This morning I went with my family to plant tress in the West Bank. We joined a movement called Zazim who organized this event together with Rabbis for Human Rights. The plan was to go to a Palestinian village called Yasuf and together with the local farmers plant trees for the occasion of Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish 'New Year of the Trees’.
When our bus reached the Israeli Army blockade we were stopped and not allowed to drive any further. So we got off and continued by foot, which for some reason was permitted (for now). We walked for half an hour in lands where hardly any Israeli person has been before or even knows about. Some houses were half built and then abandoned, a few were actually quite beautiful. Many worn out furniture items were left on the sidewalk and old cars were passing by with a herald at the wheel trying to sell olive oil or other food items. The landscape was of desert mountains, green and brown, and a nearby mosque standing tall emitted the voice of the traditional Islamic mu’azzin.
We stopped at a gathering point and a word came out that unfortunately we cannot continue further since the regimental commander of that area has forbidden us to proceed. If we disregard the order we will be at risk of conflict with the soldiers and, worse than that, the army might later retaliate against the local farmers. So we stayed there, and as one of the Rabis said in his speech: "we came here to plant trees, but instead we will plant hope in all our hearts". And then we ate dried fruits as is customary for this time of the year in the Jewish tradition and waited until the end of the afternoon prayer so that our Arab bus driver comes to take us back to... back to where? back to Israel? back to unoccupied territories? Words... people live and die because of them and yet they seem so meaningless sometimes, so insufficient to encapsulate the truth.
Meanwhile I climbed a small hill and listened to the mu'azzin. And then I saw a little boy. I was smiling at him and he returned a wink. He got closer so I offered him my hand and he took it. He had something wrapped in aluminium foil in his hands. I asked him what it was and he said it was a Hamburger and made a gesture as if to offer it to me. I said "it's for you" but I don't know if he understood. A few moments of silence. Then another guy who was there and knew some Arab words tried to communicate with the young boy. We learned that his name is Khaled, that he is 11 years old and has one brother and one sister. More than that was difficult to understand and so we just stood there in an awkward silence gazing at each other. Just as our bus was about to leave I gave Khaled one more look and asked "Khibuk"? which is the Hebrew word for hug, and hoped he would understand. He did. We hugged each other and my eyes were filled with tears as I realized that even without language, without a single word, a deep connection is still within arm's reach