I recently returned from a trip to Israel and Palestine sponsored by Combatants for Peace (an organization of both ex-IDF soldiers from Israel as well as Palestinians who have served time in Israeli jails), and I am happy to share some stories of how light is being spread in the midst of violence, confusion, and frustration.
I spent much of my time in the West Bank area, territory which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war. Our group visited refugee camps, Bedouin villages under orders of demolition by the Israeli army, and villages that are living with the constant threat of violence from settlers who live nearby and do their best to cut off water sources, interfere with tending flocks, and even attack children walking to school.
For the first week of the trip, we were accompanied by two guides—Yael, an Israeli Jew, and Emili, a Palestinian Christian. Both are extraordinary. Each told stories of the work they are doing to contribute to peacebuilding.
Yael is part of a collective of Israelis who meet the families of Palestinian children in need of cancer treatment and ferry them from Israeli checkpoints to hospitals in Israel (otherwise, the trip would be both extremely expensive and logistically almost impossible). In addition, she stands vigil each Friday afternoon at Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of Jerusalem, protesting efforts to dispossess Palestinians of their homes. And she travels every two weeks to the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the Jordan Valley, to provide support to the women whose homes are under threat of demolition and who are making dolls and embroidering fabrics to help support themselves and their families.
Emili had hoped to become an ambassador for a Palestinian state. But since that is not possible for her, she became a tour guide so she can serve as an ambassador of a different sort. She has bucked the skepticism (or opposition) of many in her community to attend peacebuilding workshops in Cyprus, Ireland, and elsewhere, so she can develop the tools she needs to work non-violently for peace in the region. And she has joined together with a Palestinian man (a co-founder of Roots) to work within the Palestinian community developing capacities for peaceful dialogue and communication.
Each of these women challenges the views of the mainstream of their communities. They risk being ostracized, or worse. But each clearly also shines light, working to show that there is an alternative to violence. And each gives me hope for the possibility of a peaceful end to the Israeli occupation.