By Richard Friedman,
BJF-LJCC Executive Director
A year ago, I was in Ramallah, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank or Judea and Samaria, depending on how one describes this territory which came under Israel’s control after it was attacked by Jordan during the June, 1967 Six Day War.
I was there as part of a small Jewish Federations of North America group to meet with Palestinian leaders to hear their perspectives and learn more about their lives. Through that visit, I came to understand first-hand the depth of their animosity toward Israel and their anger over what they see as the usurping of their homeland by Jews and international allies to create a Jewish state.
It was an unsettling day with very little to be positive about; it was a day that left me pessimistic about the Palestinians ever moving toward authentic acceptance of Israel and a willingness to end the conflict based on compromise. That was evident in almost every conversation and in the prevailing political and social culture. It was sad and frustrating though I am glad I went to Ramallah because it gave me a deeper understanding of the divide between Palestinians and Israelis.
That day a year ago came to mind recently as I read a blog on the Times Of Israel website posted by Lilia Gaufberg. She is an American-born elementary school teacher currently residing in the Israeli city of Petach Tikva.
“Ramallah is a city like any other: alive with sounds and smells, ripe with an energy unique to largely populated areas. In Ramallah, I saw gorgeous apartment buildings, schools, and towering mosques contrasted with littered streets,” she wrote.
Yet, she added, “In this landscape of life, one overwhelming element felt out of place: in Ramallah, everywhere you turn, a vehement hatred of Israel and a denial of Jewish history in the land of Israel pulses throughout the city, an overwhelming undercurrent of identity oppression. In Ramallah, streets and squares are named after internationally recognized terrorists. In Ramallah, the main museum in the center of the city, entitled ‘Yasser Arafat Museum,’ complete with marble floors, decorated guards, and an extravagant wading pool, contains exhibits which praise the ‘Intifadas,’ the terror wars, inflicted upon Jews and largely orchestrated by Palestinian leaders themselves.”
In her blog, Gaufberg does a good job of describing what I saw and the sense I got from our visit. I also came away from that day with a sad feeling and a dramatic reminder of what could have been had Palestinian leaders over the decades had chosen negotiation instead of rejection of Israel and its right to exist as a Jewish state.
The Palestinian people have enormous potential to succeed; they are trapped in anger, hatred and chasing historical myths.
My Ramallah visit also included conversations with younger Palestinians, who on the surface appeared like any other Millennials, and a visit to a beautiful new city full of hope and promise.
Yet, everywhere and in every conversation, even though some of the tone seemed “moderate,” the antagonism and rejection of Israel was uncompromising. I felt I was seeing a future full of promise that will never come about until there is a radical shift in Palestinian thinking. How sad that was.
And then, as I read the blog further, I came across another experience that the writer and I had in common — experiences that occurred at the end of each of our Ramallah days as we returned to Jerusalem.
“Re-entering Jerusalem after a long day in Ramallah felt like being able to breathe again,” she wrote.
“In Jerusalem, Jews, Arabs, and Christians hop on the same buses, shop at the same stores, and share the city fully. Jerusalem, though often tense and politically charged, is a city in which a peaceful life for all in its purest form can be clearly observed. If these harmonious ideals of coexistence instead of hatred had been integrated into the ethical foundation of Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, this turbulent corner of the world might be significantly closer to realizing peace.”