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So I just heard journalist Yossi Klein Halevi speak at Pardes, which is something to the effect of a semi-denominational yeshiva [taught by Orthodox folk with a pretty good stomach for pluralism] for Anglos, ie people whose primary language is English–Americans, Brits, South Africans, Australians etc., with a smattering of other internationals who come to learn in English.

He was smart and articulate, and talked primarily about the interfaith exploration he made in his book At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden and his thoughts about it all in light of the four years and one intifada since it was written. At the time, he tried to spend a lot of time praying with Christians and Muslims in Israel and the Territories, tho on the latter tip he mostly wound up hanging with some Sufis, since there weren’t a lot of vanilla Muslim clerics willing to let a Jew pray in their mosque in the West Bank wearing a kippah. He observed (rightly I think) that it makes sense to hang with the mystics anyway, if one is looking for a more universal experience of God.

There were some sharp lines and observations, both about religion and interfaith work in general, and about the collapse of the peace process and its aftermath. For example, he described Oslo as a dialogue among elites, and argues that its attempts to ignore religion (since borders can be talked about rationally, in theory, but religion is harder) was part of why it didn’t work.

And then he took a big turn right. Most of the rest of the talk was from a centrist-to-rightish perspective. Basically, he came to the project of his last book very openminded/openhearted and wanting to engage and find a way to make All This work. And became, over time, extremely disillusioned with what he saw on “the other side.” He had some pretty chilling stories, like one featuring the big dove of the PA (I forget his name, forgot to write it down), this guy in Arafat’s camp who seemed like the one most genuinely concerned about creating real peace, and when Halevi asked him what he thought would happen after peace was made–you know, the day after–he said something like, “Well, first the refugees come in to Israel. Over time it’s one big Jewish-Muslim state. THen we join with Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq (eventually describing a return to the caliphate, putting Jews back in the dependent-minority status that’s been so historically scary). But peace is the first step.”

Halevi took a really politically hardlined stance. And I can understand, completely, where he’s coming from. A lot of what he said–including his descriptions of the oversentimentality of the Left, and how that’ s not ultimately helpful–really did resonate. As do conversations I have with my friend who spends most of her free time in Ramallah. And a lot of other people who are involved in this process from lots of different perspectives.

The thing is this–as Halevi said, there are a lot of major conflicts here, and a lot of fears, and many of the claims on both sides are pretty legitimate. It’s hard to tease out good-guy-bad-guy, because there aren’t any of either. (Okay, there are some of both on both sides. But most people just want to be safe and for their children to flourish, and are very scared.) Every time I turn this prism, I see another story through another set of eyes, and those eyes are also not wrong. There are certainly people in this conversation with whom I strongly disagree, but a lot of the stuff in the grey? That’s real.

I ultimately, at least for the moment, am electing to take fewer here’s-what-I-think-should-happen stances, and am trying to shut up and listen a lot. Not that I think something clear will come from that, but I think for now there’s more to be gained by, if nothing else, holding some space for all of the complexity and ambiguity that really is embedded in the actual reality of this actual problem. If I have a job this year, it’s not to do “political activism,” of the change-the-govt variety, but rather to try to help people on both, on all sides of this conflict who are suffering tremendously, who are in an overwhelming amount of pain. I have no idea how I might go about doing that, but I’m pretty sure that if I have a mandate, it’s more in that direction. I don’t always know where God is at the bargaining table, but often enough I can figure out where the God is in suffering. If other people want to weigh in with opinions, great, let them.

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