A Semblance of Peace

Masha Gessen / The New Yorker
A Semblance of Peace The school in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, a village of Palestinian and Jewish families, is fully bilingual, with equal hours of instruction in Arabic and Hebrew. (photo: Ofir Berman/The New Yorker)

Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom was founded on a total belief in the power of dialogue. In the wake of Hamas’s attack and amid Israel’s war in Gaza, a “very loud silence” has fallen.

Amir’s house, in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, an intentional community of Jewish Israeli and Palestinian Israeli families, is made of stone, chic but spare, not showy. A covered porch faces west, looking out at the green expanse of the Ayalon Valley. Amir, who is Palestinian, first moved to Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom thirty-five years ago, when he was four. His family had been living in East Jerusalem and wanted to escape the violence of the first intifada. The village school, which goes from nursery through sixth grade, is fully bilingual, with equal hours of instruction in Arabic and Hebrew. When Amir speaks Hebrew, Jewish Israelis have a hard time believing that he is Arab, and they often say so, thinking it’s a compliment.

Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom—which means Oasis of Peace, in Arabic and Hebrew—was founded by Bruno Hussar, an Egyptian-born Jew who fled the Nazi invasion of France and later became a Dominican priest. Around 1970, he secured a large parcel of land, on loan from a Trappist monastery, to attempt an experiment in nonmilitarism and religious pluralism in the middle of Israel, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This was the age of encounter groups, gatherings based on a belief in the total power of dialogue, and Hussar envisioned Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom as a permanent encounter. By the time Amir’s family arrived, the community had widened its efforts by establishing the School for Peace, a training center for activists, academics, and civil servants. Some eighty thousand people have completed the School for Peace’s courses, which aim to turn citizens of Israel, both Palestinian and Jewish, into agents of change.

Amir left the village at nineteen and later became a successful businessman in Tel Aviv. His wife, who is Jewish, grew up in one of the city’s suburbs. Three years ago, after she became pregnant with their first child, Amir moved his family back to Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. He couldn’t imagine raising half-Jewish, half-Palestinian children anywhere else. Now, as we talked on his porch one evening in April, he was thinking of moving to Cyprus. “I’m a Palestinian,” he said. “I love this land. But I’m a human being who has only so many years to live.” (Amir is not his real name; he asked to use an alias, because “we have right-wing organizations here looking for mixed couples.”)

The sun set fast, plunging the valley into darkness. In the first weeks of the war, Amir told me, you could watch the rockets from Gaza flying in the distance and exploding in the air, like fireworks, as they were intercepted by the Israeli air-defense system. You could also feel the earth rumble as Israeli bombs detonated in Gaza. When Amir thought about the people of Gaza, where an estimated thirty-five thousand have been killed and another 1.7 million displaced, he imagined “how far they are from being able to feel any kind of forgiveness for this country. And I live in this country.”

His wife was pregnant with their second child. Amir said, “My children will be safe in Wahat al-Salam until the sixth grade.” At that point, they would be ushered into Israel’s segregated education system—where the Hebrew-language schools are among the best in the world, and the Arabic-language schools among the worst. After another six years, some of his kids’ Jewish friends would join the Israeli military, just as most of Amir’s Jewish friends from Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom did. “The thing that hurts me the most is the fact that people here serve in the Army,” he said. “I believe that no one here would hurt a Palestinian. But I believe that as a human being you should not be complicit.”

Six months after the Hamas attack on October 7th, I went to Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom to see what the war had done to the village and, more broadly, to the Israeli peace movement. Amir told me that a gap had opened between the Palestinian residents of the community and some of their Jewish neighbors. The Jews wanted the Palestinians to denounce Hamas and its murders. The Palestinians felt that some Jews were indifferent to the devastation of Gaza. The cognitive distance wasn’t unfamiliar to Amir: he experienced it with his in-laws and with other Israeli Jews. He had never thought that he would experience it in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.

His phone buzzed. Neighbors were asking when we were going to show up at the village’s iftar dinner, a festive meal that ends the daylong fasts of Ramadan. Amir was responsible for bringing beverages. We got into his white S.U.V. The houses on our left, clinging to the hillside below the road, were invisible in the dark. By the time we arrived at the event, which was held in the Pluralistic Spiritual Center, a triple-domed stone structure, most of the food was gone. Children were running around; adults had broken up into small groups; stragglers were scrounging for shreds of grilled chicken and cabbage salad.

In the front garden, I sat down on a bench with Michal Zak, Bob Mark, and their daughter Neriya, who were all Jewish. “We’ve been here forty years,” Mark said. “Not a lot of things can surprise us.” But the tensions that had formed within the community since October 7th were unfamiliar. Early on, the village held several community-wide meetings; the Palestinian residents barely spoke. “There was this very loud silence,” Neriya, who is thirty-six, said. Elsewhere in Israel, Palestinian citizens have faced arrests, firings, and mob violence for expressing solidarity with the people of Gaza. But for Palestinians in the village, Zak, who conducts training at the School for Peace, said, “it’s not the fear of the police—it’s the fear of hearing the reactions of people being not as compassionate as you want them to be. It’s realizing who your partners are.”

Neriya helped form a four-person group to figure out what a village based on a belief in dialogue could do when half of its residents had been rendered speechless. She and the others eventually decided to hold bereavement circles—not discussion groups but grief groups, in which people who had suffered loss would be asked to speak. The group spent a week devising the wording for the announcement. One suggestion was “We grieve for the murdered and the killed,” in which the murdered were victims of Hamas and the killed were Gazans. They argued about the different connotations of agency in “murdered” and “killed,” finally settling on wording that skirted the issue—“grieving for the war victims.”

A Palestinian doctor described losing several close colleagues in the war. Other Palestinians spoke about loved ones who had been killed in Gaza, and about Gaza itself—about the summers they’d spent there as children, about the physical environment they’d known so intimately, now gone. “It came up again and again,” Mark said. “This hellhole. And they have such warm memories of it.” A Palestinian resident who works for a large Israeli company talked about a Palestinian colleague who had lost close members of her family in Gaza and, contrary to common practice, received no acknowledgment from her employer. “Who ever heard of a person demanding condolences?” Mark asked.

“She wants to be seen,” Zak said.

According to different accounts, Hussar started Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom in either a camper van or a shipping container. His early companions were two Catholic women and a shifting cast of young Europeans. It took more than a decade to assemble the initial core of the village, with an equal number of Jewish and Arab families. These early residents had seen their contemporaries killed in the Yom Kippur War, in 1973, when Israel fought a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt. Within a few years, Egypt and Israel had negotiated a peace settlement, with Egypt ultimately becoming the first Arab state to recognize Israel and with Israel withdrawing its troops from the Sinai Peninsula. To this generation of Israelis, there was no entrenched status quo: borders were shifting—the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was never supposed to be indefinite—and the only constant, it seemed, was war. Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom’s mission was to overturn this assumption by building a miniature model of a future in which Arabs and Jews share a land and govern it jointly—co-living, not just coexistence.

Eldad Joffe, the current mayor, first heard about the community when he was a student at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, in the late nineteen-seventies. The village was little more than a barren hilltop. After university, he and his wife, Imi, lived in the United States. They returned to Israel in 1994, the year of peak hope. Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, from the Labor Party, shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo accords, which appeared to offer a road map for ending the Israeli occupation and creating a Palestinian state. A year later, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish extremist, a member of what was then a radical fringe opposed to the peace process. In 2000, the Joffes attended a meditation retreat in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom and left wanting to raise their children there. The village had continued to grow, building event spaces and a small hotel. By the time the Joffes were accepted into Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, bought a plot, commissioned a design, built the house, and moved in, their three kids were adults, and the right-wing extremists were running the country.

One of Joffe’s children, a daughter, moved to Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom with her partner—at the time, they were the only openly lesbian couple in the village—and now she works with an after-school program. A son moved to Houston, Texas, with his family. As Joffe neared retirement—he had become an administrator at Hebrew University—he imagined himself spending most of his time with his grandchildren in the U.S. Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, he felt, was losing its spirit. Young people, many of them natives of the village who were moving back, seemed to have little use for the hard work of dialogue-building. They wanted to raise their families “in this coexistence,” he said, but not continue to nurture it. At the same time, the community was expanding: about forty new houses were planned for construction, which would take the total up to more than a hundred and twenty. Joffe decided to run for mayor on a platform of restoring Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom to its idealistic roots. His first day on the job was supposed to be October 8, 2023. He started a day early.

Joffe quickly convened a meeting of the village council to handle practical issues: they closed the gate at the village entrance, reviewed plans for sheltering in case of shelling, and assessed resources for emergency water and power supplies. State authorities were issuing assault rifles to civilians in communities across the country. In Israel, gun possession is largely restricted to people who have served in the military. Jews, with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox, are subject to mandatory military service, as are the Druze and Circassian minorities. A number of Jews from the village have refused to serve; others—some say half, some say more—have accepted being drafted. Palestinian citizens of Israel, if they wish to serve, must volunteer. As far as anyone knows, none of the Palestinians living in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom have served in the Israel Defense Forces. This meant that, if there were going to be guns in the village, they would be in the hands only of Jews. Living side by side with armed Jews was precisely what the Palestinian residents had come to the village to avoid. Nevertheless, the state sent six guns to Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.

The village’s system of self-governance can be slow. Questions of community life—about employment practices or the approval of new construction—are resolved in community-wide meetings. The process is designed to build a working model of coöperation, case by case, idea by idea, not to handle existential emergencies. The gate stayed closed for six weeks. It took a few months for the village to decide to return the guns.

Israeli lefties often observe that war is a terrible time to be a peace activist. It’s also a terrible time to be the mayor of a peacenik village. Joffe, who wanted to work on creating dialogue and building a better future, has instead become a specialist in preparing for the worst. In March, the head of the regional council, which governs fifty-seven villages, convened a meeting to discuss, among other things, a looming war with Hezbollah. “It wasn’t whether but when,” Joffe told me. A war with Hezbollah, which is far better equipped than Hamas, could have a much greater impact on the center of the country than the war in Gaza. Village leaders were told to make preparations for days without water, electricity, or communications. “The whole evening was dedicated to this,” Joffe added. “And not a single person said that maybe we should try to prevent this.”

We were talking in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom’s café, a shaded courtyard with half a dozen tables. The proprietor, Rayek Rizek, sat nearby, working on his laptop. He and his wife, Dyana, who are both Palestinian, moved to the village almost forty years ago. In the late nineties and early two-thousands, Rayek served two terms as mayor. These days, he is more withdrawn. He didn’t attend the community meetings after October 7th, he said, “because I don’t want to get involved in such discussions about who is the victim. I know that you can’t teach anyone anything.” Dyana, who runs an art gallery in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, did go to the meetings. It wasn’t easy, she said. “Some Jews, they blamed us, as Palestinians.”

I first visited Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom about six years ago, while working on a book about imaginative political projects. At the time, everyone in the village knew what everyone else was up to; everything, it seemed, was discussed in a village WhatsApp group chat. By the spring of 2024, this was no longer the case. Neriya Mark told me about a Palestinian resident who, a month into the war, had lost forty members of her family in Gaza, but never shared her grief in the WhatsApp chat. At the other extreme, the Jews of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom who had reported for military duty weren’t sharing their decision in the WhatsApp chat, either. “There was a rumor that some people in the village did volunteer back in October,” Samah Salaime, a Palestinian who is the co-director of education institutions in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, told me. “This was the spirit in the country.”

Everyone wanted to do something after October 7th. For Jews, volunteering to fight was the most obvious course of action. But what could Palestinian citizens of Israel do? Dyana Rizek, the gallerist, used to start her day with yoga and meditation. Now, when she wakes up, she checks her phone to see if her friends in Gaza are still alive. Then she reads the news on Telegram and watches Al Jazeera. Before helping her husband open the café, she works on raising money for friends and family in the West Bank, where unemployment skyrocketed after Israel effectively put a halt to the movement of workers.

The gallery has been shuttered since October 7th. Rizek had tried to assemble a show that would address the war, but, although she had been curating joint Palestinian-Jewish shows for nearly a decade, she couldn’t find enough artists willing to share wall space “with the other side.” So she decided to ask residents of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom to express their feelings through art. She is still working on gathering pieces for the show. In the meantime, she has changed its name five times, from “My Existence” to “Receiving Our Humanity” to “Our Humanity Demands Action” to “Are We Together or Not” to “Art in a Time of War and Destruction, for the Future” to, for now, “Where To?” One of the goals of the show is to break through the silence that has descended on the village. “Palestinians who live in Israel have started to feel since October 7th that we live under military rule,” Rizek said. “We are afraid to express ourselves, even if we live in Wahat al-Salam.”

Palestinian activists elsewhere, especially in the occupied territories, have long been skeptical of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. Even before October 7th, some activists in Ramallah considered the village a “shoot-and-cry” project, an endeavor that accomplished little more than helping Israeli Jews feel better about themselves. Vivien Sansour, a Palestinian activist from Bethlehem, told me that she was all for political imagination, but that “there is a difference between imagination and pretending.” A co-living community nestled inside a country that had made the occupation a cornerstone of its politics was, to her, nothing but a fantasy.

Samah Salaime, the co-director of educational institutions, is a prominent Palestinian feminist activist and writer. She writes a regular column for +972, a magazine edited by Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel (+972 is Israel’s telephone country code). In November, Salaime wrote a tribute to her friend Vivian Silver, a Canadian Israeli peace activist who was killed on October 7th. “I lost Vivian,” Salaime told me. “I can’t ignore my grief.” A few weeks later, she published a column in support of the victims of sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas. Some Palestinian activists have criticized her for bringing attention to the rape allegations. “I can’t ignore the Jewish women who paid a high price,” she told me. “I can’t not think about the mothers with children who are now in Gaza. Those who are underground and those who are dying on the ground. If I were a woman in Lebanon, in Ramallah, I might not see this complexity.”

Salaime, who is forty-eight, grew up in the north of Israel, a few miles from her family’s ancestral village. Their former home, which they had been forced to flee in 1948, no longer existed, but the family’s olive grove did; its new owners were Jewish. After attending Arabic-language school, Salaime gained entry to Hebrew University. Her Hebrew was good but antiquated, the language of literature rather than of the street—ordering a pizza was an exercise in humiliation. More important, Salaime encountered an entirely different view of her native land, the Jewish Israeli narrative, which contradicted everything that her family had taught her. She wanted her children to grow up knowing both stories. When the oldest of Salaime’s three sons was ready to start elementary school, in 2000, she recalled hearing about a village, a half hour’s drive from Jerusalem, where Jewish and Arab kids went to class together and were taught by Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking teachers. After visiting the school in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, Salaime told her husband, “We are not just putting our kids in this school—we are moving to the village.”

I first interviewed Salaime in 2018. She told me then that her sons had best friends who were Jewish, at least one of whom was expected to serve in the military. Salaime had confronted her son about continuing to be friends with a person who was about to put on an I.D.F. uniform. He had reassured her that the friend wouldn’t serve in combat and wouldn’t be posted to the occupied territories. Salaime was unconvinced. “You brought me here to this village, you raised me alongside Jews, you taught me to trust them,” she recalled him saying. “Now you are going to have to trust me when I say I trust him.”

One of her sons is now a college student in Haifa, Israel’s northernmost city. In the weeks after October 7th, life was suspended across the country. Salaime’s son had no classes, and the restaurant where he worked was closed. When it reopened, Jewish staff members were invited back, but her son wasn’t. (Salaime called to intervene, and he was eventually reinstated.) Classes started in person again, and many of his Jewish classmates arrived with guns. At the same time, Salaime’s youngest son resumed commuting to a high school in Jerusalem. “When he is coming back on the bus late at night, I can’t talk to him on the phone, because the bus is full of people with guns,” she said. “If they hear a young man speaking Arabic . . .” She paused. If they stick to texting, she said, her son can pass for a Jew.

In some ways, Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom had remained a sanctuary. At a community meeting following October 7th, when some of the Jewish residents demanded that their Palestinian neighbors speak out against the attack, Salaime was able to push back. “I said it was really offensive to ask me to condemn,” she told me. “You know me for twenty-three years. It’s obvious.” She ultimately gained a lot from the meetings. “People on the Jewish side who still believe in equality are under attack,” she said. “They became like me, isolated. I learned that they need me. And I need them. They can be my voice. The Palestinian side needs the Jewish voice.”

Eight years ago, Jonathan Dekel, a Jewish filmmaker, moved with his wife and three kids to Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. He had done five years of military service in a combat unit, though he never saw combat. After he was discharged, in his twenties, he thought that his Army days were behind him; his first feature film, which is currently screening at festivals, is an antiwar satire about Israeli spies. But on October 7th, soon after he saw news of the Hamas attack, Dekel reported for reserve duty. He was forty, right on the edge of what is technically considered combat age. He wasn’t called up, he just got in his car and drove, leaving his family behind in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. Six months into the war, he was still serving, commuting each day to his unit. He made sure that no one in the village saw him in uniform or carrying a gun.

Before October 7th, perhaps the biggest rift in the history of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom occurred in 1997, when a twenty-year-old soldier from the village, Tom Kitain, was killed in a helicopter accident near the Lebanese border. Elsewhere in Israel, Kitain would have been buried with military honors. His parents, who hadn’t been happy about him joining the I.D.F., wanted only to memorialize their son at the site of a new basketball court. Many of the residents objected—they didn’t want to commemorate an Israeli soldier in the community’s public space. It took two years of meetings to decide what to do. In the end, a plaque was placed at the basketball court describing Kitain as “a boy of peace who was killed in war.”

Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom’s foundational hope—that peace would come in this lifetime—is, perhaps, one reason that Jewish adults there, from generation to generation, have failed to prepare their kids for the inevitability of conscription. Refusing to serve is a difficult step. Those who do—refuseniks—often spend weeks or months in military jail and effectively lose access to Israeli Jewish society’s mechanisms of mobility. The professional skills and connections that Israeli Jews first acquire in the military will often form the basis of the rest of their careers.

A friend of one of Salaime’s sons who had considered resisting the draft was Adam Ben Shabath, who is now twenty-three. Adam attended high school at a nearby kibbutz, where many of his friends were steeped in military culture and dreamed of getting into the best units. His father, Yair, urged Adam to join, too. “For you, this is a democratic state, and this is still the law,” Yair told him. Adam oscillated. And then, one day, he was on a bus in the parking lot of the recruitment office. “You are eighteen years old,” he recalled. “Suddenly, you have the uniform, you have this huge bag, you shaved your head a day ago. Suddenly, you are not yourself.”

The bus was headed for a combat unit. Before it pulled out of the lot, Adam stood up and declared that he wouldn’t serve. He spent a night in jail and was eventually placed with an intelligence unit on the border with Egypt. It’s a recurrent theme in stories of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom kids: their native-level Arabic can make them useful to Israeli intelligence. “I made peace with myself somehow,” Adam said. “At least it wasn’t combat. But I was still wearing the same uniform.”

When his mandatory service was up, he returned to Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. His family’s house is large and a bit ostentatious, with an outdoor space big enough to host parties for the entire village. During the pandemic, Adam and his father, who owns an equestrian-footwear business, built a food trailer, decorated with a large peace sign on one side, which served as a kind of village club, with different families staffing it in shifts. Adam swore that he would never again have anything to do with the military. “The seventh of October changed that,” he told me. “Suddenly, in one moment, I was in the military again.”

Like Dekel, Adam reported for duty without waiting to be called up. “Then videos from Gaza started coming out, and I started questioning things again,” he told me. “It’s always a fight within me. I am part of Israeli norms, and I can also see both sides.” His unit was stationed in the north, near the border with Lebanon. After a few months, Adam came home. He discovered that his father was using the food trailer to host barbecues for Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border. This didn’t feel right. “I mean, it’s a war,” Adam told me. “I don’t want to make it fun.”

Yair Ben Shabath has lived in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom for twenty years. In 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu was first elected Prime Minister, Yair saw the ascent of the Israeli right as potentially disastrous. “I wasn’t going to run for the Knesset,” he said, referring to the Israeli legislature. “So I decided to submit myself to this lab experiment in what this country could be.” He didn’t hide who he was—a self-proclaimed Zionist who had served in the Army—and the community accepted him. “I don’t think I’d be accepted now,” he told me. A couple of days a week, he loads the trailer with food and musical instruments, which soldiers play as he cooks. In the village WhatsApp chat, he said that neighbors have accused him of “partying and shooting.” He offers no apologies for supporting the troops. “I pushed my three kids to serve in the Army,” he said. “What’s a barbecue?”

Jonathan Dekel was assigned to an intelligence unit. He led a team that sifted through footage shot on the GoPro and cell-phone cameras of Hamas attackers, some of which later went into a forty-seven-minute video that the Israeli government screened for journalists around the world. Nearly twelve hundred Israelis and foreign nationals were killed that day, and more than two hundred and fifty were taken hostage. In much of the footage that Dekel watched, the Hamas guys seemed to be taking their time, opening the fridge, sitting down, having a cigarette. Between unspeakable acts of violence, they behaved leisurely. They filmed themselves praying. They set curtains on fire as they left a house. Dekel called the experience of reviewing the footage a “scorching of the mind.”

We were talking in an empty meeting room of the Pluralistic Spiritual Center. Dekel had brought in two chairs and placed them facing each other, as though for an interrogation. In the room next door, people were praying after the iftar dinner. At the end of the day, Dekel said, the Jews and the Palestinians are on one land, and neither of them is going anywhere. He would love for all of Israel to be one big Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, but to say as much during wartime can seem dangerously naïve. “The whole thing is so primitive,” he said.

Friends in the military have called him a radical and an anti-Zionist. Some of his Palestinian neighbors are deeply disappointed in him. Dekel still calls himself a Zionist, which he defines as believing that a Jewish state is the least bad solution. On his computer screen at work, where he now watches footage shot by Israeli troops, he saw weapons found in what seemed like every other apartment in Gaza. He saw Nazi memorabilia, including an annotated Arabic translation of “Mein Kampf,” found in a child’s bedroom that was being occupied by a Hamas member. And he also saw the death and destruction that Israel was inflicting on the civilians in Gaza. “I’m conflicted and perplexed,” he said. “I am not at peace.”

Before October 7th, hundreds of thousands of Israeli liberals spent nine months in the streets, protesting the Netanyahu administration’s attempt to weaken the judiciary’s oversight of the executive branch. A movement of military reservists who called themselves Brothers and Sisters in Arms were at the forefront, carrying Israeli flags and vowing to restore the country to what they saw as a robust democracy. The protests largely stopped after October 7th. The Brothers and Sisters, like the rest of the country, turned their attention to Gaza: some reported for duty; others took on rescue-and-relief work for people injured or displaced in the Hamas attack. Gradually, the protests resumed, first as public gatherings devoted primarily to mourning. By spring, they were reclaiming a boisterous, confrontational tone.

I went to one protest with Noam Shuster-Eliassi, a well-known comedian and activist who grew up in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. I met her on a street corner where the self-described radicals—fewer than two hundred people—stood in a loose circle, taking turns with a megaphone. Shuster-Eliassi told me that her political camp is vanishingly small. Her fiancé, Amit Merckado, was with us, wearing a T-shirt that said “FCK BNGVR.” “I got the last non-Zionist guy who isn’t gay or married,” Shuster-Eliassi said. “And even within this tiny circle there are ruptures.” She took the megaphone to shout, “A ceasefire is not enough! The blood of fourteen thousand children is on our hands!”

We walked toward the main protest, which began a block or two away. It was a sea of Israeli flags. A speaker, projected onto a giant video screen, announced that the protest was a hundred thousand strong. “I want rage,” Shuster-Eliassi said. We snaked our way through the crowd. People were throwing torches on the ground, to build a bonfire. Friends and family members of the hostages, wearing red-and-black T-shirts, were chanting their demand: “Bring them home now!” It felt more like despair than rage.

At the main protest, the only calls for a ceasefire were framed in terms of securing the release of the estimated hundred and thirty hostages, living and dead, then being held by Hamas. Humanistic messages—calls to stop the killing of children and the infliction of starvation and disease in Gaza—remained marginal, even among the leftist radicals. Members of the Pink Front, a left-wing antifascist movement, were banging drums and chanting, “We are not afraid.” The slogan had been adopted during the anti-Netanyahu protests that took place before October 7th. Since the Hamas attack, it has offered itself as a national affirmation for a country that remains very much afraid.

José Brunner, a philosopher and a historian of science, who retired from Tel Aviv University in 2018, has written on the emergence of “national trauma” as a key concept in Israeli mental-health discourse. The idea was imported from the United States, where, in the wake of 9/11, mental-health professionals hypothesized that a person did not need to be immediately affected by an event to be traumatized by it: repeated media exposure was enough. When the concept made its way to Israel, around the time of the second intifada, in the two-thousands, mental-health professionals built a trauma center for “victims of terror,” interpreted broadly, and launched an annual publication, called About Feelings, a million copies of which were distributed on the national memorial day for fallen soldiers. The Israeli version of “national trauma” added a historical aspect: Israeli Jews, it posited, were traumatized by terror, and the spectre of terror, because of their shared history, going back to Biblical times.

As a clinical diagnosis, “national trauma” had a short shelf life. But the cultural concept stuck. What this has meant in the wake of October 7th is that Israeli television channels, without any apparent pressure from the state, have stayed singularly focussed on that day’s massacre. An endless supply of footage from the Hamas attack allows reporters to continue producing stories. The only clues viewers might have that the date they are watching TV is not October 7th are feature stories on fallen soldiers—nearly three hundred members of the I.D.F. have been killed in the war, and every death is commemorated with a profile. Otherwise, Gaza is not in the picture. “We are fighting the war of October 7th, so October 7th has been extended for six months,” Brunner told me, when I visited him at his house, in a quiet suburb of Tel Aviv. “This gives us absolute victimhood.”

The advent of the idea of “national trauma” prompted researchers to ask how the concept applied to the one in five Israeli citizens who is not Jewish. A study conducted in 2005 found that Palestinian citizens of Israel were more psychologically vulnerable to the effects of the conflict than Jews were. “For Jewish Israelis, being in Israel has a meaning,” Brunner said. “But Palestinians, who can also be hit by a rocket flying from Gaza, experience such an event as senseless victimization. They are not fighting the Palestinians—they are the Palestinians, but they are also the victims of Palestinians who come here to attack.” The infinite loop of coverage of October 7th elides not only the suffering in Gaza but also the non-Jewish victims of the Hamas attack. “One of the annoying things that Israeli society claims is that October 7th is against Jews,” Salaime told me, even though the attackers killed indiscriminately.

After the protest, Shuster-Eliassi and I took the new light-rail tram to Jaffa, where she and Merckado live. Jaffa, an ancient city, was annexed by the much younger, majority-Jewish Tel Aviv, in 1950. Most of its Arab population was forced to flee in the nineteen-forties and, more recently, has been priced out. About a third of the current residents are Palestinians. We sat at an outdoor café. Shuster-Eliassi, whose mother is from Iran, talked about her discomfort with what passes for the left in Israel: predominantly Ashkenazi and firmly integrated with the establishment, including the military establishment. “On October 6th, Brothers in Arms were saying they wouldn’t serve,” she said. This was the reservists’ most formidable threat to the Netanyahu government. “And on October 7th all the men were on their way somewhere,” she continued, meaning to their units. “Suddenly, they weren’t asking any questions.”

Shuster-Eliassi, who is thirty-seven, encountered her first recruitment effort when she was still in high school: someone from an intelligence unit approached her because of her fluent Arabic. She refused to serve. “It was really clear that my brother and I would not go to the military,” she told me. “I didn’t learn Arabic from my neighbors so I could then spy on them.”

After October 7th, she went to her childhood home in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. In the village, there was “overwhelming silence,” but this was still better than the tsunami of vengeful militarism in the rest of the country. “It’s like dating men,” she said. “Your standards are so low: someone a little bit sane.”

Shuster-Eliassi and Merckado were planning an August wedding with celebrations in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom. In the morning, Shuster-Eliassi was going to try on wedding dresses at a salon in the occupied West Bank owned by a Palestinian friend. Salaime, who has known Shuster-Eliassi for decades, was going to come along. “She is more excited about the wedding than I am,” Shuster-Eliassi said.

In March, Haaretz, a left-wing Israeli newspaper, reported that the human-rights organization B’Tselem was “tearing apart” in the wake of the Hamas attack. A longtime employee, Roy Yellin, was suing B’Tselem for wrongful dismissal, the result of a disagreement that would seem infinitesimal to an outsider. B’Tselem had issued a statement accusing both Hamas and Israel of “flagrant disregard for the rules of international humanitarian law.” The chair of the organization wanted an announcement of the statement to be posted on Instagram, under an image of the phrase “Ceasefire Now.” Yellin, who was the director of public outreach, insisted that the image also say “to protect civilians on both sides.” He told me he felt that B’Tselem hadn’t said enough about atrocities committed by Hamas. (B’Tselem had issued a statement on October 9th condemning the attack.) The leadership of the organization overrode him. In response, he locked them out of the Instagram account. Shortly afterward, he was fired.

I met Yuli Novak, the executive director of B’Tselem, who is also a friend, at a café in Tel Aviv. “You are either on the Israeli side or the Hamas side,” she said, describing the public mood. “To be pro-Israel, you have to not only condemn Hamas but also say that everything that’s happening in Gaza is Hamas’s fault. To be pro-human is not an option.” The café was decorated with golden statuettes of gummy bears, with black ribbons covering their eyes. An employee explained that the bears had been in the café “before,” but that the black ribbons were added “after.” Novak laughed nervously and said, “Everyone is trying to do something.”

I asked whether such gestures reflected a sense of helplessness or a desire for belonging. “I have this yellow ribbon on my scooter, and it means a lot of things,” Novak told me. “It means that there is something wrong and it’s not a minor thing. More than two hundred people kidnapped. But also, the mass killing and the mass destruction that we have imposed on Gaza, on the Gazans—people are suffering, children are suffering, the numbers are huge, and I’m an Israeli. I can dedicate my life to making Israel more like a place that reflects my values, but it’s still the starting point, that identity.”

Amid the fear and the despair of the last few months, a handful of Israelis have stepped forward to articulate a message of hope for the land. “Hope becomes a topic of interest in dark times,” Oded Adomi Leshem, a political psychologist at Hebrew University, told me. On October 13th, Oxford University Press published his book, titled “Hope Amidst Conflict,” in which Leshem proposes a “bi-dimensional” model of hope, where one dimension is “wish” (how much someone wants peace) and the other dimension is “expectation” (how likely someone thinks peace is). Leshem sees an opportunity in the current moment to “focus on the wish dimension” and offer Israelis a vision of peace that is “concrete, simple.” He plans to assemble a sort of focus group of a thousand people, and then use artificial intelligence to synthesize ideas of what peace in Israel/Palestine could feel, sound, and smell like.

Maoz Inon, a social entrepreneur, once proposed to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through tourism. In 2005, he began building a chain of hostels and tour companies throughout Israel and the occupied territories. The concept, not that dissimilar from the original idea of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, was that bringing together Jews and Palestinians, fostering trust, and building economic mechanisms for local communities could sow the seeds of peace. On October 7th, Inon’s parents were killed by Hamas fighters, as were several of his childhood friends. Within weeks, Inon was calling for a renewed joint peace movement. “All conflicts end one day,” he told me. “It’s up to us to decide when.” Another Jewish Israeli who has cautioned against revenge is Yonatan Zeigen, the son of Vivian Silver, the murdered Canadian Israeli activist. In November, when it was still believed that Silver was being held hostage in Gaza, Zeigen said to an interviewer, “Dead babies in Gaza won’t heal our dead babies. The only way to move forward is with peace.”

In 2017, Sally Abed, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who grew up in a village in western Galilee, joined Standing Together, an organization that aspires to build a Palestinian-Jewish mass movement for a joint future. The group has grown significantly in the past year, reaching nearly six thousand dues-paying members, with fourteen chapters around the country. After October 7th, Abed and one of Standing Together’s other leaders, Alon-Lee Green, who is Jewish, went on two speaking tours of the United States. Abed has no illusions about what makes the organization such an appealing face of hope—they are addressing Jews as partners. In March, when Standing Together organized a convoy of food aid to Gaza, the group documented the convoy’s journey on Instagram, with commentary emphasizing how the effort would benefit Israeli hostages: “When there is hunger in Gaza, they’re also hungry.”

Some on the Israeli left cringed. Abed has no time for purists. “It’s an immense privilege to be able to speak, and I’m not giving that up for performative statements,” she said. “What gives us our safety is the very basic question of any politics. That’s literally the existential question the Israeli public is living with. And no one is giving them an answer except the right.” The convoy never made it to Gaza—it was stopped by Israeli forces—and the food was eventually distributed to families in the West Bank.

Near the end of my trip, I saw Novak again, at an iftar dinner in Um al-Kheir, a Bedouin village in the South Hebron Hills. The Jewish settlement of Carmel—rows of stucco houses with red roofs—had begun on the hill above Um al-Kheir, and now its chain-link fence butted up against the biggest tent in the village. B’Tselem activists had come with three European diplomats to hear firsthand accounts of the ramped-up pressure and violence that the villagers had faced since October 7th. Among other things, the settlers had been blocking the use of Um al-Kheir’s own pastureland. The village’s goats and sheep were now wandering between tents, looking emaciated.

At sundown, a dinner of lamb and rice was served, and Novak stood up to speak. “I don’t know how you feel, but most of the time I feel quite lonely, because my society doesn’t speak the same language,” she said, addressing about sixty people who had gathered in the big tent. “When I’m here, I know that we all share the same values and goals, and these goals are to end the occupation and apartheid.” Behind her, on the other side of the fence, two or three settler men were pacing back and forth. They were dressed in military uniforms and carrying guns.

Nearly everyone I spoke to on my visit to Israel—even lifelong peace activists—talked about leaving the country. In Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, there were rumors that some of the people who could afford it, both Palestinians and Jews, had bought backup apartments in places such as Cyprus or Greece; some of the younger people had already moved abroad or were making plans to. Yair Ben Shabath, the businessman who throws barbecues for soldiers, said, “Physically, I am here, but mentally I am starting to leave.”

On the morning of October 7th, when reports of the Hamas attack on Kibbutz Be’eri and other parts of the south began coming in, Ben Shabath wrote in the village WhatsApp chat, “May God have mercy on the children of Gaza.” He explained, “I knew that Be’eri would be over in a couple of days. But in Gaza it would be a holocaust.” A Jewish neighbor immediately replied that God should have mercy on all of the children. Weeks later, a Palestinian neighbor referred to Itamar Ben-Gvir, the extremist right-wing minister of national security, as a Nazi. Ben Shabath was still upset about the comment when we spoke this spring. “It is a holocaust,” he said. “But we are not Nazis. The holocaust is a result of what happened. But we didn’t build a killing machine like the Nazis. And we didn’t kill them because they are Arabs.” (Ben Shabath now says that “holocaust” does not accurately describe the situation in Gaza.)

I have been visiting Israel for decades. This was the first time that the psychic divide between most left-wing Jews and settlers seemed smaller than that between left-wing Jews and Palestinians. One longtime Jewish anti-occupation activist said that he had been inconsolable for months following October 7th. Part of the tragedy, for him, was what he experienced as the silence of his Palestinian colleagues and collaborators. “It’s not easy to reach across and say, ‘This is horrible,’ ” the activist acknowledged. “I think of it as training a muscle. Some Israelis are trained—that’s not because we are better people, it’s because we are citizens of a bad country.” In recent months, some Palestinian colleagues have reached out privately, but two things are missing for him: a public expression of solidarity on the part of Palestinian human-rights activists and a reassurance that they see a just future in which Palestinians and Jews can live together. He’d previously had “a growing sense of camaraderie based on a shared vision and a sense of urgency.” Now, he went on, “I’m not confident what remains of that vision.”

In the days following October 7th, many Palestinian citizens of Israel were silent because they were terrified—scared of Hamas, of right-wing violence, and of the Israeli state, which immediately started cracking down on Palestinian speech. Also, they are human. If you are a Palestinian and your first thought, however fleeting, wasn’t about the suffering of your own people—the displacement, the occupation, the decades of violence and harassment—and the retaliation to come, then you are superhuman. Many Israeli Jews who have worked against the occupation for years, who were targeted by their own government and ostracized by their own neighbors and families, expected their Palestinian counterparts to be superhuman at this moment—because the Jewish activists felt that they’d been superhuman for Palestinians. To the Palestinians, though, these activists had simply been a small minority of Israeli Jews who were honest and decent.

When I told a friend in Ramallah about what Novak calls “the condemnation discourse,” she asked, “Still?” My friend didn’t mean that the atrocities committed by Hamas had been somehow diminished by the passage of time, just that the need to state the obvious might have lost its urgency in the face of ever more human suffering. But for most Israelis, including on the left, the urgency seems only to have grown, and for many of them, it has made it close to impossible to see the suffering of the Palestinians. Even Maoz Inon acknowledged, “The gap between Israelis and Palestinians was never as wide as it is today.”

Maayan Schwartz, a filmmaker who grew up in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, told me that the tensions in the village were mostly playing out in the WhatsApp group. “When I go to pick up my daughter from kindergarten, or in the street, it’s all normal,” he said. He lives on the first floor of his parents’ old house. His brother, Omer, and his family are on the floor above. Maayan is tall and lanky, with a trimmed beard. Many of my questions—about military service, about the relationship between Palestinian and Jewish residents—made him fidget. After high school, he joined the military. He was never in combat; he spent his three years of service fixing computers. Still, the parents of some of his classmates—he was the only Jewish boy in his year—did not accept his decision to serve. “To this day, I am having a conversation in my mind with people in the village about going to the Army,” he said. The arguments against it, he went on, are “very much pacifist, and I don’t think I am a pacifist. I don’t think you can be a pacifist in this part of the world.”

A week later, I hung out with Maayan and several of his childhood friends on Omer’s balcony. Most of the friends were Palestinians. One was still living in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom; a few others were visiting during the final week of Ramadan. They drank wine, smoked joints, and talked about their feelings of uncertainty. Carlo, who works as a reflexologist in Jerusalem, said that business had never been better—people had never been so tense—but that he was afraid his clients would realize he was Palestinian. He was considering a move to Berlin. Omer, a visual-effects artist, talked about the absurdity of being offered a pension plan when it felt as if the world were ending. They talked about propaganda on television and Israelis’ inability to understand why the world’s support for their country was faltering.

They were like brothers, Maayan said: instead of growing up with large extended families, as Palestinians often do, they grew up with one another. Even those who were living outside of Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom remained a part of the community, voting members of the village, and active participants in the WhatsApp group. They were, in other words, living the model that their parents had hoped to build: two people, one place, where no one is going anywhere and everyone must learn to live together. They agreed on most things—justice, equality, an end to the occupation. They disagreed on military service, a subject that they had learned to avoid.

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