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Cartooning in Conflict
Chicago Nov. 4-6


A letter to the Forum members following "Knowing is the beginning" seminar.

Piera Edelman

Mitzpe Netofa, Lower Galilee
Sunday, 25.2.07, 10 am

Dear families of the Forum,
Yesterday and the day before, at the seminar, while I mingled with you in the dress code typical of Israeli women settlers (a hat and long skirt), I from my point of view felt a real belonging with our group, the members of the Forum. A few people, mostly from the Jewish side and several from the Arab/Palestinian side, expressed their happiness about and appreciation of my presence, stating that there is no representation of the religious Jewish sector, in the forum, and that its a rare but welcome sight. I thanked them for their words, I understood what they were saying, but at the same time, for me, my presence there was so natural, that I didnt see anything unusual about it.
Only afterwards, when everyone was getting on buses, preparing to go home, and I stayed behind, waiting for the Shabbat to end, I understood, from some-thing someone said to me, how I look in your eyes Palestinian eyes especially and perhaps Jewish eyes, as well and suddenly saw myself through your eyes. This person said, very politely and respectfully, that I am dressed like a settler and usually, settlers are people from whom the Palestinians try to keep a distance, and he wanted to know how I came to be in the Forum. I didnt ask his permission to mention his name, so Ill omit that, but Im so happy he brought this question up and want to thank him for opening my eyes. If he had kept quiet, we all would have lost out I myself, him and all of you.
I thought about it, over the Shabbat, that people actually dont know me well, they dont know my beliefs and thoughts, and I waited for an opportunity to express some of them in the group discussions that were meant to take place. When these were cancelled due to time considerations, I was so sorry, not only for the lost opportunity to speak but also because I really wanted to hear what the Palestinians felt over the last two days and about their lives in general. When several members of the group were called upon to sum up the seminar, I thought of asking permission to speak, but knew there wasnt much time and didnt want to make life difficult for the organizers. (Sometimes, South African politeness knows no bounds)!
When the [Palestinian] man, who approached me at the end of the day, said what he said, and later, when I spoke to him and then to a few other people, I regretted not asking to speak in the summing-up session, because I understood to what extent my mode of dress is misleading and my opinions unconventional. Im so used to myself, so accustomed to the combinations and contradictions within myself, that it didnt occur to me how it could confuse others. When someone would ask how I feel at the forum seminar, I didnt even understand what they were really asking, since I dont see a contradiction between my dress and my views! I dress like this because I identify with the principle of modesty, for religious reasons. But my views dont match the political statement that goes with this attire, although I understand the settlers feelings and agree with a very certain part of what they say. I have quite a lot of family and friends in the settlements.
After this long introduction, I wish to explain my beliefs and views, as I did with the men who stayed behind yesterday.

The idea, in the Torah, on which the settlers put emphasis, is on the land, the land that God promised and gave us. I put the emphasis on love your neighbor (its important for the settlers too, but perhaps in a different way). For me, this is the most important thing and all other commandments in the Torah stand under this heading, of love. In addition, the Torah states, many times, the stranger who lives among you. I looked up the sources that mention this and found these, amongst others:
In Exodus, ch. 22, verse 20, it says: You shall not vex or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
In Exodus, ch. 23, verse 9: You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
(For those interested in other sources, this is what I came up with, in this context: Leviticus, ch. 19, v. 33-34; Lev, ch. 24, v. 22; Numbers, ch. 15, v. 14 16; Deutoronomy, ch. 10, v. 18-19; Jeremiah, ch. 7, v. 6-7).
I interpret the stranger as someone living in this land and for me, the relevant meaning today is of the Palestinians and the foreign workers. I dont see how else this can be interpreted, but I assume there are those who would say that the Palestinian is and enemy, and isnt in the category of the stranger who lives among us.
According to my interpretation of the Torah, we are meant to relate to the stranger as one of us, to give him the rights that we deserve, to honour and love him. Moreover, my Jewish-religious identity is bound and connected with what is happening in the strangers life. If I dont do what I can to improve his situation, there is something lacking in my Jewish-religious identity, as a human being. This is true of all social ills poverty, the aged, family violence etc. I, as one person, cant fix all these problems, but I must act in the areas where I can have some influence. (Im a social worker, with the aged and with terminal patients). This is one reason for my membership in the forum, the religious, moral aspect.
I am pluralistic, in my nature and my beliefs. I really believe that in the same way that I have a right to my views, so the other has a right to his. If we agree on something, it doesnt make me more right. If he disagrees with me, it doesnt make me wrong. Our views are simply different and I cant take ownership of his views.
Another thing: Im formerly from South Africa, I grew up with apartheid and couldnt stand the regime and the suffering it caused. I didnt play an active part against Apartheid. We always had black servants in our home and the only thing I felt I could do, until coming on Aliyah at age 17, was to relate to the servant nicely and with respect, and see the human being in him/her.
Of course, my main entry ticket into the forum is the fact that I was a war widow. I was widowed after six months of marriage, when I was expecting my firstborn (now aged 24). My first husbands funeral was on my 21st birthday; Chovav fell in the Sultan Yaakov battle in the first Lebanon war, a week before. When I was sitting Shiva for Chovav, I said to someone: I know that at this moment, there is a widow in Syria, mourning her husband who Chovav killed or by whom he was killed.  Even then, I was aware of the suffering of the other side, and of the fact that war is a mutual disaster that doesnt solve anything. All it does is sow grief, sorrow and perhaps a feeling of justification in wanting revenge and nothing beyond that, in effect.
For years, I have wanted to be involved, behind the scenes, in the peace process, since I believe that I have what to give. Letters to different politicians about achieving this goal didnt bear fruit. Therefore, my participation in the Forum is important to me, since it gives me satisfaction that Im at least doing something for peace, for the improvement of all our lives. I see great importance in the process we started at the seminat, because its important that we hear and acknowledge each others narratives; acknowledge each others pain; and moreso, that we acknowledge our part in each others pain (as Yaakov said in his summing-up speech). It requires maturity to do this, and the ability to approach problematic subjects through this maturity. When a person puts his own pain aside for a moment, listens to the pain of the other person, gives him his time and acknowledges the pain, and vice versa, this leaves both sides free to talk about the issues that require a solution.
I believe that if a person really wants something with all his might, he has to fight for it nicely, but fight nevertheless. The Forum is fighting for what is important to it, and I am proud to be counted among its members.

To all my Israeli and Palestinian friends, be well,
Piera Edelman


Photography: Mashka Litvak


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