Thanksgiving in Ramallah

Danny and I spent Thanksgiving in Ramallah at the Muqata—the Palestinian Authority (PA) presidential headquarters. Fatah—the political party of the president of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas—had invited Israeli peace activists to attend a solidarity event with Palestinians. It was planned for International Palestinian Solidarity Day (declared by the U.N. in 1977) which coincides with November 29, the day in 1947 when the U.N. voted to partition the land that now encompasses the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories into two states—one for the Jews and one for the Arabs.[1]

The event was billed as an opportunity to express solidarity with the Palestinian people and its right to a Palestinian State next to the State of Israel. I was hoping to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, but, alas, he was in Qatar. Instead we heard from Jibril Rajoub who is the Secretary General of Fatah’s Central Committee and former chief of Preventive Security forces in the West Bank. He spoke passionately in Hebrew about how the presence of hundreds of Israelis showed the Palestinians that there is a partner for peace and that Palestinians and Jews could work together to end the Occupation. (It might sound strange to some Jewish ears who think that there is no partner for peace on the Palestinian side to hear a Palestinian leader express his delight at seeing so many Israeli Jews supportive of peace. It indicates that many Palestinians also don’t see a partner for peace on the Israeli side.)

It was a fascinating and hopeful evening (albeit long. There were three straight hours of speeches with no breaks!) to be at the Muqata and to hear Israeli and Palestinian leaders express their desire to work together for peace. The Executive Director of Peace Now in Israel, Shaked Morag, said there are four things that need to be done to keep the prospect of peace alive: restart peace talks with no preconditions, stop building in West Bank settlements, repeal the Nation State Law[2], and make sure no West Bank territories are annexed. Several other Israel speakers spoke about how the current government isn’t interested in ending the conflict, and would rather annex the West Bank.

Most speakers on both sides stuck to this script, reiterating the importance of working together to achieve peace and prevent violence and annexation of territory. The exception was Rabbi Hirsch, the head of Neturei Karta which is an Ultra-Orthodox sect that is adamantly opposed to the State of Israel. The Neturei Karta believe that there is no legitimacy to a Jewish state in the Land of Israel until the messiah comes. It was quite a sight to see an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi, wearing a stole that looked like a tallit and had the colors of the Palestinian flag on it, speaking about his desire to see Israel eradicated and replaced with a Palestinian state. He was roundly booed and heckled by the Israelis. The emcee, a Palestinian official, had a heck of a time getting the crowd to settle down.

It was exciting to be at the equivalent of the White House with the most prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. I can’t say that I see peace on the nearby horizon, but I can say there are passionate and committed people on both sides. In the next few months, I hope to spend more time with them and the various organizations they represent and learn more about how Israel and the Palestinians might move out of the current impasse and make progress in ending the conflict. Stay tuned!


[1] Historical note: The British who had been the ruling power since 1917 had decided to pull out of the region and hand over responsibility for the region to the U.N. The Partition Plan gave Jews, who comprised a third of the population at the time, over half the land; the Palestinians were given the rest. The Jews accepted the deal, and the Palestinians rejected it. In the Jewish community we often blame the Palestinians’ lack of an independent state on their refusal to accept this plan in 1947. With the benefit of hindsight, one can argue today about the wisdom of the Palestinians rejecting this deal, but, at the time, they felt they got the short end of the stick. They also reasoned that given the fact that Arabs far outnumbered the Jews in the region, they didn’t have any reason to accept the deal.

[2] This law, passed in Israel in 2018, is considered problematic because of how it relates to non-Jewish citizens of Israel. Among several problematic issues, it declared Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people without specifically guaranteeing equality for all Israeli citizens regardless of ethnic origin and/or religion.

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