Part 1: Druze, Muslims, Christians and Jews living together in Pekiâ€™in/Buqeiâ€™a
We began with our usual morning routine of breakfast, meditation and sharing. Afterwards we got back on the bus for a short ride to the center of Pekiâ€™in/Buqeiâ€™a where we met our local guide, Jalil, and went to our first site on the tour. This was a beautiful natural forest (very rare in our country) with a spectacular view over the whole of the lower Galilee (Galil / Jalil) region. There we heard tales from folklore about the trees and plants and learned about the various government schemes aimed to â€œJudaiseâ€ the Galilee. After spending some time observing the amazing scenery we climbed down the hill and onto the bus, headed for the center of Pekiâ€™in/Buqeiâ€™a village. There, we stopped to look at ancient caves believed to be where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a well known and important Jewish scholar, hid from the Romans with his son, surviving for years on carob fruit and deep spiritual learning.
From this site we continued our walk down to the village - passing, on the way, a Druze house of prayer as well as the ancient Jewish Synagogue of Pekiâ€™in/Buqeiâ€™a, one of the very few left in the Galilee. The small Jewish community of Pekiâ€™in/Buqeiâ€™a, which had been there for centuries, has in recent times dwindled. Today, only one of the original families lives permanently in the village. The ancient Synagogue is maintained by an elderly lady who opens it for visiting groups. However, we unfortunately came on â€œTisha Bâ€™Avâ€, a traditional Jewish day of mourning. The day commemorates various calamities, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the dispersion of the Jewish people from their homeland.
Continuing, we took refuge in the â€œSheikhâ€™s houseâ€, an ancient cave-like building which traditionally was where the important people of the village (of all communities) met to discuss important matters. In this impressive old house we spoke with a native Druze who shared with us bits and pieces of this most secretive religion. He told us the story of the formation of the Druze religion, as a small sect which split from Islam, and how it received its name (which was initially derogatory) and a little about the persecution of Jews in countries of the region. He told us about the Druze belief in re-incarnation, and about how Druze souls are of a set number that continually re-incarnate in new bodies. To his explanation he added stories of people whom had discovered their former incarnations, and about their encounters with people they knew from earlier lives. It was a very interesting and unique meeting, which we enjoyed very much.
the Sheikhâ€™s House
Part 2: Respecting differences
Our next activity focused on Jewish history during the Second World War and the Shoah (Jewish Holocaust). But before it we stopped for what was in our eyes one of the most important activities of our journey. At this point we divided the group into an Arabic speaking group (for the Palestinian youth) and Hebrew speaking group (for the Jews) and thus created the opportunity to speak in uninational groups. This enabled the participants to say, in their language, things that they may have felt uncomfortable sharing in the large group.
The whole activity lasted less then 45 minutes but had a strong effect on the group. We felt that tensions within the group had been eased and that, rather then dividing the participants, it brought them closer together.
Part 3: Memory of the child
Our next activity was a tour of the Childrenâ€™s Memorial wing of the Ghetto Fightersâ€™ Museum. The Museum is a center for various exhibitions and activities meant to commemorate and educate people about the Shoah. The Childrenâ€™s Memorial wing is an exhibition portraying the experience of the Shoah from the viewpoint of a child. Our guides at the museum were both Jewish and Palestinian. These were Raya, who is also the founder of the Museumâ€™s Center for Humanistic Education, and Haneen, a facilitator at the Center. Raya took the Jewish participants for the tour, explaining to them in Hebrew. Haneen took the Palestinian participants, speaking in Arabic. Beyond easing language difficulties, having separate tours allowed the groups to learn about the Holocaust from their different perspectives. The exhibition and the guides, in their presentation, elicited strong reactions from the participants, so that we ended up having a very deep and intimate experience of the horrors of the Holocaust, made personal by the many human stories which were presented to us.
Part 4: The Center for Humanistic Education
At the Center we had a joint workshop on our personal and collective memories of the various memorial days for Jews and Palestinians, on the significance of these days and how we use them. For the workshop we were divided into pairs and given sentences like, â€œremember in order to take revengeâ€, or â€œforgive but not forgetâ€ or â€œremember in order to avoid the same from happening to us or to othersâ€. We were instructed to divide the sentences into groups of positive and negative uses of memory. Our disagreements were the topic for discussion. This workshop was a fitting summary to a very positive and moving experience for our group at the Museum, and we were especially happy and relieved since we had initially feared that introducing the difficult issue of the Shoah to our group would add to the tension which was growing in the group. The result was the opposite and our positive experience actually calmed the group down as the Jewish participants felt that they had a chance to have their story heard and the two groups had some time alone and together to digest what they had seen, heard and felt about it all.
Due to the intense day and the many sleepless nights we decided to give the participants and ourselves a night off, so after the end-of-day summary we gave everyone some free time. Our hopes that it would be used by the participants to get some sleep were quickly dissolved, but at least they had some fun togetherâ€¦