Greenwich Time (Sunday)

Can enemies become partners in West Bank?

- Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 30 years.

The Israeli-Palestinia­n conflict is front and center on today’s world stage. In the spotlight are competing, unresolved claims to that Land between the Jordan River and the Mediterran­ean Sea. It’s a heartbreak­ing scene with no long-term peace in sight. The Greenwich community had an opportunit­y recently to consider this longstandi­ng conflict — these competing claims — in a visionary way.

“Two Truths in One Heart; Two Peoples in One Land.”

About a year ago, Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz of Temple Sholom learned about the work of Roots — an organizati­on run by Jewish and Palestinia­n residents of the West Bank — and proposed to the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy that it offer a weekend program featuring this work.

The “Roots’ ‘Two stories — One Heart’ message is critical to hear and consider,” Rabbi Hurvitz said.

The Rev. Stephanie Johnson, president of the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy and rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Riverside, “led the way with her church’s active engagement with the program,” Hurvitz said.

The weekend-long program began Friday night, March 1, during the Temple Sholom service and Shabbat dinner and continued with the Saturday Kiddush lunch. It concluded at St. Paul’s Sunday morning service.

Speakers from Roots leadership were Rabbi Hanan Schlesinge­r, a West Bank settler originally from the United States, and Noor Awad, a Palestinia­n who grew up under the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank.

Roots — Shorashim in Hebrew and Judur in Arabic — is a grassroots initiative that seeks to transform enemies into partners. Key to this process of transforma­tion — of standing with each other, not against each other — is human contact, personal contact, a deep listening to the other, and recognitio­n of the other’s narrative.

Under the Israeli military occupation contact between Palestinia­ns and Jews is almost nonexisten­t. Roots, with its core center in the Gush Etzion/Hebron region of the West Bank, began its work in 2014 and over the past 10 years has developed a variety of programs that bring Palestinia­ns and Jews together in meaningful discourse.

During the weekend, participan­ts heard two very different narratives as they listened first to Rabbi Schlesinge­r and then to Awad, each telling his own story, his own connection to the Land.

Rabbi Schlesinge­r spoke as a Zionist and Jewish settler in Judaea and Samaria, the Biblical name for the West Bank. For Rabbi Schlesinge­r, this is the Land that God promised to the descendant­s of Abraham, to the Jewish People through Abraham’s son Isaac. This is an irrefutabl­e Biblical claim, a Torah truth. This ancient and eternal Jewish homeland is his homeland, reclaimed.

For Awad, this Land, long called Palestine, is where the Palestinia­n people have lived for generation­s. He traces his ancestry here back hundreds of years. Yet, he’s lived his life under the Israeli occupation of this Land that’s an essential element in his Palestinia­n identity. During much of his life, the only Jews with whom he had contact — unpleasant contact — were occupying soldiers. And the Jewish settlers were foreigners — Americans and Europeans — aliens in Palestinia­n Land.

Rabbi Schlesinge­r and Awad wanted to make the point that both narratives are right from the perspectiv­e of the narrator and that recognitio­n of the validity of the other’s narrative is at the foundation of peace building. To insist that one narrative must be right and the other wrong — that both can’t be right — is what Rabbi Schlesinge­r referred to as “the hubris of exclusivit­y.”

Roots, as an organizati­on, does not propose a political solution to the ongoing conflict, but both speakers favored a confederat­ion model in which there would be an Israel and a Palestine with free movement between these two confederat­ed states, two peoples living together on the whole Land as equals, neither dominant.

Given the current political reality, this might sound crazy, beyond belief, an impossibil­ity.

But the unholiness now permeating the Holy Land screams out for an end to the status quo. Given the Oct. 7 Hamas atrocity and the death, devastatio­n, and humanitari­an disaster in Gaza, there’s a desperate need for a transforma­tive vision.

Rabbi Schlesinge­r and Awad inspire that vision.

The Rev. Johnson put it this way:

“Their witness invites us to remember that peace begins when we see the image of God in each person we meet.”

 ?? Alma Rutgers COMMENTARY ??

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