Last Tuesday, they took us Americans (the American rab students at my school, that is) on a tiyul to The Wall, ie the thing that Israel’s building that’s caused so much controversy. I really do hand it to the school for not pussyfooting around the fact that we’re in, shall we say, a politically complicated place. A few weeks back they brought in (on different days, natch) a settler from Gush Etzion and a Palestinian to hold forth on their opinions and experiences. Sadly, that was during my little run with the flu, so I missed them both, though I heard that neither was really so great as a speaker.

So anyway, the wall. We went first to Gilo, which is a decidedly Jewish neighborhood, and could see a chunk of the wall and where it stops–there’s a bit over there that is wall-less, which both has to do with Israel’s concerns about access to Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) and about a court case 120 Palestinian families are bringing against Israel because they do not want to be walled with their land into Jerusalem (which they would be if Israel went around Kever Rachel). We could also see where some Palestinans fired on Gilo in 2000. And they say that the bomber who bombed the bus in front of the Prime Minister’s house (right by me, incidentally) go in through that hole.

They also took us to a spot in the far north of Jerusalem where we could see the Kolandia checkpoint. We talked about how it took a court case for people to have access to water while they waited there. We talked a lot about how the government made decisions about where the fence would go and why–and how cities like Kfar Ekv wound up getting divided, with 20,000 people now technically in Jerusalem and 5-10,000 in the West Bank. We talked about Palestinians who want to be included inside the wall so that they can have access to jobs, hospitals, mobility, access roads, (the wall will separate 100,000 Palestinians from these things) and others who want to be outside the wall because that’s where their land is and the problem is that now they’re locked inside and can’t get out to where it is. We talked about the post ’67 municipal boundaries and Green Line–I hadn’t realized until I saw a map with it all spelled out that French Hill and Hebrew University (Har HaTzofim) are technically outside the Green Line. (French Hill is where, like, the Conservative Jews live, and Hebrew U is Hebrew U–neither place someplace I’d exactly consider a “settlement.” Come to think of it, the Old City is also outside the Green Line. Just more with the complicated.) We talked about how Palestinians who are in Jerusalem get an ID card whose number marks them as Palestinian (terrifying that this is the practice), about the 230,000 Palestinians who live in Jerusalem and refuse do vote in municipal elections in protest, in refusal to validate Jerusalem. The woman leading the tour (from an organization called Ir Amim) observed that if all of those Palestinians voted, the local political representation could be 1/3 Palestinian.

We talked about the refugees: questions of short-term humanitarian issues versus long-term political goals (that is, for them to live in their own state.) How not all the people who live in refugee camps want the same thing re: where the wall would go, or anything else. We talked about what to do with the wall and the settlers in places pretty far east of Jerusalem. We talked about the questions of how to navigate the tension between Israel’s need to keep its citizens safe and its obligation to human rights for everyone. How can we have both of those things happen at the same time?

The woman leading our group argued that if we handled the bigger political issues better, perhaps the wall wouldn’t be necessary, and implied quite strongly that it had the potential to do more harm than good. I don’t think she’s wrong about those things. And I find–well, right now, as I write this, I find that I don’t have a lot of clarity about any of it. It’s hard and it’s messy and at this point I’m not sure what the right answers would be if there were any.

I sat next to one of the deans of my school on the bus. He’s a sweetheart, and was explaining different things about the map and helping me understand where things were and how they related to each other. And then he pointed to one of the holes in the wall, very close to his neighborhood of French Hill. He talked about the gap and the possiblity that they might draw a border basically right next to his house. He got very agitated, clearly freaked out by even the prospect. He said that he’d gotten along with his (Arab/Palestinian) neighbors for years. But now….

I said, “I’m hearing you say that you would like them to build the wall over there?”

He paused, and his voice got very quiet. “I know about all of the issues,” he said.

This, I think, was his way of saying that he doesn’t know what the right answer is. In the big picture he (I gleaned from our conversation, but it’s inference) sees the wall as being very problematic, and in the small picture (this was clear) he’s concerned about being safe in his home, and that concern is not unrealistic. I think he, like all the people I know around here who do any thinking, see a lot of sides of this, and it gives him great pain.

Great pain. There’s not any other response, really. The tiyul ended right around 4pm, so we all ran into the beit midrash to daven mincha before it was too late. And during the Amidah, and I found myself sobbing. And praying. And sobbing.

Tuesday I’m facillitating a discussion on all this with my friend Geoff. I’m looking forward to it as a chance to crystalize some of my own thinking, to see if I can come up with anything more than a lot of questions and a deep, deep sense of grief.

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