A documentary follows Israeli settlers and nearby Palestinians who attempt to bring their communities together for peace
One of the more interesting slogans that emerged from this summer's Israel social justice protest movement was "Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies." Although this looks good on a poster, how realistic is it on the ground, particularly in the West Bank? In these disputed territories, Jewish settlers and Palestinian Arabs continue to be locked in a struggle for their countries' futures.
Frustrated with the lack of progress from direct negotiations with Israel, the Palestinian Authority has petitioned the United Nations for recognition as a member state. The Israeli government, as if acting out a part in a tragedy that has already been written, vigorously opposed what they termed a "unilateral" act and has dug in its heels. The Palestinians are not backing down either, even in the face of U.S. opposition to their UN bid, including cutting off $200 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by the U.S. Congress.
As the extended diplomatic confrontation continues unabated, the mood on the ground is becoming increasingly tense, the negotiations between Israel and Hamas that led to the successful return of Gilad Shalit notwithstanding. A recent spate of mosque desecrations has now spread from the West Bank to Israel proper; the threat of possible Palestinian demonstrations looms. It is against this backdrop of increasing tensions that a nascent movement of Israeli settlers and Palestinians has come together to explore ways to communicate and co-exist. But their movement, which they call the "third way," is now struggling for its very existence.
These settlers and Palestinians have been meeting with each other in an effort to find a "third way" between domination and confrontation. The members of this small but slowly growing movement are pushing the norms of Israeli-Palestinian relations, often in ways that puts them at odds with their respective communities.
Rabbi Menachem Froman, the rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, is often viewed as the spiritual father of the movement. Froman is notorious for befriending Yasser Arafat as well as meeting several times in Gaza with the wheelchair-bound, late spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin. Today, he is a voice of reconciliation.
Last month, as part of their "price tag" strategy designed to punish Palestinians (and now Israelis too) when the Israeli authorities don't bend to their will, settlers vandalized a mosque in the Palestinian village of Qusra following the Israeli Defense Force's demolition of illegal houses in the Migron settlement outpost. In response, Rabbi Froman visited Qusra to seek penance for the deeds done by his co-religionists. Leading the crowd in chants of "Allah Hu Akbar," the Rabbi tried to show that the two sides belong to the same land and share the same destiny, whether or not they're willing to acknowledge it.
Over the past few years, a new generation of settlers has arisen to continue on Froman's path. Two of these activists are named Nahum Pachenik and Eliaz Cohen. Much of their activism is informal and individual. There is also a similar group, called Eretz Shalom, that meets semi-regularly.
At times, in movements like this, some of the first bridge building comes from the side that's privileged -- in this case, the Israelis. Eliaz Cohen lives in Kfar Etzion, the first West Bank settlement, founded in September 1967, and has been meeting with the mukhtar of a neighboring village. He has been pushing the local Israeli government to pave the single road in the village, as well as to give locals permission to repair the village minaret, which Israel has refused to do for almost 30 years.
Eliaz believes that there's a struggle "for the soul" of the settler movement currently underway, with new thinking challenging the old zero-sum orthodoxy that has traditionally characterized relations between settlers and Palestinians. Rabbi Froman proclaims that he is "a citizen of the state of God, it's not so important who is the government." Others hold that, whatever the future political arrangement, it will ve irrelevant if Israelis and Palestinians can't learn how to live together. "Two states, three states, seven states, doesn't matter -- what matters is whatever the number of states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, none of the models can work if there are no good relations between the people," said another settler.