My bus pulled into the parking lot of the back side of a mall. I got off, still a little confused about where I was exactly and where I was supposed to walk to, not to mention with a suitcase full of clothing, another full of camera gear, and a purse in tow. I rechecked my texts to make sure I went to the right place. I walked the length of the mall on two and a half sides to the place I hoped was correct, then decided just to call my contact, thinking, "Well, here's hoping this is right. If not, we'll figure it out." A silver car veered around the corner and pulled up right to me, Arbel. Relief.
Arbel Rom is a Jewish Israeli kibbutznik – someone who lives on a kibbutz — residing with his family on Kibbutz Ein-HaShofet and where he runs his own production studio. We got connected through his American cousin, an old friend of my family.
Arbel grew up on Ein-HaShofet, located in the north of Israel near Haifa. At that time it was still running as most kibbutzim had since their inception—as a self-sustained collective of people with communal values. Yet, not necessarily communal in all the ways one might assume. Arbel lived separately from his parents, as did all the children, moving just days after his birth into the children’s house. He proceeded to live this way for 18 years, not leaving the kibbutz for any length of time until he began his army service. He followed that experience with another big move: college in the United States.
The first kibbutz was established at the beginning of the 20th century on the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, about 70 km east of Ein HaShofet. It was established as an agricultural community created around Zionist and socialist ideologies of colonizing the area and living communally. A group leased the land known as Umm Juni, the name of the Arab village which had resided there destroyed sometime prior to 1799 when
Discovering the world beyond the bounds of the kibbutz, and enjoying it greatly, he nevertheless chose to return to Ein-HaShofet to raise his own family and establish his business. Some of the structure of the kibbutz has changed since his growing up years, most distinctly, his children live with him and his wife. However, some of the physical structures have not yet caught up. Their house, built for two adults, cozily holds in their family of four. But they make it work, still enjoying and thriving in the communal culture of the kibbutz, which has not seen much change. I partook in their communal breakfast, held daily for a handful of hours in the refectory built among houses and various industrial buildings, including one belonging to their bakery and another to their factory for making nuts, bolts, and other small metals. The kibbutz also has a dairy, electronics factory and a smattering of other businesses.
Now let’s hear what Arbel has to say about kibbutz life himself.
Seeing as kibbutzim are purely Jewish Israeli communities, with the exception of the stray non-Jewish international volunteer, I asked Arbel if residents of the kibbutz had any kind of relations with their Palestinian neighbors?
No one goes unaffected by the occupation. It is not just the single terrorist attack that happened outside the cafe where you were having a peaceful lunch or the one night your brother was taken by the IDF, it is the psychological trauma that lingers afterward that causes just as much or more damage to one's life. When so many single lives are affected by such similar incidental and gnawing psychological traumas an entire culture is tragically transfigured. Such is the case with Sderot, which you will hear Arbel mention in the next clip. It is called the "bomb shelter capital of the world", according to The Huffington Post. It is an Israeli city residing in the Negev on the northern border with Gaza and is regularly subject to rocket fire launched from within the Palestinian occupied territory nextdoor. Their story is the dreadful story that plagues communities across the region, from kibbutzniks in Sderot to Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem to Palestinian children in Bethlehem.
There are mixed opinions about where the heart of the conflict lies today. As for Arbel:
What can be done? Perhaps taking a leaf out out of Michel Jackson’s songbook is a start.
Addendum (March 18, 2017):
In the first publication of this post I was trying to find a way to include the following journal entry and brief history of the kibbutz movement. I realized these additions were necessary after reading a comment made by a Palestinian friend on the original post addressing facts I had not considered until he brought them to my attention. They tie in with this journal entry I made November 6, 2016 during my bus ride from Jerusalem to Haifa en route to kibbutz Ein HaShofet.
Journal Entry November 6, 2016:
“It's really hard to live in a place of such great tension, maybe especially in the areas where everything seems totally fine, because it feels inauthentic. It seems more absurd and more unjust. Because you know the sense of peace and prettiness is possible because there is something forcing it. You know there is a civil war, a military might, an oppressive system keeping things at bay.
“I struggle to appreciate the beauty of the crops and lushness of the groves of these Jewish Israeli farms because while I am happy they have their historical land to live on I know it is at the expense of violent overthrow of the previous residents [who also consider it their historical land] that made [many of] the farms possible. Perhaps another way to say it is: the beauty is soured. Initially so beautiful, but one deeper moment later I recall the dirty history. I marvel at the glowing green of the pine forests and then remember they were planted to cover up destroyed villages and ruin the soil rendering it unusable for fruit bearing trees needed if former residents ever attempted to return. Then I come to moments like now where I just want to shut it all off. I just need to close my mind and open to enjoying the beauty. And so I do. But I am aware I am shutting off. That there is something to shut off. And so remains the problem.”
I would like to think this is the tension experienced by anyone who has a sense of the fuller picture of the tumultuous history of this region’s land and inhabitants. The comment my friend made addressed the fact kibbutzim are built on destroyed Palestinian villages. It is true. Some kibbutzim are. Not all, but, even those not built directly on a destroyed Palestinian villages are surrounded by them. For example, over 15 destroyed Palestinian villages previously existed within an 8-mile radius of Kibbutz Ein-HaShofet alone--and dozens more beyond this radius.
The first kibbutz, Degania Alef, was built on destroyed Palestinian village, Umm Junieh. It was destroyed by the time Napoleon had the land surveyed in 1799, but it was rebuilt. Sources   offer varied information regarding how many times it was destroyed. It is also unclear how long the Muslim residents who reinhabited Umm Junieh lived and worked on the land after the kibbutzniks came onto the scene. I could not find how this particular community of Palestinians then disappeared again from the scene. Sources agree the land on which the kibbutzniks settled Degania Alef was purchased by the National Jewish Fund (who purchased it from members of the Bahá'í Faith) and leased the land from the head of the Zionist Organization office in Palestine, Arthur Ruppin. Sources disagree on what year the land was purchased.
This assortment of facts and varying versions of the "same story" is not uncommon to the history of this region. This reality reflects both why there remains a great and continuous struggle between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis and why it is imperative we all continue to seek the full picture of any history we are taught, a history which only comes into perspective when we dig deep to discover the many narratives that make up the story.
For further reading see: http://ifamericaknew.org/history/origin.html
 Khalidi, Walid, All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948
I offer a question for reflection this week.
As Arbel relayed on multiple occasions, many Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are trying to just live. Many are exhausted from fighting (with nonviolence and violence), others are numb, some have the privilege to simply avoid caring. However, settling for the status quo may also be one of the biggest threats to a true and lasting peace in Palestine-Israel, and anywhere. Lack of action only enables physical violence to persist and the emotional violence of fearing an attack could happen at any moment to afflict the psyches of all people in the region on a continuous basis.
It may be difficult to wrap your mind around what Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are struggling and how to help them reconcile and live in peace. Perhaps you can begin to understand by exploring parallels in your own community. Do you see similar complacency or willful ignorance to injustices in your own community? Within yourself? Is there one step you can take toward helping break the unjust status quo in your community? Is there a group you can join? Call you can make? Demonstration you can attend? Letter you can write? Compassionate presence you can offer to a stranger? Prayer you can pray?
Here is one for starters:
A Prayer for Peace and Reconciliation for Israelis, Palestinians, and all People
Adapted from prayer by Rabbi Sam Feinsmith https://ritualwell.org/ritual/prayer-peace-and-reconciliation-israelis-palestinians-and-all-people
Holy One of compassion and forgiveness, Cosmic Majesty Who is peace—
Teach us Your ways,
Show us the path that preserves life.
Take note for we are suffering deeply.
Our guts are wrenched,
Our hearts are turning within us.
Violence has devoured outside, and inside it feels deathly.
When enemies rose up against us to kill our babes,
Courageous, precious children, full of the light of life, shining like the radiance of the sky,
Our hearts became angry, our vision lost its strength,
and our spirits sunk.
And still we turn to you—
Divine One, please!
Plant a steadfast reminder of our inherited mission in our hearts—
To be a compassionate people descended from compassionate people,
Pursuers of peace and harmony, keepers of Your way to do charity and justice,
Despisers of revenge and begrudging,
Lovers of forgiveness and pardon,
The ones who unremittingly declare that “humans are precious, for they were created in Your Image.”
Place moderation, compassion, and forbearance in our hearts and in the hearts of us all.
Guard our tongues from hate speech, and our lips from speaking to incite wickedness.
Help us to return to You fully,
So that we will finally understand that there is no hope in perpetual violence.
Place counsel and discernment in the hearts of our leaders,
And guide them on the path of peace, so that they may choose a path that promotes life for the benefit of all Your creations.
In the midst of intense anger, remind us all to be compassionate.
For you are the one who heals the broken-hearted and binds their wounds.
Heal us, that we may be fully healed.
Save us from our unloving and harmful ways
Please create the conditions for healing for all of the bereft parents who are sobbing over their precious children,
Innocent babes who were swept away in the torrent of hatred as intense as death itself between the Children of Israel and the Children of Yishmael.
My heart is pained, my heart is deeply pained for their loss.
My eye, my eye is ceaselessly flowing with tears.
Must the sword consume forever?
For how long must this continue?
Reveal Yourself fully, and spread over all of us the shelter of Your peace,
And may wickedness disappear from the face of the earth.
For you are the Maker of compassion and forgiveness.
Blessed are you Great One of peace and reconciliation.