Choosing a different future

Let your compassion come to me that I may live. (Ps. 119:77)

Just outside Jerusalem in an area designated as “Area C,” a place in Israel and Palestine where it is sometimes possible for Jews and Palestinians to meet and talk with one another, Ali Abu Awaad has offered his family’s land in Beit Umar for exactly this purpose.

Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger from Alon Shvut walked to our meeting on Ali’s property and Shaul Judelman, from the nearby Tekoa settlement, got here easily enough as well. Together, the three help lead Roots, an Israeli and Palestinian organization located on Ali’s land, to foster a grassroots movement of understanding, nonviolence and transformation among Palestinian Muslims and Christians and Israeli Jews.

Ali says that when he, as a Palestinian Muslim, meets with Jewish settler groups, he tries to help them break through a barrier to see him as a human being, someone who shares their love for the land. “Even though we live so close to each other, we live in almost complete separation,” he said.

He says that when he met with a settler group the evening before, there was plenty of disagreement in the room, but everyone showed him respect. Ali believes that effective dialogue can only happen when there is a safe place for arguing with each other.

Ali recounted his life as a Palestinian refugee. His mother spent five years in prison and he was also in prison for four years. Ali’s brother was killed by the Israeli army. He says that when he decided not to take up revenge, he wasn’t making a decision to give up on justice. In fact, Ali feels his best revenge is to reconcile with his enemies.

Rabbi Schlesinger nods in agreement with Ali’s commitment to nonviolence. He points to the recent death of a young Jewish woman who was killed by a Palestinian. The Jewish family said they wanted to be able to forgive. Notably, this was the family of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman of the nearby Tekoa settlement.

Rabbi Schlesinger told me the Jews who were first involved in Roots were devotees of Rabbi Froman who challenged the narrative of the exclusive ownership of the land with a religion-based understanding for Jews co-existing on the land with Palestinians.

“The people of Israel belong to the land of Israel, but that is not the same as ownership,” Shaul Judelman told us. He believes that Israelis and Palestinians both experience some of the same fear and pain.

 “But we are not equal,” Ali says. He believes their shared commitment to nonviolence is not about normalizing or accepting the injustice in Palestine. “I am fighting for my people and for justice for them,” Ali says, “But I also want justice for Jews as well.”

All three are hoping the conversations at Roots can become the beginning of a national movement within Israel and Palestine. They say that when they began it was just with a handful of friends, but now, hundreds of people are joining this conversation.

And all three believe that before peace can be a reality in this land, more trust needs to be built between the people. “Even if there was a peace agreement, neither side now believes the other side would honor it; our hopes have been shattered too often by each other,” Ali said.

These three Jewish and Palestinian leaders believe they can help to choose a different future. “We don’t have to build our identity on fighting each other, but on working together to find a common solution,” Shaul said.

“People are fearful and that is partly the result of the lack of engagement with each other. We can choose to change that,” said Ali.

And Hanan concluded, “For many of us, this has to be a religious conversation and many in our communities don’t even understand what the Judaism or Islam of the other community is all about.” 

Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S.


  1. Excellent post, Ron. Thanks. Good to see you earlier this week.


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