Several weeks ago I enjoyed a delicious lunch at Café Zamn with a group from our congregation. A couple of things stood out about the meal. First was the tangy, citrusy green juice. Second was the impossibly creamy eggplant with tahini sauce. Third, was the fact that Café Zamn is in Ramallah. And, finally, the meal was extraordinary because of the conversation we had with a deputy minister from the Palestinian Authority. But seriously, that eggplant was to die for.
As part of our congregation’s recent mission to Israel, I sought to explore the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On this particular day, we sought to hear multiple narratives, to explore the truth of the situation as understood by 1) an Israeli sociologist, 2) an Israeli journalist, 3) Palestinian business people, 4) a Palestinian government official and, 5) an Israeli West Bank settler. Needless to say, each person had a very different take on the situation.
Each person we met tried to give us facts and figures; they presented maps and graphs or rattled off statistics to make their points. But, after an exhaustingly full day of presentations and traffic jams and military checkpoints, their perspectives and attitudes made a greater impression than any numbers they shared with us: the good natured, academic perspective of the sociologist; the dogged approach of the journalist; the optimism and stick-to-itiveness of the business people; the cynical pessimism of the Palestinian government official; and the nationalistic, religious certainty of the settler.
Even without the very relevant questions of borders, refugees, capitals, security, and the like, these perspectives alone show the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At Café Zamn, the government official painted a picture of hemmed-in occupation, of a life restricted in all ways by military occupation of his people’s ancestral lands. The West Bank Settler of Beit Horon told us of Israeli courage and conviction, of Divine promise, and the lives lost simply trying to live in our biblical lands. Astoundingly, a crow would only have to fly four miles to get from Café Zamn to Beit Horon. But those four miles might as well be 10,000 miles if measured by radically different perspectives.
Today Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with President Donald J. Trump at the White House. Talking heads in Israel and the U.S. have speculated for weeks about the discussions. Will the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv move to Jerusalem? Will Trump ask Netanyahu to hold up settlement construction? Will Trump hold the Palestinian Authority accountable for corruption and violence? Will Netanyahu enjoy a warmer reception than he did when visiting with Obama? On the one hand, these diplomatic and strategic questions matter a great deal. On the other hand, each question represents just one facet of a situation with unlimited perspectives, a situation in which four miles might as well be 10,000.
A couple nights after that intense day of touring, we dined in an Israeli restaurant near the northern border of Israel. Out came a delicious dish of impossible creamy eggplant with tahini, practically the same dish we enjoyed at Café Zamn in Ramallah. The people we met that day share more than a love of eggplant: they share a desire for a resolution to the conflict, for a normal life. Their preferred paths to that resolution look very different. Each speaker would undoubtedly structure a peaceful coexistence in very different ways. But each person we met hoped for a future in which peace and stability replaced conflict and division. And, while a peace deal will not have creamy eggplant as its foundation, perhaps one day we’ll be able to sit around one table to celebrate all that we share rather than spending the day on a bus to talk about all that separates us.