Finding Common Ground

A first-hand exploration of the conflict between Israel and Palestine


We left town this morning at 8am and headed south to the Negev desert. During the 2-hour ride I was able to partially redeem myself from a gaff the previous day. In order to keep us organized and make sure no one is left behind the leader of our trip, Sr Carol asked us to “buddy up” with someone else. My buddy is Sr Nancy from Boston. Yesterday morning just as we were setting out for the Mt of Olives, Sr Carol noticed that Sr Nancy wasn’t present. Turns out she had overslept and wasn’t able to get ready in time to join us for the first half of the day….clearly I am a very bad buddy. today I sat next to our driver, Haim, on the bus and commandeered the bus microphone acting as unofficial co-pilot. Sr Nancy has forgiven me…

Sde Boker in the Negev Desert is where Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, envisioned the future of an independent Israel would be. He believed so passionately in this vision that he resigned his post as Prime Minister/Defense Minister in the early 1950s and, along with his wife Paula, moved to a small Kibbutz there. Our bus trip took approximately 2 hours and gave us a view of what perhaps could best be called the Israeli countryside. Much of the area is beautiful, green farmland however some of this bucolic serenity is interrupted by Bedouin villages along the highway. Bedouins are nomadic people (the Prophet Mohammed was one) who have lived in this region for centuries. Their homes appear to be ramshackle huts and tents that are often surrounded by goats and camels. The closest corollary I can think of to their villages is some of the homes I’ve seen on native American reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. They seem to be very poor, but according to our guide, Claude, the Bedouins don’t want to change their nomadic lifestyle and many of them would rather continue living they way their people have for centuries than settle in homes the Israeli govt has offered.

Our first stop was at David Ben-Gurion University at Sde Boker in the Negev desert where we spoke with Professor Zachy Shalom who is a Ben-Gurion scholar. We are very fortunate that an AIFL Board Member, Sara Meltzer (pictured at top next to photo of Ben-Gurion) was also traveling with us today. Sara has lived in this region since before modern-day Israel was founded in 1948. As a young woman in the Israeli army she was asked to be David Ben-Gurion’s secretary. She worked very closely with him for a number of years and has some amazing personal stories and photographs that she shared with us. Sara’s experience really helped round out Prof Shalom’s academic perspective on the “founder of modern day israel”

Following our talk we visited Ben-Gurion’s small hut on the nearby Kibbutz. I can’t imagine that there are many heads of state who lived more simply than Ben-Gurion and his wife. the home was a small 2 bedroom bungalow with a small kitchen, but a relativley large library for his beloved books. The fact that he and his wife moved there in theire mid-60s (apparently against his wife’s wishes) makes their homestead in the desert all the more remarkable.

After lunch we went to Ben-Gurion’s tomb which looks out on a beautiful, enormous valley in the Negev desert. Fr Daniel who is traveling with us celebrated mass for us overlooking this incredible site (pictured, left).

Our last stop of the day was in Rahat, the only permanent Bedouin village in Israel. There we met a Bedouin family whose 20-year-old son, Tark, was killed in a terrorist action near Gaza on Dec 12 2004 while he was serving in the Israeli army. The boy’s father, Nori, is a 43-year-old man who has 18 children by his two wives (one Jewish, one Bedouin). Nori was moved to tears as he spoke in Hebrew (with Sara Meltzer translating, pictured, right) about his recently departed son. Numerous children (many of them Nory’s) came in and out of the room to have a look at their strange American visitors while we sat there. Though they appear to be extremely poor their hospitality was incredible. some of his young sons served us numerous rounds of refreshments while we were guests: a glass of juice followed by a small cup of bitter coffee then a glass of sweet tea and finally soda.

His nephew, Eyab, came in to speak with us in English and was clearly very proud to be able to converse with us in our language. Eyab’s dream is to come to the United States. He spoke very movingly about how visitors like us allow him to continue to be hopeful for peace.

This Bedouin family’s stories and the faces of the numerous children (pictured here with McGarvey, right) who came in out during our visit were especially heartbreaking (Nory’s 4-year old daughter apparently grabs his cell phone every few minutes thinking she can still speak with her dead brother) have been the most moving personal encounter we’ve had here so far. The bus ride back to our hotel was noticeasbly more somber and reflective for all 16 of us.