...reflections from a Compassionate Listener

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Extending a hand in peace

By Guest Blogger, Yael Petretti, Jerusalem

For over four years, captive Israel Defense Forces soldier, Gilad Shalit, has been held by Hamas in Gaza. His fate has been the subject of an intensely emotional debate here in Israel. His parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, have led the campaign to pressure the Israeli government to procure Gilad’s release, even if it means releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, many of them perpetrators of violence against Israelis, from Israeli prisons. The Shalits are supported by much of the citizenry here, especially because almost everyone serves in the army, an army whose morale depends in large part on the assurance that no soldier will be left behind or abandoned in enemy hands.

Others point to the danger posed by freeing as many as a thousand potentially violent Palestinian prisoners into our midst. They say that, as painful as it is to decide against making the prisoner trade with Hamas, the greater public security demands it. Shalit’s family and their supporters counter that Israel’s security forces are capable of handling the threat. Besides, Aviva Shalit points out, Israel released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in 2006, after Gilad’s abduction.

As this debate rages, a number of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem will be reaching the first anniversary of their being forcibly thrown out of their homes onto the street on August 2, 2009. Their homes have been taken over by Jewish settlers. Those who moved into the Ghawi family house placed a giant menorah and Israeli flag on its roof, just in case there was any question about ownership. Every Friday afternoon since November, there has been a demonstration against this settler takeover of Palestinian homes at the entrance of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood where the Ghawi and Hanoun families live.

Despite their own suffering, Nasser Ghawi persuaded his family and others in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to “extend a hand in peace” to the Shalit family by joining the massive march from Shoresh into Jerusalem last week. When I learned of this, I called him to tell him what a strong and beautiful gesture this was.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 marchers arrived in Jerusalem’s Independence Park for a rally on behalf of Gilad Shalit. Just before the rally, I found Gilad’s father, Noam, behind the stage. I wanted him to know of the Sheikh Jarrah Palestinian families’ expression of solidarity with him and his family. He replied that he was grateful for support from everyone, regardless of religion or ethnicity. He asked me to relay his thanks to them.

Sadly, I was unsuccessful in getting the MC of the rally to name the Palestinian families along with all the others he thanked for joining the march.

A few days later, Nasser Ghawi told me, with his characteristic crooked smile, that he and his family had been stopped by the police near the Prime Minister's residence, as theiy marched with the Shalit supporters. They were held there, one block away from the rally, for two and a half hours until the rally was finished. I do not know how Nasser and his family manage to maintain their humanity and even a sense of sad-sack humor in the face of the brutal treatment they have received at the hands of the Israelis. I do know that Israeli society is the poorer for missing this opportunity to take that hand extended in human caring. 

Yael Petretti is a Compassionate Listening facilitator. currently living in Jerusalem.

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