I spent today in the West Bank.
I did so noting the really reasonable hesitations of my parents (I’d hesitate, too, were I my parents. There is, as you’ve all probably heard, a lot of tension and fear and violence going on here these days).
I did so noting my own fear-voices saying: What if? Is it worth it?
I went because Palestinian farmers are beginning to harvest their olives, and a group of farmers near Nablus asked for Israeli and international volunteers to come pick with them, both as extra hands, and also as buffers, in case they were to be harassed or attacked by settlers. You know the story.
I also went because Rabbi Arik Ascherman asked me to go, and when Rabbi Arik asks me to go to something, I generally go.
I went with 11 other Israelis from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Modi’in and Zikhron Ya’akov.
And I am immeasurably glad I went.
Because: It was nice.
It was really fucking nice.
And followers of this blog know that I don’t use that language lightly (I am referring, of course, to the word “nice”).
Mostly, we just picked olives.
Picking olives is sort of like a meditation retreat: boring, repetitive, physically challenging, but with a few gems that one could not reach otherwise.
Like when at around 2:00 PM, it started raining, and I said: “الحمد لله, al hamdu-lilah, praise God.”
And one of the women looked at me, and then laughed: “فلاح، هذا. fallah, hatha. A peasant, this one is.” It was meant as a compliment. I fucking beamed. And again, I don’t use such language lightly (“beamed,” that is).
Like when we gathered up the olives, in the downpour, and loaded them into the back of a truck, but got stuck behind another car that was, in turn, stuck in the mud, so a bunch of us jumped out, and pushed, and got sprayed with dirt and inhaled gas fumes and laughed hysterically, historically, and were drenched, and yes – yes – we didn’t, for just a moment, remember who was a Jew and who was an Arab. We were all just pushing the car in the mud and laughing at the top of our drippy lungs. We freed the car. One of the young men, a 17 year old, said this was his first harvest of the season, and joked that maybe it would be his last, that he’d be too wet and tired to come out again, but anyway, that this would certainly be a day to remember. Then he snapchatted. I still don’t get snapchat. Over this, I bonded with his 66 year old uncle.
Like when we were invited up into the village — Israeli Jews invited into a Palestinian Arab village in Times Like These, Yes — and we sat down for good, strong coffee, and they made us all change our shirts and wear the family’s shirts, plowing through our laughing protestations. They said we looked more Arab this way. The father of the family -a beautiful, tall, laughter-filled man – came out wearing a black galabiya. One of the Israeli volunteers said, in Arabic, that it reminded him of his grandfather, who came from Iraq. Another, in Arabic, asked if we looked Palestinian. They laughed, and told him that he looked Indian (he’s half Iranian), and they said that I’m too frizzy (my beard and hair are getting out of control) but that I sound sort of Palestinian when I talk. The four sons and their mother and father all sat with us, and we laughed, a lot. I don’t really remember the details of the conversation. We talked about dates, and politicians’ corruption, and weddings, and capitalism. The details of the conversation weren’t meant to be remembered. What was meant to be remembered was:
How when we left, the mother of the house, a funny, witty, large-handed woman, said to us:
“I wish it could be like this more, that we could just live together, peacefully.”
And maybe it sounds cliche, or kitschy, or overwrought, or not enough, or naive, and maybe it’s all those things, but it was also exactly what I needed to restore a least a little sliver of faith in what we are trying to do, many of us, for the sake of all of us, for the sake of this place.
In the meantime, our cellphones were buzzing with news alerts about stabbings and attacks and arrests and proclamations and warnings, the subtext of all of which were: Stay apart. All Palestinians and All Israelis are at war. It’s easy to fall into that mode of thinking. It’s crucial to push back against it. The little moments of decency are the only fucking chance we have.
I don’t use that language lightly.