The Israeli Narrative

Confronting the barrier. Credit Mark Allen

Confronting the barrier.
Credit Mark Allen

Friday we experienced the “Israeli narrative” – while we are hearing both narratives each day, this was a day devoted to the Israeli and Saturday in Bethlehem will be the Palestinian. I found it a difficult and challenging day, as Paul (our beloved rector would say) speaking for myself and only for myself. We began with Col (Res) Dany Tirza, the Israeli Defense Force’s chief architect for the security fence. We came to hear different narratives, and so we did as he forcefully presented a history in which Israel had no choice but to build the barrier. For Tirza, the government tried a series of lesser protections from terrorist attacks, but all failed and Israelis – children, men, and women – continued to be killed. He extolled the improvements in the efficiency of the check points, but admitted how many fewer Palestinians now came through them to work in Israel.

As we came to the end of his tour, he told how he had learned from the five cases he had lost before the Israeli Supreme Court regarding the route of the barrier and was more sensitive to Palestinian issues. He gave a point by point explanation of the differences between the Berlin wall and the Israeli, but as he exited the bus, he said he hoped that one similarity would be that in time the Israeli wall, too, would come down. I confess I applaud those in our group who found his coda hopeful – I thought it a good salesmen’s final pitch to a church group.

We then went on to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum, which I found to be a triumph of design that brilliantly illustrates the brutal story it tells. Our guide spoke movingly of the “spiritual resistance” of those who were forced into the ghettos and how they survived, if they survived. Yet most went on to a horrific death in the camps.

And then on to the vibrant scene of the Friday Mahane Yehuda market in West Jerusalem as people did their final shopping for the Sabbath. The crush of people buying pomegranates and oranges, almonds and pistachios, sesame paste in all its forms, chicken, anything you could want and even a wine bar thrown in was fun for some, but not for all. In our debriefing later, as Kenn said, he remembered Dany Tirza’s speaking of a bombing in that market, and wondered if/when we would return to Eastern Market after such an event.

I am grateful for our Israeli guide, Yuval, for his stories of his own upbringing, of the scars that have not healed, and how he grew up being told to fear all Palestinians. As he says, it is PTSD of a people. It takes great courage to do the work that Yuval and others do to try bring reconciliation to a people traumatized in so many different ways. Saturday we will hear the Palestinian narrative – another people traumatized. We must pray and work for peace for both.

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