Last month on a rabbinical conference in Israel conducted by the pluralistic Shalom Hartman Institute, Rabbi Brent Gutmann of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, along with a delegation of rabbis from Israel and around the globe visited the Arab village of Husan, located in the Gush Etziyon region of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).
There, they met with grassroots volunteers of Palestinians and Israelis who are taking up practical causes of co-existence in preventing Israel from continuing a section of the security barrier that would bisect the village and potentially harm the Wadi Fakhim.
A UNESCO world heritage 10 kilometers west of Bethlehem, Husan contains ancient remains dating back to the Iron Age. Other remains date from the post-Babylonian Exile Period and the Middle Ages. The original inhabitants came from the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen in the 3rd century. Ceramics from the Byzantine era have been found.. The Arab villagers there still use agricultural practices of tabled terracing for their farming that date back to ancient times, watered by an ancient wadi.
Grassroots efforts over the last 25 years in this region have gone through several changes and names. But at the center has been Ziad Sabateen, a resident of Hasan who as a teen was arrested and imprisoned for five years in Israel after his involvement in the first intifada in the mid 1980’s. After his release following the Oslo accords, Sabateen realized the path to a two-state solution cannot be won through violence but through conversation and peaceful work towards co-existence.
Sabateen founded the group Path of Hope and Peace with the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, who served as the chief rabbi in the Jewish community of Tekoa in the Judean Hills. They believed in working towards peace with the Palestinians even when they both personally experienced adversity in their family life from violence, death, terror and extremism.
“It was an unlikely alliance – a rabbi who many viewed as a settler — and a former Palestinian terrorist,” said Gutmann, who befriended Sabateen over Facebook before meeting in person this summer. “But the two were willing to talk and engage with anyone who were willing to work for a peaceful solution. “
Path of Hope and Peace, is also in the midst of creating the first joint Israeli/Palestinian medical clinic to provide better preventative medical care to the local villagers of Husan. The organization recognizes the disparity of healthcare in the region between Israelis and Palestinians. The life expectancy of Palestinians is on average 10 years less than Israelis because many do not have access to routine and preventative medical care.
To improve these statistics, Path to Hope and Peace has worked to bring in more healthcare facilities to improve the lives of the Palestinians. In addition, because of his original grassroots work with former members of the Israel Defense Forces, Sabateen is able to work through some of the complexities that come with Israel’s tight security measures on Palestinians, such as attaining travel permits to leave the West Bank and enter Israel so that they can visit with sick loved ones who are being treated in Israeli hospitals or even have a visit to swim and play in the ocean.
From this trip, Guttmann saw first-hand how activities as ordinary as cleaning up trash from the side of a road or showing concern for the natural resources of the region are ways Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians can come together for a common good.
“The notion of the two-state solution is becoming more and more challenging,” Gutmann said. “But this special trip out to this village made me come to the realization that people on both sides of the conflict can share in everyday interactions. It is possible to come together to talk and try to solve the most immediate and local problems. It is these real person-to-person interactions that bring out each other’s humanity and rarely make the news.”