Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bold Boulder Judge Richtel hears static in Jerusalem's Peace Forest

A runners's view from Abu Tor
After a heads-up that a dynamic teacher, Judge Murray Richtel, will soon be a teaching another joint course to Israeli and Palestinian law students, Izzy Bee went cyber-sleuthing to see what's so compelling about this jurist from Boulder, Colorado.

His take on whether Israelis and Palestinians can ever learn to live together, after witnessing them learn together in the classroom, is worth sharing, particularly in the run-up to the High Holydays and Ramadan.

Static in the Peace Forest
By Judge Murray Richtel (guest post)

I have learned a lot over my nine fall semesters in Jerusalem, including the painful and difficult lessons of being a new immigrant, even on a part-time basis.
Nothing is easy. Buying stamps, going to the bank, picking up the cleaning the simplest daily task is an adventure for the newcomer. One of my best learning resources has been Reshet Gimmel, FM Radio 98.7. "Kol Muzika, Kol Muzika Israelite," (All Music, All Israeli Music) which I religiously listen to while running up and down Jerusalem's hills three or four times a week.
From its hourly five-minute news reports, I have learned to understand the weather forecast, when the Supreme Court has rendered a significant opinion or, during the years when there were never-ending terrorist attacks, how many people had been killed, how many injured and how seriously. It took me awhile, actually several years, to learn that my favorite song was in fact a commercial for a sore throat medication.
On those runs which in better times have taken me to Bethlehem, on occasion around the walls of the Old City, and on a regular basis from my apartment past the president's house, down the hill to the olive trees of the Valley of the Cross where tradition has it the tree used for Jesus' crucifixion was cut, up the rosemary lined path near Israel's Parliament and back home passing the Prime Minister's residence I have often reflected on what I have absorbed about the political situation here.
Last week I did just that as I set out to run to the biblical Hill of the Evil Council, another standard route. In the 20 minutes it took me to get there, I heard only Israeli music from FM 98.7. At its summit and my turnaround point, I had one of Jerusalem's best views: the Old City and the Golden Dome on Temple Mount gleamed in the morning sunlight about a mile to the north. To the east about an equal distance was a new addition to the Jerusalem landscape, the Security Fence.
As I sped up on the downward trail through the Jerusalem Peace Forest the music on FM 98.7 changed. Drawing nearer to the Arab neighborhood of Silwan and the mixed Arab-Jewish area of Abu-Tor, there was static and a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic songs. If I turned my head to the right, toward the Arab and mixed neighborhoods, the songs were no longer in Hebrew. Rather, Arabic songs drowned out FM 98.7. If I turned my head back to the left and my Jewish neigborhood, I heard the Hebrew songs loud and clear. Only when I got out of the Peace Forest and was back on Hebron Road on the home stretch did the static disappear.
As the week progressed, I couldn't get the static in the Peace Forest out of my mind. It was there when I watched Jewish Israelis walking through the streets of Jerusalem on their way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The ubiquitous traffic noise and horn-honking was replaced by the quiet greeting, "Shana Tova," a Good Year, and by the ancient sound, of the ram's horn or shofar, being blown in hundreds of synagogues to acknowledge the New Year.
And again when the doors of Arabs' shops in the Old City closed on Friday afternoon and the mercantile hustle-bustle of the Muslim Quarter was replaced by the thousands of Arabs who streamed by me on Bab al-Sisilia Road en route to al-Haaram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, to offer their prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan.
The lines of worshippers were so much alike, so parallel. But however close the distance, parallel lines never meet.
And that, sadly, is my perception, that there are still parallel lines here. Yes, there has been progress: fewer deaths, and the withdrawal from Gaza sponsored by a tough Israeli Prime Minister who has indeed carried out "painful concessions" as promised.
But I continue to hear disturbing things from Arab drivers who operate most of the taxis I take home from the Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus high above the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem.
Assah told me: "The Towers came down in New York. They say it was the Muslims and bin Laden. I say, no, it was the Jews. There can never be peace with them. This is our country but we cannot trust the Jews to make peace. They will screw us. My kids can be drivers and construction workers and their kids all have computers. They say there are terrorists. Tell me, if you take my land what should I do, give you a flower?"
"I read it in the Quran this morning," Hussein, another driver, said, "as soon as the Israelis finish their security wall, we will win." When he told me that he considered Palestinian President Abu Mazen to be a thief, I asked if that meant he supported Hamas. "No," he said and, "they are bad people created by the Israelis. But, I am not worried about it, someone will come to lead us. It is in the Quran." When I hear these things I worry.
When I repeated Assah and Hussein's comments to my Jewish Israeli friends, they argued among themselves about the implications of my conversations. Anat thought the statements were made for the shock value they would have on me as a "tourist" and should not be believed, while Yehuda vehemently agreed that Assah spoke the truth about the plight of the Palestinians. His wife Myan expressed anger toward him: "The Palestinians hate Israel and will never make peace. They have a different culture and we cannot trust them." I didn't like hearing what Myan said.
And so it goes, more or less nothing changed for nine years. The static on FM 98.7 brought home to me the most obvious lesson I have learned as an outsider here during those years and the hardest lesson for Israelis and Palestinians to accept: The dream of the Peace Forest will not be realized until each side learns that its own clear message alone cannot prevail and that it must live with the static of hearing the other message.
As I approached the Jaffa Gate to the Old City to watch the march to the Temple Mount for Ramadan prayers, an Arab man in stylish Western clothes, with a cell phone on his belt, sprinted from the line of worshippers over to a car with Israeli license plates and gave its occupants a big greeting in colloquial Hebrew. My hope for this holiday season is that in the next year, more Israelis and Palestinians will step out of line, creating and living with the static that is necessary for peace.

Murray Richtel, a district court judge in Boulder from 1977 to 1996, teaches at the Hebrew University Law School in Jerusalem. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel.

1 comment:

Red Bull said...

Very thoughtful. Salomonic. Worthy of a decent judge.