each other, but by the occupation: a suffocating system of oppression breeding the normalization of racism, segregation, surveillance, distrust, violence, incarceration, and military control.
This has got to stop. This occupation does not “secure” or protect anyone, as the the generally projected narrative suggests, but only threatens more lives and instigates ever more aggressive actions—from Palestinians and Israeli Jews, alike. The grave atrocity two days ago, the murder of a 13-year-old Jewish girl, Hallel Yaffe Ariel, by a 17-year-old Palestinian boy, Muhammad Nasser Tarayra, is a harrowing example of what the occupation baits. Both are from the Hebron area, Ariel from the settlement, Kiryat Arba, Tarayra from a nearby village, Bani Na’im.
As important as this story itself, is its context which illustrates the greater narrative of the occupation, not justifying what happened, but elucidates the true culprit of this tragedy: the occupation. The settlements, the type of Jewish Israeli community where Hallel lived, are illegal under international law; civilians of the occupying power (in this case, Jewish Israelis) are not allowed to live in the territory it occupies (the West Bank). The settlers who live in neighborhoods which have engulfed areas of Hebron, oddly, mostly transplants from Brooklyn, are known to be especially aggressive toward Palestinians. This can be evidenced, for example, by the wired caging that has been placed over the souk (market) in the old city of Hebron to prevent the garbage, bricks, feces and other debris thrown down by the settlers living in the apartments above from hitting pedestrians as they walk through. Liquids—including urine and even acid—still harass innocent passersby below.   The continued building of settlements is seen by the local Palestinians, as well as many in the international community, as provocation and one of the primary inhibitors to a solution for peace. As affirmed in a statement released just yesterday by the foreign ministers of the Quartet on Middle East — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — Israel is being urged to, “stop settlement construction” and “cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development." It also identifies, "Upholding the commitment to act effectively against violence, terrorism, and incitement is critical to rebuilding confidence and to avoiding escalation that will further undermine the prospects for peace." 
For some time prior to the 20th century Hebron was fairly peaceable, Jews and Muslims living side by side, drawn together by their ancestors, the first six patriarchs and matriarchs of Jews, Muslims and Christians: Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rachel; Jacob and Leah; who are buried at the center of the old city. Their burial site is now marked by the Ibrahami Mosque and the synagogue of Ma'arat HaMachpelah that rest on top, wall to wall—in fact, you can hear the prayers of the other faith if you stand close enough to the thin metal dividing wall. Whatever relative peace existed was destroyed on the Sabbath of August 24, 1929 when a rampage of Palestinians tore through the city wreaking havoc that came to be known as the Hebron Massacre. Jewish homes and synagogues were ransacked, 67 Jews were killed, hundreds more, and a fortunate 425 Jews were protected by other Palestinians who hid them in their homes, an attestation to the relationships that had existed prior to the attack by a few. Jews were evacuated by the then ruling British government, only to gradually make their way back to the city in the ensuing decades.
70 years elapsed and then another catastrophe roared through the still tension-stricken community, this time Palestinians were the victims. On February 25, 1994, during the holy seasons of both Ramadan and Purim that year, American-Israeli Baruch Goldstein pelted the interior of the Ibrahami Mosque with automatic assault rifle, murdering 29 Palestinians and wounding over 100 during morning prayers. Goldstein was condemned by president at the time, Yitzak Rabin; was lauded by some settlers as a martyr; and his actions were written off as insanity. Protests and riots ensued following the attack and more Palestinians were killed, this time by the Israeli Defense Force. In response, the Israeli army shut down Shuhada Street, preventing Palestinians from driving down the city’s main thoroughfare. In the early 2000s, in reaction to reignited violence during second intifada (“uprising”), Shuhada Street was closed to Palestinian pedestrian traffic, as well. Still today only Jews are allowed on it. Moreover, 1,400 shops were forced closed or entirely lost business. 16 years later the city center, also known as the old city of Hebron, or H2, is like a ghost town, as classically empty as depicted in an old American Western movie, with blistering hot, dirt-packed streets of blindingly bright sandy soil, with nothing but that whisper of eerie silence and the occasional shuffle of a local’s feet.
Left: Open Shuhada Street block in front of check point between H1 and H2. Right: Gate on Shuhada Street separating the Jewish settlement from the souk.
I will leave the history there for now. I have more posts on Hebron in the cue which you can anticipate reading over the coming weeks.
This is the backdrop of this attack on Thursday, an attack Friday by a Palestinian youth from Hebron on five settlers from a settlement nearby, and the shooting of a Palestinian woman who attempted to carry out a knife attack against an Israeli officer outside the Ibrahami Mosque on Friday, as well. What will happen to the Palestinian youths who carried out the attacks? They received their sentence by way of their own death. But, in the occupied West Bank, the families and community receive a collective sentence for attacks against Israeli Jews, as well. It is not a reciprocal standard. The boys’ families will pay the penalty of likely having their house demolished, the typical repercussion for such an attack, and their community will be collectively punished by the infiltration of even more Israeli military into the city and receive a wave of restrictions. As it stands, the entire city of Hebron is currently closed, including transfers of tax Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians, amounting to tens of millions of shekels a month. It is the largest closure in the entire West Bank since 2014. Until further notice, the tens of thousands of Palestinians living there are prohibited from travelling out of the city and the surrounding villages are “closed indefinitely”, with the exception of humanitarian cases and the military. The Israelis residing in the settlements are still able to move freely. Certainly justice needs to be done when crimes are committed, but such sweeping acts are in no way just. They are justified, however, by the occupying government and have become normalized in the eyes and hearts of many Jewish Israelis on the ground and supporters abroad. Until the normalization of the occupation ends—this oscillation of violence, grief, and loss of family, friends, safely, and true freedom for Palestinians and Jewish Israelis will only continue.
So where to go from here? The end of this back and forth fighting and injustice, starts right here and now, with you, with me. By being determined to be educated about the bigger picture of an issue, not just one angle, and by refusing the temptation to settle for anything less. By remaining open-minded and open-hearted to the many narratives that make up a story. By choosing to remain emotionally engaged in the world, not numbing out the pain and suffering, but being empathetic to those who suffer, including, perhaps especially, those you may identify as your enemies. Seek ways to make your "enemy” your friend. It may be scary, but it will be freeing.
What injustices awaken your heart? Can you muster the courage to say “Hello” or smile at the person or type of person you are afraid of? Can you partner with an organization to fight systematic oppression of your neighbors next door or across the globe? Can you share what you learned in this blog post with one friend? Can you join the BDS Movement? Can you sign up for If Not Now, “an emerging movement of young American Jews organizing to end the American Jewish community's support for the occupation”? Can you learn more and share about the Kairos Palestine Document, Palestinian Christians’ response to the occupation and a call to churches worldwide? Can you email me if you want more ideas or learn more at endtheoccupation.org? Can you pray and send positive thoughts for peace, hope, and equity for Muslim and Christian Palestinians and Jewish Israelis and others whose relationships are strained by opposing opinions about the conflict? Yes.
I believe in you.
 Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Read more here: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/The-settlements-are-illegal-under-international-law-336507