Weaving Baskets of Peace

Source: http://zeek.forward.com/articles/116775/

Yesterday morning I headed out to my Monday morning basket weaving class in Kufr Manda, Hannaton’s neighboring Arab village. Kufr Manda is the closest town to Hannaton, and it is there that I go for medical care, gasoline, pharmaceuticals, house and gardening supplies, etc. Before the convenience store opened on Hannaton, I went there as well to buy milk or bread in a pinch. Kufr Manda is still where I go on a Friday afternoon when Hannaton’s convenience store is closed to buy anything last-minute before Shabbat.

A number of months ago, I heard about the opening of a center in Kufr Manda where women from the village were learning basket weaving. The idea being to empower them to learn a skill and make some money without having to leave the village (and often not even the house). I went to visit the center and was highly impressed. It is run by an organization called Sindyanna of Galilee, which runs a variety of programs to empower the Arab-Palestinian population in the organic farming and fare trade industries. I asked if they would consider doing a joint Arab-Jewish basket weaving class, and they said they would love to but did not know how to get the Jewish women. I told them I would bring the women if they would hold the class. Soon after, the class opened with more women than spaces. So this is how I have been spending my Monday mornings—weaving baskets and chatting with local Arab women (and trying to pick up a bit of Arabic in the process) about our families, our daily activities, our health, how to find and prepare local foods, etc.

As I was driving to the class yesterday morning, with my 11-year-old daughter Meira along for the day (she took the day off from school to check out this basket weaving class her mother has been talking so much about), when Jacob called. He wanted to let me know that Israeli commandos had raided the Turkish Flotilla on its way to Gaza to break through the Israeli blockade of Gaza as a form of protest. The protesters claimed they were brining aid to Gaza, and the Israeli reports claimed there were arms aboard. People were killed, and Palestinian riots were expected. Hannaton security sent out a message to all residents not to go into the local Arab villages. Jacob did not ask me to go home, but he did tell me to be careful. He knew that otherwise I might take Meira after the class to buy some Knafa (a cheesy sweet Arab dessert) or falafel in the village.

When we arrived at the class, one of the Jewish women said that her husband called worried and requested that she leave the village. So she and another woman were on their way out. The three other Jewish women in the class decided to stay, as did I. I could not bring myself to leave under those circumstances. I do not support the Israeli siege on Gaza and would personally have joined a peaceful protest against it. The news was fresh; I had not yet read any commentary on or accounts of the incident. But I knew I was tired of the violence on both sides and frustrated with the lack of progress on the peace front.

I felt that leaving would send a message that I was siding with the Israeli government, when truth be told, I was critical of my government’s policies and actions in dealing with the Palestinian conflict. I did not know what was aboard that flotilla nor what really happened there, and I would not know until an investigation was held. But with this new conflagration of the conflict, I felt sad and hopeless. All I really wanted to do was sit and weave baskets with these lovely Arab women and discuss what unites us instead of what divides us. It is specifically in times like this where everyone is retreating into their separate camps out of fear of the “other” that I feel a special need to be in a space of solidarity with other peaceful folk who simply want to live as neighbors in a world where all human life is valued and differences are worked out through non-violent means. Leaving would have felt to me like taking a huge step backwards after the trust we had built up among us.

For most of the morning we discussed our usual things—nothing too serious or political. But there was a definite heaviness in the air. Sadness. Up until this point, the atmosphere in the class had been almost festive at the prospect of what were doing—women taking off time from their busy schedules to weave baskets of peace. And then one of the Jewish women received a phone call from her husband, a social worker in a local prison, asking her to go home. He heard that a villager from Kufr Manda had been killed in the attack and he was terribly concerned that she was in the village. At that point we could not avoid the topic any longer. “I am so sorry,” I said in Hebrew. Wahiba, the Arab woman from Kufr Manda who co-teaches the class with Ronit, a Jewish woman from Tivon, shook her head and said (in Hebrew) in her usual straightforward way: “There are bad people on both sides. That is the problem. And we are in the middle.” This was the first time in all of those mornings together that I ever heard Wahiba express a negative thought. Nine months pregnant with her fourth son (she weaves baskets and teaches basket weaving, and her husband teaches physical education in a local school), she is an unusually optimistic and cheery person. But not in a phony way. Her mix of practicality and positivity is a refreshing model of how to live a life of meaning and joy in a far from perfect reality.

Wahiba’s sentiments were mine exactly. And even more so when I got back home to find Hannaton swarming with police and soldiers. With us the closest Jewish town to Kufr Manda, they were worried we would be the victim of an attack from angry villagers. Those armed men were there to protect me from potential violence by people who were resentful for being mistreated and could potentially see me as the physically closest symbol of their oppressors. Oh how I longed to be back weaving baskets with my neighbors in that safe space where people are souls, not symbols, while those who cannot get beyond their macho attacks and counter-attacks (that have no chance of ending well) fight it out amongst themselves.

Haviva Ner-David / May 2010 (Haviva was a student in the first Jewish Arabic basket weaving class in Kufr Manda. She lives with her family in Hannaton.)