This week I met Dahlia. Dahlia's job is very special. Her job has made Dahlia extra special.
In our complicated and oft-times messed-up world of conquerors and conquered, Israelis and Palestinians, we sometimes run into bright fireflies that glow in the dark . These are the fireflies who give me hope that a small crack can eventually bring down the wall of violent enmity between Israeli and Palestinian. Dahlia is one such firefly.
But first to another firefly. I had not seen Buma for a couple of years though we had kept contact by email. Buma is an outrageous zealot and a crackpot lunatic in the eyes of many Israelis. But to others (yes, me too) he is a mild-mannered, sloppily-dressed, blubbery teddy-bear of a Saint, an Angel, who shows the way to bring down that wall of enmity through small gentle cracks. I first met Buma a number of years back when I joined a small group of Israelis standing by olive growers of Kafr Salaam near Shchem (Nablus) , in defense against our Jewish settlers from Alon-Moreh and the violent young people from the nearby and totally illegal Skally Farm. I'm told Buma had been a fairly successful businessman. In 1995 his son was killed in Lebanon by a roadside mine. His life totally changed. His message to himself was "while I mourn my son, Arab and Palestinian neighbors are also mourning their sons". He became a peace activist. No, he's never raised a banner, nor does he much attend protest marches and gatherings. He doesn't quite talk politics, nor label himself a "leftist" (so what if he really is!). He's in the business of Israelis helping Palestinians. He mostly shuns bureaucracy and organizations, yet spends his time organizing small groups of Israelis to help defend Palestinian farmers; is in constant contact with police and army regarding complaints and permits; helps organize and bring Palestinian families through the bureaucracy and transport problems of getting to hospital treatments in Israel; runs around late at night to restaurants getting donations of food for the families staying with their children in the hospitals; and so many other ongoing projects. He also manages to get involved with some special projects, like a caravan of food and clothing to children and families in Gaza immediately after their many homes were demolished by us in our last large excursion there…..all thru negotiation for permits and coordination with our army and bureaucracy.
(Wait, this will all tie into Dahlia, the working firefly….)
This summer Buma organized weekly fun-trips for Palestinian children hospitalized in Israel. Along with their parents, they boarded buses taking them to a variety of places where Buma was able to get their visits subsidized or donated…..Our "Safari" zoo in Ramat Gan, bowling (!!) in Holon, a children's theater group in Jaffa, a beach-front in Tel-Aviv. At the Safari I drove something like a long golf-cart with a bunch of children who had never seen an elephant or monkey. So many of the children, and even some of their parents had never seen the waters of the Mediterranean. If we don't lower the wall of enmity, it'll be another long time before they see such prosaic wonders again.
Most of us Israelis don't realize the amount of energy and bureaucracy involved in getting Palestinian children and their accompanying parent to hospitals in Israel: bureaucracy, persuasion, permits, contact with hospital, transportation inside the West Bank, roadblocks, suspicious soldiers and their officers, more roadblocks, finding Israeli volunteers to bring children and parents from the West Bank border roadblock to the Hospital in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv or Haifa, and back.
Buma is immersed in the problems of getting permits and finding Israeli volunteers for transport to and from the hospitals (along with a group of other unrelenting volunteers). Last year , about 140,000 permits brought Palestinians from the West Bank into Israeli hospitals for daily or long-term treatments. The Israeli bureaucracy allocates only one job placement, i.e. one person, to authorize permits to West Bank patients. That person evidently had to investigate, o.k. doctor reports, sign, and end up giving out over 500 permits for each working day of the year. That person has greatly expanded the number of permits given each year.
That person is Dahlia. I met her last Friday. She came along with a busload of Palestinian children (with parents) from the cancer ward at Haddassa hospital in Jerusalem to the "Safari" zoo in Ramat Gan and from there to other new adventures with the children. She came along as a volunteer with those who received permits through her. She and five others of us came as drivers of elongated golf-carts, slowly winding our way through the zoo with a bunch of exited, ecstatic and overjoyed children and parents sitting behind us. This is part of what Dahlia does on those off-days when she's not giving out permits. From Buma I learn that often he or other drivers (bringing children from the West Bank to hospitals) get hassled at roadblocks for taking Palestinians "over the border". A phone call to Dahlia has her immediately online with soldier or officer at the roadblock, being listened to and gates are opened.
Buma and Dahlia are two small fireflies glowing in our dark and complicated situation.. I repeat: These are the fireflies who give me hope that a small crack can eventually bring down the wall of violent enmity between Israeli and Palestinian. I have faith in small cracks within unstable walls. But, as I've written before: Our job is not to measure the crack, but to be in it.