Toward The Sabbath In Jerusalem
--Yoav Peck
2 minute read
Jun 27, 2019


There's an old, full-size axe in my garden all the time. That's where I chop wood for our wood-burning stove. Today, three strapping young East-Jerusalem Palestinian men came to begin extensive anti-leaking work on our house. They arrived at the garden where a small sledgehammer and a hoe are also among the tools. Uncontrollably, I found myself asking, "What would I have to do that would cause these guys to hack me to death with my garden tools?"

Am I afraid of Palestinians? I'm not proud of the fact that I have hidden, in my inner conversation, automatic responses of terror, even as I welcome these lovely three guys who have come to do a job. While I, for an instant, imagine a horror, what interests them is handling the challenges of our leaky house efficiently and getting their payment. Nothing else.

As part of the Israeli collective, I have absorbed, through the air, a set of instinctual fear-reactions. They are part of the collective trauma that, like water to a fish, is the environment we live in

Like fire, that can either burn down the house or cook your dinner, Palestinians have no more inherent goodness or badness than anyone else. What most of them are after is the freedom to do their work, without interference from us Israelis, to build additions to their houses as their families grow, like normal people in civilized countries.

The other two guys left, and Fuad remained to do the work, a big job with a jackhammer and shovel on a hot, long Jerusalem day. Toward the evening, I brought him watermelon and coffee, and he was surprised that I drink Arabic coffee with hel (cardamom), ground in the Palestinian neighborhood, Beit Tsafafa, on the other side of town. Most Palestinians don't have the opportunity to ride across Jerusalem to work. And most have lived under conditions that few Israelis would agree to, for decades.

We face a choice, daily. Either we will be dominated by our fears, or we will be brave enough to handle those fears, in order to move ourselves over toward the other side, toward peace. These are just guys, good folks like most of the rest of us. If life can't work out for them, it won't for us.

As we parted for the weekend, I made weary Fuad a coffee for the road, and asked him about his family, aware of the squalor that prevails in his part of town. He said, "Life is work, but the best part of the day is when I come back home to my family." He then proudly showed me pictures of his 3 sons, and happily accepted a cigar, my Sabbath gift.

Yoav Peck is co-director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for people-to-people solidarity


Posted by Yoav Peck on Jun 27, 2019