For the second consecutive year, Jews and Palestinians walked together on Palm Sunday at a Peace March in Parramatta. The small group of about 20 walked beneath a banner that read “Palestinians and Jews for Peace and Justice”.
It was a smaller group than the previous year, due in part to “the recent heartbreak of needless deaths in Gaza and Jerusalem, and the ongoing suffering on both sides”, as I explained on the podium, with the other faith representatives, all of whom offered prayers for peace. I went on to say that if we can stand beneath this banner, at a time of such grief, then there is truly hope.
Many people have asked me: what’s the point? Do I really think a handful of Jews and Palestinians can make a difference in the Middle East?
It is not to change the world that I pursue my friendships with Palestinians. It is to reassure myself, that it is possible to bridge the suspicion and distrust that conflicted histories and war give rise to. It is to create for myself a template of what is required and inevitable if we are to transcend this quagmire of hatred and suffering. It is to remind me that without talking to the “enemy”, we are lost. It is to create a world that I can bear to live in.
We who walked together, and who persist in making relationships across the divide, often have to hear stories that are very difficult. We do not speak in terms of governments or policies, we talk in terms of our own experiences, of personal injustices, of people we know, of terrible loss, of fear and suffering.
Listening does not mean accepting, or conceding or agreeing or condoning. We listen because we know that in that place of hearing the stories of the “other”, there is genuine healing, and our own story begins to change and grow.
The histories that both of us have clung to begin to transform, just as in Australia in saying sorry to the Indigenous people. And although most of us harbour a fear that we will lose the integrity of our own story by listening to the other side, actually the reverse is true. In listening to the other, we expand our stories. We are bigger and better for it.
In listening to the stories of my Palestinian friends, my love for Israel remains intact. My sympathy for the Palestinians and their suffering in fact enlarges my sympathy for Israel as well, and increases my understanding of our struggle to survive and the sometimes tragic and heart rending and sometimes glorious place in which we find ourselves, 60 years on.
The strange thing is that the suspicion and mistrust that our communities hold for each other, is often turned towards our own. Those of us who attempt to create relationships across the divide are often viewed by our own communities as suspicious. Both of us, Palestinians and Jews, are seen by some as heretics.
Most of us tend towards such polarised thinking that we cannot imagine that there is something other than claiming who is right and who is wrong. That it is not necessary to demonise one side to identify with another. I believe it is possible to hold both with compassion, and it is this ability in fact, which is at the crux of peace making.
The work of peace is the hardest work of all. It is said in the bible that “the lion shall lie with the lamb”. Peace will come to us. I believe that this is true, and I also know that the only way for it to come is for us to talk and to listen. The greatest of all Hebrew prayers is called “shema” - and what does “shema” mean?
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