Sukkat shalom

One of the speakers at this year’s event, Aryeh Lightstone, senior adviser to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, called those in attendance “heroes.”

Nozyk Synagogue sukkah 2019, Poland (photo credit: MICHAEL SCHUDRICH)
Nozyk Synagogue sukkah 2019, Poland
(photo credit: MICHAEL SCHUDRICH)
The Sukkot holiday in Israel offers seemingly endless opportunities for celebration. These include going up to visit a most festive Jerusalem, hiking in one of the country’s many magnificent nature reserves, touring fascinating museums, attending a myriad of concerts, and more.
One of the holiday’s most interesting and inspiring, though understandably least known, events took place again this year in a private sukkah. On Sunday, Hoshana Raba, the last day of Sukkot, at the initiative of Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, some 150 people arrived at his home for a mid-morning buffet. Unlike the countless Sukkot meals enjoyed during the holiday week throughout the country, this gathering was organized to bring Jews from Efrat together with Muslim community leaders from nearby Arab villages and towns.
Both the Efrat Municipality and a number of its residents, as is true for other Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, have long been engaged in diverse activities involving commerce, health and even security with surrounding Arab villages that the mainstream media does not, will not, report. The locals that morning were joined by representatives of the Israel Defense Forces, including the head of Central Command, senior regional officers of the Israel Border Police, spokesmen from the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and members of the Efrat Municipal Council and its professional staff.
The significance of this unconventional get-together, the third in four years, was mainly to demonstrate that it could be done... again. Why was its mere occurrence important? Because, as some may recall, the first meeting of Jews and Arabs in Revivi’s sukkah, in October 2016, resulted in four of the Palestinian guests from the neighboring village of Wadi Nis, whose images appeared later that day on Facebook, being arrested, held for four and a half days and interrogated by Palestinian Authority security officials. They were charged with the crime under Palestinian law of promoting “normalization with settlers.” Their release came about only following the intervention of US Senators, IDF officers with connections to the PA security establishment, Revivi and a public admonishment from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his Facebook page.

UNSURPRISINGLY, NO Facebook photos were posted following the second reception held in 2017. (No event took place in 2018 due to the proximity of Efrat’s municipal elections.) But that second event did take place; and now a third.
One of the speakers at this year’s event, Aryeh Lightstone, senior adviser to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, called those in attendance “heroes.”
This honor certainly applies to the Palestinians who continue to come to this event, knowing that their presence, if revealed to the Palestinian Authority or to its informers, could again jeopardize their own safety and that of their families.
Among the Palestinians in attendance was Ashraf Jabari, a resident of Hebron and an important member of the prominent Jabari clan. Jabari led the delegation of Palestinian businessmen to the US-organized economic peace workshop held in Bahrain this past June. He is also one of the founders of the joint Jewish-Muslim Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce that seeks to promote and strengthen business ties between Israeli Jews and Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria. Jabari told those gathered that he has been waiting for peace for 25 years and that he believes it will come. “There is no other way,” he said. “The Jews will not leave and neither will we.”
Another local hero, who we will call “Mahmud,” is a businessman who lives in nearby Husan. A small section of Husan, which is situated in Area “C” and therefore subject to the authority of Israel’s Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, abuts a road, upon which probably some 2,000 Jewish-Israeli owned cars travel each working day. It is also a road that is plagued from time to time by rocks thrown from the village at cars with yellow Israeli license plates. Mahmud worked with others in his village and in cooperation with Israeli authorities to put an end to a particularly bad spate of rock throwing. Mahmud’s efforts to end the rock throwing at Jewish drivers took courage.
And he again demonstrated bravery that morning in the sukkah when he spoke directly to the IDF general and the Israeli police commander, both sitting immediately to his left. He let both know that he and his community are angry. They are angry over the unfair and insensitive treatment they too often experience when either the IDF or the police intervene in their lives. And they are dissatisfied by the inattention and the insufficient services they receive from Israel’s Civil Administration, particularly on matters including sewage and sanitation, rabid dog abatement and road maintenance. Mahmud seized the opportunity and spoke truth to power.
Terms like “peace” and “co-existence” were used a number of times by the morning’s speakers. But neither they nor the others present are naïve, starry-eyed optimists. I am certain that there wasn’t a “peacenik” in the crowd. Thus, there was no talk of some vague “one-state” or “two-state solution,” the useless mantra only of those alien to the region and its peoples. Authentic, long-term peace and co-existence between Israeli-Jews and Palestinians is the shared goal of all but the extremists on both sides. And to quote the late George Harrison, “It don’t come easy.” So, here once again were Israeli “settlers” who are not going anywhere, sitting together in a sukkah with Palestinians who are not going anywhere, for both recognize that neither is going anywhere.
The writer is the director of iTalkIsrael in Efrat.