EQCA’s Legislative Director, Alice Kessler, wrote a blog post about her experience with A Wider Bridge in Israel, after traveling and meeting with a broad cross‐section of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, secular and religious people.
Last summer, I joined A Wider Bridge, an organization that builds bridges between Israel and LGBTQ North Americans and allies, on an LGBTQ Mission to Israel. A Wider Bridge now finds itself at the center of a controversy related to the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change Conference. As a Jew who has often felt uninformed about and hesitant to even talk about the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict, and as someone who has over a dozen family members living in Israel and Arab Muslim family members here in the U.S., I saw it as an opportunity to run toward rather than away from my discomfort. This would not be my first trip to Israel (I had visited once before in high school), but as a longtime LGBTQ advocate, I thought it would be fascinating to view the country through this lens. I joined twenty other diverse LGBTQ leaders, some of whom identified squarely in the pro‐Israel camp and some of whom had strong reservations about Israel.
Through our travels and meetings with a broad cross‐section of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, secular and religious people, those young and old, I came to appreciate the complexity of this land.
For example, on a day trip to the West Bank led by a Palestinian guide, I saw the separation wall and military watchtowers up close. I also saw art and graffiti that frequently extolled and incited violence against Israelis. Alternatively in Ramallah, I witnessed a community going about its business — bakers, shopkeepers, and school children engaged in the banalities of daily life. Seeing that gave me a glimpse into an autonomous Palestine that hopefully one day will exist peaceably side‐by‐side with Israel. On a trip to an Arab fishing village called Jisr Al Zarqa, we met with two remarkable families — one Jewish and one Arab — who had started a backpackers’ hostel together, invigorating the economy of this very depressed hamlet. It was a shining example of the ways that some Palestinians and Jews are transcending the typical narrative we often hear about the conflict.
I witnessed another conflict altogether — that between Jewish secularism and orthodoxy. In arguably the holiest place on earth, this struggle is real. There are those whose belief systems do not allow women to pray on equal terms as men, to sit next to them on an airplane, or reveal parts of their bodies in public. There are those whose lives of prayer are subsidized by the state while their non‐ultra‐Orthodox brethren are conscripted into military service as a fact of life. While civil marriages performed abroad (including same‐sex marriages) are recognized by the Israeli government, marriages between Jews in Israel itself can only be officiated by the Orthodox rabbinate. Not only does this situation exclude same‐sex couples and those who wish to have a Reform or Conservative wedding ceremony, but it denies over 600,000 Jewish Israelis who are of mixed heritage and not considered Jewish “enough” to get married in their own country.