This was our second years with university professors in an afternoon organized by the Efrat Municipality and a summer-long program at Tel Aviv University. Last year: http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/07/international-encounters.html
Two or three Efratians sat at each table, and our task was just to answer any questions the professors might have.
It's one thing to learn or teach a subject from a text book, but it's a totally different situation to see the text book come alive in front of you. Often the reality is very different from that book.
I think that's how the professors felt, as we chatted about everything from kassams, the Wall, co-existence and checkpoints. There were no right or wrong answers. The professors were visibly excited that for the first time they could meet the "settlers" about whom they'd taught their students so much. I think they were very surprised that we were very normal, very honest, very intelligent (blush) and very nice.
They had just come from a meeting with Efrat's Mayor Oded Revivi, and learned a lot about my hometown, including our problems with non-building, the Hill of Eitam and our concerns for the future of a united Gush Etzion if The Wall is finally erect outside Efrat.
As we sat in Gavna, overlooking the over-flowing town of Beitar Illit, we pointed told the professors and said, "That growing city is in Judea, beyond the Green Line. The people who live there are settlers and they are also Chassidim." The professors tried to imagine settlers who were Chassidim, but there are actually several Chassidish or Chareidi towns in Judea and Samara.
We talked about co-existence and told the professors that we had co-existence in Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) long before the government started negotiating for peace. Until then, we all had many dealings with our Arab neighbors. Some people even shopped regularly in Arab stores. There was a friendly atmosphere - or maybe you'd just say, a normal atmosphere. It was regular to interact with Arabs. But Oslo ruined it all, when the agreement separated us almost totally, and caused both sides to be wary or hateful of one another.
Thanks to the new Rami Levi supermarket at Gush Etzion Junction, my table mate, Bob Lang (head of the Efrat Religious Council), we shop together, squeeze the cucumbers together, and gripe together about the price of cottage cheese.
The professors were surprised to hear that we shop in the same store and drive on the same roads as the Arabs. They felt that maybe we settlers had a better relationship with our Arab neighbors than other Israelis inside the Green Line. That's probably true. We live with Arabs nearby and have learned to live with them. But Israelis that have never dealt with Arabs before are both frightened and scornful of them.
Well, this is all very different than what we expected, the professors said. "So what is your solution to the Israeli Palestinian problem?"
Bob Lang did not even hesitate. He said, "I would annex all of Judea and Samaria and the give the Arabs who live here citizenship."
The professors were stunned. They had never heard that point of view before. (Likud MK Tzipi Hotoveli is a proponent of this solution.)
"But demographic studies show that Arabs will become a majority in Judea and Samaria, so you would be in danger of destroying the Jewish character of Israel."
Sorry, wrong! Truthful studies have shown that the demographic time bomb theory is totally false.
You know, if someone is a professor, he should take it upon himself to read up on all the latest issues involving his subject, and to search for the truth.
These professors really didn't know much about what was going on among regular people here in Israel, but at least they wanted to find the truth and joined the international professors' group in search of the facts.
The Long Way Around
One of the professors mentioned how unfair it was for Arabs not allowed to drive directly from Hebron to Ramallah, and that because they were not allowed to drive through Jerusalem, their trip was about two hours long.
I said that I sympathized with them, but the inconvenience goes both ways. My son just moved from Bet El, where he works, to a town that was once ten minutes away. Unfortunately, since the area between his new home and work have been given to the Palestinian Authority, he has to take a long circuitous route that takes him almost an hour. That's also not fair either.
Speaking of fair, Lenny Ben David of I*Consult, said that there's nothing more unfair than for millions of travelers at airports all over the world to be forced to empty their pockets, take off their shoes and undergo tremendous security examinations. But these are simply more results of the world's actions as a result of Islamic terror.
The food at Gavna was delicious, the conversations across the table were enlightening, and it was a pleasure to meet the visiting professors, and I believe that they looked at Israel and its people with open eyes, and therefore will be able to present a truer picture of the Middle East to their students.
Thanks to my colleagues: Lenny Ben David of I*Consult, Jonathan Feldstein of Magen David Adom, Ruth Golan of the Efrat Municipality, and Col. Benzy Gruber who speaks worldwide on Army ethics.