Standing Together: A Redemptive Vision for Palestinian-Jewish Partnership

I am a post-denominational rabbi, a writer, a spiritual director/companion, founding director of the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they please and a social activist helping build Arab-Jewish partnership in Israel/Palestine, specifically in the Galilee, where I live. I consider my social activism in this area part of my rabbinic work and mission, not separate from it — to the point that I have begun referring to that work, including protesting and marching for total equality for all on this land, in the spirit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, praying with my feet.

When I first moved to Israel, I lived for 13 years in Jerusalem, where my biggest work of social activism was fighting for religious rights for women in Israel. I was very active in Women of the Wall, Kolech (the Israeli equivalent of JOFA), and in various Agunah-support organizations. I was also a founder of Shira Hadashah, pushing boundaries of women’s participation in prayer services in the Orthodox world (the community in which I grew up and still belonged, even if marginally, back then). I saw religious feminism as my tikkun olam calling.

Even then, I was active in building Israeli Arab-Jewish partnership (what we called co-existence in those years); my kids participated in Kids 4 Peace, and I participated in various dialogue groups. But I did not consider it the primary focus of my social activism.

Then I left the Orthodox movement and moved to Kibbutz Hannaton in the Galilee, where I opened Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all (even other-than-Jews) to immerse how and when they choose. This became the focus of my tikkun olam work. Fighting against the oppression of the Israeli right wing Orthodox Chief Rabbinate was still the focus of my social activism.

Hannaton is surrounded by Arab villages and cities, and I became increasingly friendly with Palestinian Israelis in the area as I settled into life in the Galilee. In Jerusalem, it was easier to live in a bubble and in denial of the history of this land. Jacob, my life partner, and I started sending our kids to the local Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish bilingual school (the Galilee school, one of seven such schools in Israel), which is not just a school but also has a strong community around it. I also joined a Palestinian-Jewish narrative sharing group, in which each month we sit and listen in non-judgment to the story of one participant.

The more I listened to these stories, the more I realized how I had been taught only part of the story of the founding of the Jewish state. I had been told the Jewish narrative, and now I was hearing the extent of the Palestinian narrative, but not in a debate or even dialogue setting. Rather, in the context of sacred, deep listening. I was also hearing about the discontent of many Arab citizens here, who are not treated as equally as I was made to believe.

It was this group and my encounters and friendships with Palestinian Israelis in the Galilee that inspired me to write my debut novel, Hope Valley, about the friendship between a Palestinian Israeli and a Jewish Israeli woman in the Galilee. It is set in the summer of 2000, leading up to the outbreak of the second intifada, with a diary telling a backstory set in 1947-8.

When the war with Gaza broke out in 2014, “Operation Protective Edge,” I reached a crisis point religiously and spiritually. Bigotry and hate crimes were rampant, and the chasm in the country along Palestinian-Jewish lines was heartbreaking. The only spaces where I felt comfortable were interfaith spaces, where we sang songs of and prayers for peace. It was then that I decided to study for interfaith-interspiritual ordination to see if I could salvage what could be connecting and peace-building about religious faith.

It was these four years of study that led to my becoming a spiritual companion and dreamworker, and to believing that at the core all religions are simply different equally valid paths or ways of expressing connection to the Divine. Like languages, they simply developed in different times and places, are all just different ways of communicating. With language, it is a way of connecting with humanity; with religion, it is a way of connecting with the divine force that flows through all.

Then, when another war with Gaza broke out in 2021, while I was promoting Hope Valley, I needed to do more. I remembered years ago (now Rabbi) Leah Shakdiel saying that Women of the Wall choosing its locus of struggle as the Western Wall was a nationalist statement, not just a religious one. I had not fully understood, or perhaps just not internalized her argument. But now I did. The Kotel, the Western Wall, is not only a religious symbol. It is a symbol of Jewish sovereignty on this land and of the Occupation that began when East Jerusalem was captured in the 1967 war.

It became clear to me that the fight against the Occupation and for total equality for Palestinians in this country is paramount to any other struggle. I did not have to stop fighting for women’s rights and religious freedom, but I could not do that without also fighting, with equal or perhaps even more force, for Palestinian rights and an end to this conflict. As an Israeli, I could not influence the Palestinian leadership, but I could try to influence the Israeli leadership. Without doing so on a regular and committed basis, I did not feel I could continue to live in this country.

I needed to stand up and speak out, I decided. I had heard a year or so before about a new movement called עומדים ביחד Standing Together. At the showing of a documentary about former Knesset member and now activist Dov Hanin, Hanin, one of the organization’s founders, told us about Standing Together. When the 2021 war broke out, Standing Together was instrumental in getting people, Arabs and Jews, out onto the streets standing together against the violence and bigotry that ensued.

The fight against the Occupation and for total equality for Palestinians in this country is paramount to any other struggle.

Standing Together seeks to promote the creation of a shared society built on true and equal partnership. This model speaks directly to my spiritual vision for this place. It is my belief that we, Palestinians and Jews, were put together on this land to fulfill a vision of partnership and peace. Our two narratives do not begin only in 1948; they begin back in our sacred texts, the Torah and the Quran, in the story of Isaac and Ishmael.

This movement brings building partnership to a new level. It is not just about community building – although that is a big part of it; it is also about activism, about tikkun olam, about trying to make this part of the world a better place. The idea is that we can only do this together, as equal partners. That is the tikkun, the corrective. Instead of one nation trying to rule over the other, we must work together. Neither Palestinians nor Jews are going anywhere. We are all here to stay (we hope and pray). So let’s find a way to live together in peace. If we can, the result will be better for us all.

Standing Together seeks to promote the creation of a shared society built on true and equal partnership between Palestinians and Jews.

Our mission, our reason for being here, is to find a way to make amends and to live together in true siblinghood (in the ideal vision of the word). After all, what is religion and spirituality for, if not to provide a redemptive vision – an alternative to conflict and supremacy — of peace and reconciliation?

10 Responses

  1. YES .. this is truly the answer to a sane and viable path forward, No person should live under military, settler or terrorist threat in Israel. If we can find wholeness as b’nei Abraham, without division by spiritual practice, by age, by gender, by language, by ancestry, or by ablement. It is time to get out of the streets and back to the business of healing the splits.

  2. as individuals we can make a genuine friendship with another person who is either Muslim or Palestinian.
    building peace one friendship at a time…

  3. Have you heard of the Galilee Dreamers?
    They are centered at the Oranim International School, located in the Galilee, and have grown to include many other schools in Israel.
    This grass roots peace initiative brings together Israeli Jewish, Muslim, Druse, Bedoin, and Christian students, fostering genuine friendships in hopes of bringing about peace through deeper understanding and human connection.

    The Sulha Peace Project is another wonderful grass roots peace initiative located in Israel. This group brings together Israeli and Palistinian adults for scheduled evenings where participants share song and dance, genuine communication, and food.

    It seems that you might be interested in these efforts, along with the ones with which you are currently involved.

    Shalom,
    Shira (Paula Faith Kurrus)

  4. And thank you Haviva for modeling how natural and obvious and neccessary it is to express our spiritual connections and values in social activism. To ceate a world where our values enable peace and harmony.

  5. This is a very powerful statement that needs to be heard by many of us in the USA and elsewhere. IT is a reflection of deep experience, spiritual wisdom and understanding how two people must somehow learn to share the land. I am grateful to hear your words. I am active in the support of Combatants for Peace, an amazing group of Israeli and Palestinian activists engaged on supporting each other and non violently ending the occupation. If anyone is interested in learning more about this group – please contact me.

  6. I am so grateful to read this blog. It makes me have faith in the near dead humanity. Bombing hospitals and killing innocent civilians and kids is not the answer to anything. I’m a proud American-Pakistani-Muslim-and I support co-existing. I support humanity and compassion vs hate and selective humanity.
    Thank you for this. I highly appreciate people like you.

  7. But you can’t oppose occupation and not support the national liberation struggle of Palestinians. To limit unity to those within 48 borders and say you oppose occupation makes me think you do nit support Palestinian people right to self-determination. Performatively, by not supporting their right to resist occupation you are acting as if the solution to colonialism will and should come from Israelis..not Palestinians

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