This post was written by Ariella Hoffman-Peterson. Ariella is a participant from the Yahel Repair the World Onward Israel Service Learning Initiative in Be’er Sheva. We think a lot on this program about sustainability in the world of social change. In our context, it means not only working on fixing issues with what we call  “band aid” solutions, but looking to partner with the community to come up with lasting solutions that work through empowerment. On our program, gaining a deeper understanding and relationship with Israel meant, in part, learning about an array of issues happening in Israel that we were not necessarily aware of and meeting the people working to change those issues. It was almost easy to forget Israel’s core and defining issue in the eyes of the world; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On our final learning day, we took a trip that was personally both heart-wrenching and inspiring. We began our day crammed onto a tiny, tiny minibus and traveled to Netivot. Netivot is one of the many development towns established in the Negev that we heard about in our opening days’ orientation. It is special because it is considered as having transitioned out of the development town stage, and it is a municipality serving many surrounding kibbutzim and villages. Shosh and I sat next to each other exchanging exclamations of excitement and “who-knews” as we saw interesting architecture, streets lined with cute stores, a crazy, out-of-place mansion, strange traffic circles commemorating things, and barns filled with hay woven into the scenery. Shosh reminded me that we were really looking at part of Ben Gurion’s dream of a developed, flourishing Negev coming into fruition. I felt the full circle of Yahel’s programming coming to a close. Levi and our tour guide continued narrating our minibus journey across Netivot as we arrived at a garden shaped into the largest Hamsa in the world. Levi told us a random fact about the shared symbol’s meanings in Judaism and Isalm. He told us that a Jewish Hamsa points upwards to represent life, while the Islamic Hamsa points downward to ward off evil. It resonated with me that the two groups are just a pond-reflection of one another, but are ultimately the same. As our minibus moved towards Ashkelon, it dawned on us that we were soon going to see Gaza from the safe perch of Netiv Ha’Asarah. Suddenly, the illusive issue of conflict appeared in the distance and we craned our necks to see the surveillance blimp marking its territory. As I stood on the hill ready to run around the safety wall at my back if need be, I saw the rolling open fields of Israel meet a wall. That wall seemed ready to burst with the congestion of square grey structures dotted with the towers of mosques. Roni, from the organization “Other Voice” and a member of the Nativ Ha’Asarah moshav, told me we were looking at the largest prison in the world and stated rhetorically, “They always say we gave them that land. But we locked them in and took the key. How can we expect love in return for that?” As Roni’s Palestinian friend relayed her Gaza lifestyle to the group over the phone, saying “as long as we don’t have a life over here, you won’t have a life over there,” I remembered that word sustainability. Sustainability in change and sustainability in solutions have different meanings. Sustainable change suggests space for a better and more creative way to serve people. Sustainable solutions beg a tangible compromise that settles the problem for the long run. Roni reminded us that when you reach a point of conflict in a discussion, it is not time to get up and leave, it is where the negotiation needs to happen until both parties can agree. I have fallen deeper in love with Israel after being witness to its struggles and imperfections. However, it hurts me to think what could happen if Israel allows Gaza to continue to boil in the hot Negev sun until that wall does burst, and of the pain that boiling is causing those people in the meantime. So I walked up to the community art project led by Roni’s friend. On one of the safety walls were the Hebrew words “Nativ HaShalom” – path of peace – created by handmade pieces of pottery stuck on by visitors. In my hand was a blue Hamsa with an evil eye and two fish on it. In my heart was hope for peace. In my head was the toolbox of experiences Yahel had given me. In my veins was the excitement of empowerment to make change. In my eyes was a hazy, but solidifying vision of my relationship with Israel. Israel is a place of milk and honey, but has the ability to “devour its inhabitants.” Its rich diversity of landscape, people, and opinions packed into tiny borders is extraordinary. I was embraced and invited in by many of its people with whom I exchanged crisp, musical Hebrew words. A lifelong journey of Israel engagement and excuses to come back – and maybe even stay – was just beginning. And with that, I placed the Hamsa in the borders of the final letter “mem” of the word Shalom on the wall. Sideways.

Volunteer in Israel

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