November 22, 2018

Peace Summit on Bus 486

When we get together over Shabbat dinner, we often ask everyone at the table to share a meaningful moment.  Last Friday, the topic was gratitude: specifically, an event from the week for which we were thankful. Everyone had a beautiful story to share, be it an encounter at school or at work.

When it came to my son-in-law Shaarya’s turn, he said he was grateful for sharing positive encounters with Palestinians. And then he told the following story.

He is now learning Arabic. A few days ago, finding himself at a bus stop with an Arab, he realized this was a great opportunity to practice Arabic. So he started a conversation and soon after, they boarded the bus together where they continued talking. 

Other Arabs got on the bus and became interested in this unusual encounter; Shaarya is an Israeli Jew wearing a kippa who is speaking Arabic and talking to a Palestinian.  The other Arab passengers were curious and became involved in the conversation.

To the passengers' delight, they discovered that Arabs and Jews are more alike than different. They realized that all want an education and a job; all want to be respected and to live comfortably without needing to be in constant fear and conflict; and no one wants to live and raise children in a violent reality.

Sderot Rothschild today.
Building of Sderot Rothschild.
Some expressed admiration for what the Jews had done in Israel, transforming it from an impoverished desert to a first-world high-tech nation in a short period of time. 

Their mutual conclusion? Politicians have ruined the ability to establish peace between Arabs and Israelis. And changes that must happen given this sensitive reality will have to come bottom-up - from the citizens, not the politicians.

Talking casually like this where everyone is on equal footing enabled them to develop a mutual trust and respect for each other.  Shaarya did not even realize that he was the only Israeli on a bus filled with Palestinians. 

He then asked one of the Palestinians if he thinks the situation is getting better or worse.

The Palestinian replied, “There's no better or worse. There are good people and bad people on both sides of this conflict. The key to change is when we learn to trust and give respect to each other."

When the bus reached Tzomet Tapuach and an IDF soldier noticed Shaarya sitting amidst all of the Palestinian passengers, the soldier was surprised to see an Israeli so relaxed in what could be perceived as a tense situation.

The horrific reality of the Middle Eastern conflict causes us to be fearful, suspicious and even hateful of each other. But what if we could drop the stereotypes, look the other in the eye and see our shared humanity?  What if we were to focus on our similarities as opposed to our differences?

And this is what Shaarya accomplished. 

I dream that his conversation will have a lasting effect on the Arabs in the bus - I know his story affected all of the people sitting around our Shabbat table.

So when I throw my hands up and feel the conflict is impossible to resolve, I can now see that change is possible. And peace will not happen via a foreign summit or funding from NGOs, financial punishment via BDS or the removing of Jewish listings by Airbnb in Yehuda and Shomron -- a peace summit happened on bus 486 from Tel Aviv to Tapuach Junction just last week.

Imagine if such positive encounters were to multiply... this is something for which we would all be grateful.