“A Third Way”
Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors
We are living in a time of polarization and conflict around Israel/Palestine and Judaism and Islam. In “A Third Way”, we get a story that inspires and educates as it humanizes the characters and gives us new ideas to think about. During a recent social justice movement protest, a new slogan emerged—“Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies.” This film looks at the reality behind such a slogan especially at it applies on the West Bank. It is there in the disputed territories that Jewish settlers (Israelis) and Palestinian Arabs continue to be locked in a struggle for their countries’ futures.
Because of frustration with the direct negotiations with Israel yielding no results, the Palestinian Authority has petitioned the United Nations for recognition as a member state. The Israeli government vigorously opposed what they termed a “unilateral” act. The Palestinians also refuse to back down even in the face of U.S. opposition to their UN bid, including cutting off $200 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by the U.S. Congress.
Meanwhile the diplomatic confrontation still continues with no results, and in the two countries there is a very tense atmosphere. Recent mosque desecrations has spread from the West Bank to Israel proper and the threat of Palestinian demonstrations looms large. This is the backdrop of increasing tensions that has brought about a movement of Israeli settlers and Palestinians to explore ways to communicate and co-exist. This movement known as the “third way,” is now struggles to stay alive.
These settlers and Palestinians have been meeting with each other in an effort to find a new road between domination and confrontation. The members of this small but slowly growing movement are pushing the norms of Israeli-Palestinian relations that sometimes puts them at odds with their respective communities.
Rabbi Meacham Froman, the rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, is regarded as the spiritual father of the movement. Froman is famed for befriending Yasser Arafat as well as meeting several times in Gaza with the now deceased spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Yassin. He has become a major voice of reconciliation.
Recently, settlers vandalized a mosque in the Palestinian village of Qusra following the Israeli Defense Force’s demolition of illegal houses in the Migron settlement outpost. In response, Rabbi Froman visited Qusra to a way to apologize for the deeds done by his co-religionists. Leading the crowd in chants of “Allah Hu Akbar,” the Rabbi “tried to show that the two sides belong to the same land and share the same destiny, whether or not they’re willing to acknowledge it”.
In the past few years, a new generation of settlers has arisen to continue on Froman’s path. Two of these are Nahum Pachenik and Eliaz Cohen whose activism is informal and individual. There is also a similar group, called Eretz Shalom, that meets semi-regularly. Eliaz Cohen lives in Kfar Etzion, the first West Bank settlement, founded in September 1967, and has been meeting with the mukhtar of a neighboring village. He has been pushing the local Israeli government to pave the single road in the village, as well as to give locals permission to repair the village minaret, which Israel has refused to do for almost 30 years.
Eliaz believes that there’s a struggle “for the soul” of the settler movement currently underway and there is new thought that challenges the old way of, orthodoxy that has characterized relations between settlers and Palestinians. Rabbi Froman proclaims that he is “a citizen of the state of God, it’s not so important who is the government.” There are others hold that, whatever the future political arrangement, it will not be relevant if Israelis and Palestinians can’t learn how to live together.
We see that the number of states does not matter but what does matter is that without good relations between people, nothing would work. There are those settlers and Palestinians who are interested in being good neighbors even though they risk being censured. The Palestinians fear censure not just from their families but also from the Palestinian Authority as well.
Mohammed A. lives in a Palestinian village just south of Gush Etzion, the first of the settlements where there is a permanent Israeli guard tower and gate at the main entrance to the village that is often closed during times of tension with the neighboring settlements that are located on three sides of the village. Nonetheless, for several years now, Mohammed has been meeting with settlers as often as he can. He tells them the story of his grandfather, who was killed on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence. For many Israelis, the Lone Tree of Gush Etzion is a symbol of Israel “regaining” control over the settlement after the 1967 war and this is where Mohammed’s grandfather was killed. For Mohammed and other Palestinians, the tree has a different meaning altogether. But it is by describing his grandfather’s connection to that place to Israelis that Mohammed hopes that there will; be a new understanding and new thoughts about what is going on there.
While the filming of this documentary was taking place, we learn that this group of Israeli settlers and Palestinians on the West Bank has challenged some of the pre-conceived notions that some people hold about the conflict, so much so that the word “settler” has become quite an explosive word. The significance of the West Bank, the “cradle” of biblical Judaism, has added a religious element to the conflict and made a rational solution difficult to imagine. Add to this what we are taught about hospitality for he stranger and it becomes even more complicated. We “were strangers in the land of Egypt” and this has taken on a very real meaning for us and for the people we’ve met. These settlers are predominantly religious and they have taken this decree to heart.
There are tremendous difference between the two groups and we really see this when looking at the fact that while some settlers have reached out to visit Palestinians in their homes, the Palestinians by and large haven’t reciprocated. The imbalance is symbolic of the larger situation — Israelis have more freedom of movement than their Palestinian neighbors.
The film documents some of this face-to-face work to establish a more equal relationship. These few brave Israelis and Palestinians may be at the forefront of a movement whose end result even they cannot know.
Nahum and Ziad met through the work of Rabbi Menachem Froman, the notorious “settler for peace” (who himself was a friend of Yasser Arafat), and we could say they’re both Froman’s protégés. They believe that, whatever the eventual future of Israel/Palestine, the smartest idea is to become friends now. Ziad and Nahum meet as equals. Nahum has visited Ziad’s home many times. They’ve walked together near Ziad’s town and they’ve broken bread and mutual fasts together. But on a political/social level, they are not equals by any means: Nahum chooses to live in the West Bank, and he could choose anytime to move to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Ziad has no choice. His family and ancestors have lived in their town for more than four generations. And for now, Ziad can’t visit Nahum’s home in his settlement.
Nahum himself takes it little by little. He wants to know if there’s an Arab minority in Israel, why can’t there also be a Jewish minority in Palestine? A few months ago, he organized a demonstration, confronting Israeli soldiers, when several Palestinian homes were demolished in Ziad’s town. The relationship is unequal now, but we can hope that one day Ziad and Nahum may be able to meet as complete equals.
We meet Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian from Beit Ummar (near Hebron), and Shaul Judelman, an Israeli who grew up in the United States and moved to Israel 14 years ago, spending much of that time in settlements: first to Bat Ayin and, a few months ago, to Tekoa.
The story of what brought them together goes through Tekoa, which was home to Rabbi Menachem Froman (who died two years ago). As I said earlier, Rabbi Froman believed in dialogue and connection with his neighbors. He held meetings with Hamas figures, with whom he found it possible to talk from one religious person to another. This documentary is the story of his work in the last five years of his life, and an examination of the legacy he left behind.
, “A Third Way – Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors” was directed by Harvey Stein. Stein, who moved to Israel from New York close to a decade ago and first met Froman in late 2008 to make a small film about him, and was taken with the way he was building bridges in a place full of disconnect. Stein describes the rabbi as
“totally irreverent. I remember him asking me once, ‘What’s a settler?’ Then he made his hand like a claw and went grrr. He was able to hold contradictions and say that he loves his neighbors. My Jewish tradition told me to love my neighbors, and so I do.’”
Froman sometimes went to great lengths to show the love he felt. We see him visiting a West Bank mosque that was torched and vandalized by settlers, who also spray-painted insulting messages about the Prophet Mohammed on the walls. Wearing his kippah and tefillin (phylacteries), Froman stands on the stairs and calls out repeatedly to the Palestinians waiting below, “Allahu Akbar!”
One of them was Ali Abu Awwad. Raised in a politically active family in Beit Ummar, he was a teenager during the first intifada and jailed twice by Israel because he threw stones. However, after losing his brother to the conflict, he began to embrace nonviolence and became one of the pivotal members of the Bereaved Families Forum, speaking locally and internationally with Israelis who have lost loved ones. He demanded that both Arab and Israeli turn a new page.
Many Palestinians quietly started coming to meetings organized by Froman and his Hasidic followers and they were impressed that Froman met with Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza in 1998 – as well as Yasser Arafat. Awaad says that what prevents us from having rights are not the left-wing camp in Tel Aviv. It’s the right wing in the settlements,” Abu Awwad says at Roots, the center he is establishing with Judelman, Froman’s widow, Hadassah, and several other Israeli and Palestinian activists.
Abu Awwad and Froman and his wife met some seven years ago at Sulha, a gathering of Arabs and Jews whose name is based on the traditional Arab form of reconciliation between sparring parties. He liked what Froman had to say but not where he lived.
Abu Awwad met Judelman, an environmentalist and the two became friends. At about the same time, John Moyle, an American clergyman became involved in trying to help Awwad and Judelman build a grassroots peace movement. In January 2014, they founded a movement with a shack on land owned by Abu Awwad’s family. Since then they’ve been holding meetings at people’s homes around the West Bank . They have brought together Israeli settlers and Palestinians and say that they are not involved
in a political plan, but rather deal with human beings and breaking down stereotypes.