The Compassionate Ones by Judy Lash Balint
January 13, 2002
I canít really recall how I got to be a regular on their itinerary. But every few months, I spend half a day as token right wing guide for groups of visitors who come to Israel under the auspices of a little-known American peace group known as the Compassionate Listeners.
During their two week stay here, almost all the other Israelis they will meet are representatives of far left organizations who denounce Israeli government policy and promote the Palestinian point of view. People like Jeff Halper of the International Committee Against House Demolitions; Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights and Gila Svirsky of Bat Shalom. The rest of the Listenerís time is spent in Palestinian areas including Bethlehem, El Khader, El Bireh and Issawiye so the Americans can hear ďthe other side.Ē
My role is to explain the Jewish historic, spiritual and strategic significance of eastern Jerusalem, and to show them examples of Jewish development in this part of the city.
The group I took around last Friday morning was an interfaith delegation that included 17 members of a Seattle area Congregational church and a Reform temple. I lived in Seattle for more than 25 years, so it isnít difficult to establish my bona fides as a graduate of the state university and colleague of their rabbi in the Soviet Jewry movement. Maybe thatís what makes the questions asked by members of this group less hostile than those Iíve encountered from previous visiting Listeners.
Still, itís always enlightening to see how myths get shattered. As the bus drives into the southern Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, home to more than 40,000 residents most of whom live in typical Israeli post-1970s style four and five story apartment houses, I hear someone whisper to his seatmate: ďI thought Gilo was a settlement.Ē
When we get to the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood just east of Meah Shearim, about half a mile north of Damascus Gate, most members of the group are astounded at what they see. Contrary to their preconceived notion that Arabs and Jews canít live together, they learn that six young Jewish families and a small synagogue co-exist side by side with the Arabs who have been squatting on the Jewish owned property since the 1930s. ďIs this the West Bank?Ē one woman asks tentatively.
Our time runs out and I canít show the Seattle guests a few other places that might have raised an eyebrow. The Maale Hazeitim development thatís almost ready for occupancy overlooking the Temple Mount in the area known as Ras El Amud, or Yeshivat Beit Orot, the only live Jewish presence on the Mt. Of Olives, just below Hebrew University.
The Listeners have a lunch date at a restaurant on Saleh e- Din Street in the commercial center of east Jerusalem. Iím compelled to leave out some details here too. Somehow I canít quite find it in my heart to tell them that this is where some Arabs celebrated the attacks against America on September 11.