Our first stop today was Givat Haviva, the venerable school founded by the Kibbutz Artzi movement. GH is located in the north of Israel, in the middle of Wadi Ara (or the so-called “Little Triangle”) – one of the most densely populated Arab sections in the country. The school is a pioneering institution in the field of coexistence; its Jewish-Arab Center for Peace sponsors a variety of different educational programs including High School Youth workshops and Arabic-language/culture classes for Israeli soldiers.
This morning we spoke with Lydia Eisenberg (top pic), who works on the staff of GH’s International Department. Lydia took us on a tour of the nearby Arab village Bartato help demonstrate the Orwellian nature of Israel’s oft-shifting boundaries. In the armistice following the 1948 war, Barta was divided in half by Israel and Jordan: West Barta became part of the new Jewish state and East Barta became part of Jordan. After 1967, East Barta was incorporated by Israel into the occupied territories – half of the village was literally under the rule of Israel’s civil administration while the other half was under military occupation. Things were complicated even further when Israel’s separation barrier was erected, putting East Barta outside the Green Line, but inside the new security fence – a uniquely perverse geographic area that Lydia affectionately calls “Limbo Land.”
The afternoon was spent nearby at Kibbutz Metzer, which has a had a unique and remarkable relationship with the citizens of Maiser, an adjacent Israeli Arab village. For over fifty years, the secular socialist Zionist members of the kibbutz and the traditional Muslim citizens of Maiser have made a devoted effort to overcome their differences and receive each other as good neighbors. Over the years, as both Kibbutz Metzer and Maiser struggled to make their homes in a regions with little infrastructure and a meager water supply, they have openly shared their knowledge resources with each other, coexisting side by side with peace and mutual respect.
Their relationship was put to a terrible test in November of 2002 when a Palestinian terrorist entered the kibbutz and murdered five members to death (including a mother and her two young children inside their home.) Despite this tragic event, the respective communities only redoubled their efforts to maintain mutual respect and a spirit of coexistence. That’s me in the pic immediately above – I’m next to Said Arda, who works for the municipality of the village of Maisa, Dov Avital, the secretary of Kibbutz Metzer, and Steve Masters, President of Brit Tzedek Ve’Shalom (who is also an old friend and my roomie on the trip.)
We heard powerful presentations from both Said and Dov, who are clearly passionate about maintaining positive, healing relations with their neighbors. I was especially moved by Said’s description of how numerous families from Maiser visited the kibbutz every day/night during the shiva following the tragedy. After our painfully difficult day in Hevron yesterday, a much-needed message of trust and hope.
BTW: Brit Tzedek V’Shalom is maintaining a blog about our trip as well – and as you can read, there is much to relate. Click here for the link.