Last week, I headed out on Monday morning to my basket weaving class in Kufr Manda, Hannaton’s neighboring Arab village. Kufr Manda is the closest town to Hannaton, and it is there that I go for medical care, gasoline, pharmaceuticals, house and gardening supplies, and more. Before the convenience store opened in Hannaton, I went there as well to buy milk or bread. Kufr Manda is still where I go on a Friday afternoon–when Hannaton’s convenience store is closed–to buy anything last-minute before Shabbat.
The basket-weaving began a few months ago. I had heard about the opening of a center in Kufr Manda to teach women from the village how to weave baskets; it is run by by an organization called Sindyanna of Galilee, which empowers women to learn a fair trade skill and make some money without having to leave their village. I went to visit the center and was highly impressed. I asked if they would consider doing a joint Arab-Jewish basket weaving class, and they said they would love to but did not know how to get the Jewish women. I told them I would bring the women if they would hold the class. Soon after, the class opened with more women than spaces. So this is how I have been spending my Monday mornings—weaving baskets and chatting with local Arab women about our families, our daily activities, our health, how to find and prepare local foods, etc.
I was driving to the class last Monday with my 11-year-old daughter Meira along for the day, when my husband Jacob called. He wanted to let me know that Israeli commandos had raided the Turkish Flotilla on its way to Gaza. The protesters claimed they were bringing aid to Gaza, while the Israeli reports claimed there were arms aboard. People were killed, and Palestinian riots were expected. Hannaton security sent out a message to all residents not to go into the local Arab villages. Jacob did not ask me to go home, but he did tell me to be careful. He didn’t want me to take Meira after the class to buy some knafa or falafel in the village, as I probably would have done.
When we arrived at the class, one of the Jewish women said that her husband called worried and requested that she leave the village. So she and another woman were on their way out. The three other Jewish women in the class decided to stay, as did I. I could not bring myself to leave under those circumstances. I do not support the Israeli siege on Gaza and would personally have joined a peaceful protest against it. The news was fresh; I had not yet read any commentary on or accounts of the incident. But I knew I was tired of the violence on both sides and frustrated with the lack of progress on the peace front.
I felt that leaving would send a message that I was siding with the Israeli government, when truth be told, I was critical of my government’s policies and actions in dealing with the Palestinian conflict. I did not know what was aboard that flotilla nor what really happened there, and I would not know until an investigation was held. But with this new conflagration of the conflict, I felt sad and hopeless. All I really wanted to do was sit and weave baskets with these lovely Arab women and discuss what unites us instead of what divides us. It is specifically in times like this where everyone is retreating into their separate camps out of fear of the “other” that I feel a special need to be in a space of solidarity with other peaceful folk who simply want to live as neighbors in a world where all human life is valued and differences are worked out through non-violent means. Leaving would have felt to me like taking a huge step backwards after the trust we had built up among us.
For most of the morning we discussed our usual things—nothing too serious or political. But there was a definite heaviness in the air. Sadness. Up until this point, the atmosphere in the class had been almost festive at the prospect of what were doing—women taking off time from their busy schedules to weave baskets of peace. And then one of the Jewish women who had stayed received a phone call from her husband, a social worker in a local prison, asking her to go home. He heard that a villager from Kufr Manda had been killed in the attack and he was terribly concerned that she was in the village.
At that point we could not avoid the topic any longer. “I am so sorry,” I said in Hebrew. Wahiba, the Arab woman from Kufr Manda who co-teaches the class with Ronit, a Jewish woman from Tivon, shook her head and said (in Hebrew) in her usual straightforward way: “There are bad people on both sides. That is the problem. And we are in the middle.” This was the first time in all of those mornings together that I ever heard Wahiba express a negative thought. Nine months pregnant with her fourth son, she is an unusually optimistic and cheery person. Her mix of practicality and positivity is a refreshing model of how to live a life of meaning and joy in a far from perfect reality.
Wahiba’s sentiments were mine exactly. And even more so when I got back home to find Hannaton swarming with police and soldiers. Because Hannaton is the closest Jewish town to Kufr Manda, the police were worried we would be the victim of an attack from angry villagers. Those armed men were there to protect me from potential violence by people who were resentful for being mistreated and could potentially see me as the physically closest symbol of their oppressors. Oh how I longed to be back weaving baskets with my neighbors in that safe space where people are souls, not symbols, while those who cannot get beyond their macho attacks and counter-attacks fight it out amongst themselves.
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