Our second to last day in Israel has been one of our most memorable: a visit to the Open House in Ramle and a conversation with its co-founder, Dalia Landau. (That’s me on the left, above, next to Dalia, JRC member Maxine Topper, and Open House’s Administrative Director, Khader Al-Kalak).
You may know Dalia’s story from “The Lemon Tree,” the powerful, must-read book by journalist Sandy Tolan. This house in Ramle was originally built by a Palestinian Arab family that was expelled by the Israeli army during the 1948 war and subsequently became the home for Dalia’s family, who were Holocaust refugees from Bulgaria. As “The Lemon Tree” documents, Dalia eventually struck up a friendship with Bashir Al-Khayri, a Palestinian man who had grown up in the same house and whom she met when he came back to visit in 1967. The house has since been transformed by Dalia and Bashir into a coexistence center, housing a preschool for local Arab children and sponsoring coexistence programs for Jewish and Arab children in the region.
Our visit with Dalia has been one of the emotional highlights of our trip. We were especially struck by her open-hearted presence – and the way she has used her own personal transformation as a tool for healing in the midst of seemingly intractable hatreds. When I asked Dalia if she was hopeful about prospects for peace, she responded that she cannot ultimately look to external events for hope. In the end, as she put it, hope has to come from within. Real hope can only be found when we stop depending upon politicians to create change and begin taking personal responsibility for making a difference in the world.
Dalia truly typifies for me why coexistence work is so essential. While it may be true that the ultimate solution to this conflict will have to be a political one, we can never underestimate how essential inter-personal reconciliation is to the peace process. The participants on our JRC trip have discussed this issue in great depth these past two days: certainly we cannot cease in advocating for a political solution to this conflict – but neither should we dismiss the importance of coexistence work that has the potential to transform the lives and attitudes of real individuals.
Institutions such as Open House (or Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam – the venerable Jewish-Arab village we visited yesterday) are particularly critical in the way they give children the foundational context for ongoing coexistence that could well last for the rest of their lives. Regardless of the ebb and flow of the ongoing political situation, I agree with Dalia that these efforts are where true hope resides.
Tomorrow is our last day in Israel – my next post will most likely come from stateside.
Shalom, Salaam, Peace…