By Adam Levy, Mitzvah Corps Israel 2016 Participant
Piles of leaves crunched as we sat down near the edge of our new kibbutz, five feet from the border between Israel and Jordan. To our left, large trees stood tall, quenched by the irrigation systems that our tour guide, a darkly tanned man who made aliyah 39 years ago, proudly stated were invented by Israel, now used worldwide. To our right, across the set of fences separated by twenty feet of tracking sand, we gazed at the famous red mountains of Jordan.
Standing near a pomelo tree, a type of sweet citrus fruit the size of a grapefruit, our guide spoke of his first encounters with Jordanian border guards. He would pick several pomelo fruits and fill up a basket, leaving it out for any Israeli or Jordanian border guards passing by in the stifling desert heat. After a day, he’d come back and find the basket empty.
One day, as he filled the basket with the pomelo fruit, a pristine white Mercedes slowed to a halt on the Jordanian side of the border. A Jordanian governor stepped out onto the sand and walked towards the border. After a friendly exchange, the two crossed the border and met in the middle, enjoying the juicy pomelo fruit together.
A few days later, a large crowd of Jordanian border guards had arrived, all anticipating the sweet pomelo fruit this Israeli farmer grew. Smiling, he threw several fruits over the fence. As the guards caught the fruit, one shouted a “thank you” across the border. Surprisingly, the language used was not Arabic, his native language. Nor was it English, known to be the “international language” that most countries use. It was Hebrew, the language spoken by the Israelis, their supposed enemies.
This powerful story of the Israeli farmer and the Jordanian guards enjoying pomelo fruit together without paying attention to their nationality shows us how important it is to humanize the other side. When the farmer set aside his Israeli nationality to show compassion for the guards across the border, they happily reciprocated by shouting their gratitude in a hearty “Toda Raba!”
One notable organization working to create positive connections across borders similar to this is the Peace Factory. In March 2012, as tensions between Israel and Iran escalated to the point where war seemed imminent, Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry took a photo of himself and his daughter and posted it to Facebook with the message, “Iranians, we will never bomb you. We <3 you.” This message quickly went viral, catching international attention as it spread between both Israeli and Iranian communities. Just like the farmer, he set aside his nationality to spread love. Just like the guards, the Iranians reciprocated, as graphic designers in their country posted pictures of their families with messages of love towards Israelis.
As more and more people began to voice their burning desire for peace, large Facebook communities called “Israel loves Iran,” “Iran loves Israel,” “Israel loves Palestine,” and “Palestine loves Israel” began to appear. Community members would reach out and support each other in times of tragedy, whether it be a Palestinian terrorist or an Israeli airstrike that wounded innocents. Nationalities ceased to matter. People began to see the issue as not simply black and white, Israelis vs Arabs. Each person, no matter their nationality, was seen as human.
When we can see those on the other side as humans, we can begin to understand that we are all alike. We all want to pursue happiness and avoid suffering. When we can see those on the other side as humans, our hatred for them falls away, and love and peace become possible. When we can see those on the other side as humans, they will begin to see us as humans, and reciprocate. Peace will come when we can accept each person as human, rather than a supposed “enemy.” Just like the farmer proved, even the smallest of actions can lead to peace among people.