Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jewish-Muslim/Settler-Palestinian Prayer for Rain

A month has passed since my last post, and I'll take about the reasons for that in a later post. But today, I attended a rare event, a joint Muslim-Jewish, settler-Palestinian Prayer for Rain.

Little rain has fallen in this country for years, and the dearth of water is noticeable wherever you turn . This being Israel, a drought does not necessarily mean that people save water in any meaningful way (my mother could teach Israelis a thing or two about that!), but the ground is parched. Indeed, it is so dry that the Kinneret, Israel's main sweet water reservoir, has two lower red lines, indicating how many meters the lake is below its minimum. Just a few days ago, the red line dipped below its lowest-ever Lower Red Line and currently stands at 213 meters below sea level.

A prayer for rain can be found in any siddur, but when things get particularly bad, extra prayers can be called for. Israelis have seen it all, communal prayer, rabbis getting up in the air, praying for rain in an airplane. And from time to time, inter-religious councils organize ecumenical prayers for rain. After all, without water, things would and will be much worse.

Today I went to such prayer, organized by Eretz Shalom, a newish settler peace organization:

About 50 people made their way to Ayn Tinnin, one spring over from Ayn Yael, just behind the Kanyon in Malkha, a few kilometer or so after the first checkpoint. It was a hot day, and of course we met at 12:30 p.m. The whole thing started off with one guy getting very upset when Israeli soldiers showed up to check out the commotion. After some energetic screaming on his part, the soldiers took off again. Initially, my friend Tali and her parents and niece, with whom I had come, hung out under a figtree and indulged in some people watching. There were some young settlers, some haredim, a lot of press, a few young Arab men, all chatting and standing around. Eventually, a group of men in galabiyyahs walked quickly up to the spring, which seemed to signal the opening. The mayor (?) or some kind of representative from Bethlehem greeted us in Arabic (with a spotty translation), stressing the importance of a 2-state solution and of an Israel in the borders of 67. Much murmuring ensued. Apparently, there had been an agreement to refrain from political statements, but clearly, this was too good an opportunity. Some more greetings, and then the Jewish men assembled on one side of a small and almost dry water reservoir, while we 7 or so women were relegated to its other side, at a safe distance from the men.

The Jewish organizers had provided photocopies of the Hebrew prayer, mostly psalms and the traditional prayer for rain and, divided by the "water," we prayed for rain. The men began to sing a little, but they were immediately hushed because now came the turn of the Muslims who assembled on top of the spring in a clear line. They prayed two rakat, and then the leader delivered a sermon. It was not translated, and I think it was all about one-earth and ecology, but I am not sure, it might also have been a sermon about a One-state solution for all I know. The media went nuts over the prayer and happily clicked away--the Jews were less picturesque, apart from Harav Ramon (I think that's his name). He came all in white, wore tefilin and kept raising his hands in supplication:

But really, this guy here embraced the moment in the clearest way. He is walking towards the line of Muslim prayer:

And then we made our way back and I returned to the library at Givat Ram, unsure what to make of this. Invited to an "inter-religious prayer for rain" I wondered, once again: What is "inter-religious dialogue" in any case? And can you really "dialogue" in such an uneven distribtion of power? Maybe this is really more about "getting to know one another." Although I am not sure how you do get to know each other, meeting in the middle of the day next to a spring. Granted, the social afterwards might have made a difference, I don't know, I had to leave early. Once more I was struck by some settler's confidence that a coexistence in the territories was a real possibility. But hey, maybe there'll be a rainstorm soon. In the meantime, temperatures will contiinue to rise.

Reuters, too issued a note about the event.