A few months ago I had the opportunity to follow Rabbi Ben Packer of the Heritage House into an area of the Old City even the most adventurous activists would think twice before entering. That did not deter Rabbi Packer and I from making the left at Lions Gate and up stairs and walkway into an all Arab neighborhood. The neighborhood is known to Jew and Arab alike as a vipers nest, but this area, void of Jews since the 1930’s contains an old Jewish property. When I walked there a few months ago, this Jewish property had only recently been handed back to Jews. The Arabs were violent and threatening.
The property was broken down. To make matters more uncomfortable the property shared a courtyard with a divorced Arab woman and her children and some grandchildren.
Today I returned and found a transformed place. As we make a left down the small street, a kid, once antagonistic now gives us a high five. The shop owner says hello warmly. In my experience where Jews move and stay, the Arab population eventually learns to live with it.
As we enter the courtyward we see the old Arab woman. She shows us some rocks the neighbors had thrown down on her due to her stubborn refusal to harm the Jews sharing the courtyard with her. After greeting us she disappears into her home.
“Other than the rocks, her life has gotten a lot better since we moved in here,” Rabbi Packer says as we enter into a room under renovation. “This is real peace.”
A hit piece was recently written in the Electronic Intifada about Rabbi Ben Packer, claiming he has ties to white supremacists. His concern for the older Arab neighbor and his protection extended to her dispels that myth.
The work has progressed a lot since the last time I had been there. One room is completely re-tiled, waiting for yeshiva students to move in. The adjacent room will become an apartment for a young family.
Before leaving I look up at the recently tiled apartment. Etched into the stone above the doorway are two Hebrew letters, still visible from over 8o years ago. In an undying proof of the Jewish people’s claim to their homeland, the letters stand as a marker that we will never disappear and just like the return to this apartment, the Jewish people will return to every house that was stolen from us.
Our return is part of a larger movement. We are coming home and yes proudly pushing Israel towards the Tipping Point, when the idea of the two state solution will no longer be an option.