Bruce H. Bernstein: A “Listening Tour,” # 2
Our activities on this first day, Thursday, have been dominated by our fatigue from travel. We went directly from Tel Aviv Airport to a wonderful Israeli lunch spot in the middle of Jerusalem, then waited on line to get to El Aksa and the Temple Mount. Eid starts on Saturday, so the Temple Mount was crowded with visitors wanting to reach it before it closes for the holiday. Eid means “holiday,” or celebration, in Arabic, but this particular Eid celebrates God relieving Abraham from having to sacrifice Ishmael (in the Arab version) by sending a lamb to take his place. This event, along with Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, took place in the area of the Temple Mount. You can’t help but be affected by the light, the history, and the awareness that Abraham, Mohammed, and Jesus perhaps walked on these same cobblestones.
After a rest we met to review our itinerary, share our personal backgrounds with one another and our guides, and to ask one question that we’d like to examine during this trip.
Wally, a retired CPA, talked about how his work had taken him to Saudi Arabia and made him aware of the politics in the region. Alice had been with the International Institute of Education for many years, traveling frequently to Europe and Asia. She describes herself as Protestant and a political conservative. She wonders whether it is possible to have a country in which a minority is treated fairly but not necessarily equally. (Later Tamer would respond by saying it’s not possible. This question would arise again at dinner).
The rest of our group consists of: Chick, a former MSW who worked in the inner city and later with a Peace Foundation on peace development; Tom, a CPA Tuck School graduate who worked in banking and later with the World Bank in China, Methodist and Conservative; Hanny, the Marines took him to Lebanon in ’58, marketing, the printing business; Carol, graduated late in life from TCU, active in church affairs, very concerned with social issues; Judy, retired minister, her husband made many trips to Israel selling planes to the government, very involved in issues of social justice; Lita, a psychotherapist very concerned about issues of social welfare; and Bruce, who organized this trip, a psychologist/psychoanalyst, interested in deepening the connection between his college class and Seeds of Peace.
Our leaders are: Daniel, the person most responsible for our itinerary, a Ph.D. in history, taught in the humanities program at Harvard, has worked with Seeds of Peace (SOP) for seven years, mostly as director of the delegates program; Nadir, Daniel’s long-time driver/friend and an active participant in the planning of the trip; Tamer, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, former Seed and SOP counselor, musician, training to be a facilitator in conflict resolution.
After the go-around introducing ourselves in much greater detail than I have described above, we went to dinner at the Embassy in East Jerusalem, a first rate Palestinian hotel. Our custom is to have several invited guests join us for our meals. These guests are frequently people who have some connection to working toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
I sat near a young Palestinian woman named Bahia. She lives in the Arab section of the French Quarter of Jerusalem and teaches biology in the local high school. She talked about the isolation of the Arab school system from the Israeli system. There is almost no contact between the two. She has never spoken to a Jewish biology teacher, has no idea of their curriculum or standards. Similarly there is almost no connection between people living in her section of the French Quarter and those in the Jewish area. The stated reason for this academic separation is language: Arab courses are taught in Arabic; Jews are taught in Hebrew, and therefore the texts are in different languages. The effect is to create, as someone explained to me, two separate bubbles in which Arabs and Jews live side by side, and no one available to burst the bubbles so they can get to know one another. Another teacher from a Jewish school described his students as “little bigots.” They have no direct connections with Arabs. To them, they are an “other” of lesser status. It is the goal of many of the SOP educators to find a way to pierce this bubble.
Bruce H. Bernstein is a 75-year-old psychologist/psychoanalyst in private practice and on the faculty of the NYU Postdoctoral Program. He has had a long-time interest in the peaceful resolution of conflict, and in recent years made connections among his Dartmouth Class of 1957, Seeds of Peace, and the Dickey Center for International Understanding. The class now sponsors two interns who spend a summer at the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine, followed by a term in Israel/Palestine.