A rabbi and a Palestinian farmer are neighbors, partners – and friends

Israeli Shaul David Judelman and Palestinian Ziad Abed Sabateen plan to open an organic farm together that will sell vegetables and support families in need.

Courtesy of Udi Goren
Shaul David Judelman (l.) and Ziad Abed Sabateen, in Bethlehem. They want to create an organic farm in the West Bank as a project for peace.

Shaul David Judelman is an Israeli rabbi who moved from Seattle to Bat Ayin, a religious community in the occupied West Bank.

Ziad Abed Sabateen is a Palestinian farmer who endured imprisonment during the first intifada against the Israelis more than 20 years ago and whose family was dispossessed of most of its land to accommodate Jewish settlers.

The two men are good neighbors, friends, and business partners – not enemies.

Mr. Judelman and Mr. Sabateen are committed to "peaceful coexistence" between Israelis and Palestinians, whether they live together in one state or two separate states.

The majority of those in both their camps may find it hard to understand the two men's close relationship. But neither side repudiates them as traitors or collaborators.

"A few months ago, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Palestinian taxi; the client was burned very badly," Judelman recalls, one hand clasping the zizit (knotted fringes) of his tallit (prayer shawl), the other curling his peyots (sidelocks), all symbols of his status as an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jew.

"Afterwards, I went with my wife to visit them. It's like God's design that there would be a news camera while we were there. They've shown a clip of me praying with the brother, one of the kids. When people in Bat Ayin saw that, they're like, 'What are you doing? You're claiming the guilt....'

"But at the same time a lot of people also came forward and said, 'Shaul, right on that you went there. It was such a good thing to do.' Some said they also wanted to go to the hospital. So, even within the [Israeli] settlement, you have lots of different voices."

A similar episode happened with Sabateen, who lives in the Palestinian village of Husan. "Once a kid stabbed a [Jewish] settler, and I offered to be a mediator between the families of the attacker and of the victim," he says, his Hebrew translated into English by Judelman. "It was possible to reestablish the harmony without calling [in] the [Israeli] army, which would make matters worse. This is a method of solving problems that we are now testing."

Recently Judelman went to meet Sabateen to trade a big empty container for two filled with Sabateen's olive oil. They shared wide smiles and a brotherly embrace.

Afterward, they went off to inspect the soil and water of the green fields teeming with trees, flowers, herbs – and scenic hidden springs. The terrain they walked is difficult but of stunning beauty, almost like a metaphor of their comradeship.

It is here, on a mountaintop with a view of the Mediterranean Sea, that Judelman and Sabateen plan to create the Heavens Field Farm, which will put "emphasis on belonging to the land, not ownership of it," according to their joint manifesto.

Their idea is to run an organic farm that will sell vegetables in local markets, support families in need, and attract volunteers and tourists. Among their partners are a joint Israeli Palestinian journal, called Maktub, and other nonpolitical groups such as Eretz Shalom (Land of Peace).

It will not be easy to surmount the bureaucratic and security obstacles enforced by both

Why did he forgive the Israelis?

"I asked myself: Is this the right way or not? I went through difficult times. If I keep walking this path [of armed resistance], what am I going to get? If one bullet kills me, what do I give to my nation and to the world? I found that the way to peace is the best one. Blood just means blood. Revenge just means more vengeance.

"To change what one thinks is not easy," Sabateen adds. "I thought that the uprising was the way, but it will only destroy us. I was among the first associates of Combatants for Peace [a group of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants]. One day, I was told that a group of [Israeli] settlers was coming to protest [for peace] and ordered to check it out.... I never heard before of settlers wanting peace.

"So now, I consider them part of the solution and not the only problem."

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