By Adam Grannick
“‘Kumbaya’ is nice, but it leads nowhere basically,” says Inon Dan Kehati, a self-identified Zionist and former Israeli army commander. “The Israeli and Palestinian societies need to check themselves. You can’t have freedom without looking at yourself.”
“Injustice,” explains John Elias Dabis, a small-business owner in Ramallah, “is not only by Israelis. Injustice can be happening from the Palestinians as well. And wherever I see injustice I speak against it.”
The two men are the founders of Home (ha-Bayit/al-Beit), a grassroots Israeli and Palestinian group that’s pushing a far different strategy than what its founders refer to as the troubled region’s “peace industry.” Formed in 2014, Home is about critical thinking and on-the-ground humanization of the “enemy.” It’s advocating for a federation of Israelis and Palestinians: two states under a central authority, in which all residents would have complete freedom of movement. “If we can get the Palestinians and Israelis to see each other as human beings, instead of [having] a fear of one another, I think we can get somewhere with the political level after that.” Part of this effort is a joint trash-collection initiative called Cleaning the Hate.
Kehati and Dabis argue regularly—and it’s the key to their effort. Their organization is built around the idea that true humanization of the “other” means not only accepting criticism of one’s own most cherished beliefs, but also respecting the other enough to not shy away from criticizing their ideas. As a result, both are able to hold beliefs that many in the mainstream on each side would view as incompatible.
For example, two of the most inescapable issues in the conflict are the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Rather than putting these ideas on the back burner or choosing sides, Kehati and Dabis challenge themselves—and others—to accept both.
“How many Israelis would accept the return of the refugees?” Dabis asks. “I know quite a few right now. And I, as a Palestinian, would 100 percent accept the settlers living in Palestine.” In this short video, he challenges a Palestinian man on the streets of Jerusalem to consider an alternative to the traditional ways of thinking.
“I was told I am a normalizer, a collaborator, and a traitor—for meeting and speaking with the Israeli people,” Dabis writes on his public Facebook wall.
As for Kehati, much of the struggle he faces within Israeli society comes from what he perceives as disinterest toward the suffering of the Palestinians. “The Israeli people are very indifferent to what happens on the other side of the wall,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s coming from hate. I think it’s coming from lack of hope.” In the video, Kehati engages in tough conversations to try to combat the cynicism, speaking with everyone from Israeli soldiers to his own mother.
Kehati and Dabis say their humanization effort is attracting people from the right, left, and center of both Palestinian and Israeli societies.
“Slowly but surely we will reach our goal,” John asserts. “Together with the silent voices of the majority, against the suppression that comes from within our own society and from the occupation.”