Israelis, Palestinians Defy Recent Violence To Break Fast Together

The conflict between Israel and Gaza is in its ninth day, with no obvious end in sight. Amid the violence, some Israelis and Palestinians meet to share an end-of-fast meal.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Another day's worth of rockets has flown from Gaza to Israel. Another day's worth of Israeli strikes have hit Gaza. After a cease-fire fell apart, it's not clear how this conflict ends.

MONTAGNE: But this morning, we have a story of people waging peace. However briefly, they tried to bridge their differences. The story begins with a coincidence of the calendar. NPR's Ari Shapiro explains from Jerusalem.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It's a beautiful summer night in the desert. The clouds are turning pink. The sun has just disappeared. Observant Jews and Muslims have both spent all day fasting - Jews to commemorate the beginning of the destruction of the Temple, Muslims for the holy month of Ramadan. And the two groups are meeting here together in middle of this dirt road, lined with fig trees and grape vines. And they're going to break their fast together.

SASHA LASHEM: Look, right now we're neighbors, so what are we going to do?

SHAPIRO: Sasha Leshem has come to break her fast with Palestinians. She explains that, for Jews, fasting has a specific purpose.

LASHEM: Fasting is used by Judaism to beseech God, to say, look, we're withholding pleasure from ourselves. And we're withholding food and drink, because we really want you to recognize that there's something going on that needs attention.

SHAPIRO: That little honk behind her is a friend pulling up in his car. Sasha goes to say hello in a mix of Arabic, Hebrew and English.

LASHEM: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

LASHEM: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is my duty. I have to be here, have to be here.

SHAPIRO: This Palestinian man explains, he would rather we not use his name.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm in a sensitive situation. I'm a teacher. I'm teaching students. They will accuse me with normalization.

SHAPIRO: Normalization is the opposite of resistance. Hamas practices resistance. And these people have come together to practice a little bit of normalization. The fact that this man is afraid to use his name shows what a radical act a simple evening meal can be, particularly here amid the cluster of settlements called Gush Etzion. Settlements are especially problematic, because they're built on land Israel captured in war- land the Palestinians want for their own independent state.

ALI: We are in the heart of the problem. We are in the heart of West Bank.

SHAPIRO: This is Ali. He's one of the organizers bringing people together in a place, where Palestinians and Jewish settlers often throw rocks at each other or worse, but not tonight.

ALI: Can you imagine settlers are standing with a full voice to stop violence? It never happened before. I'm not interested in talking with, you know, left-wing Tel Avivis - peacemakers who will sit in a cafe and having this, you know, peace call to stop the violence.

SHAPIRO: He says real peace will have to come from places like this, where it's tough. A settler, Rabbi Chanan Schlesinger, speaks to the group while a Palestinian man translates his words into Arabic. Schlesinger has lived here for 35 years, fulfilling divine prophecy, he says. Last year was the first time he met a Palestinian.

CHANAN SCHLESINGER: And when they told me they're afraid of me, I was blown away. What do you mean? You're afraid of me? I'm afraid of you.

SHAPIRO: I asked a 14-year-old Palestinian how often he interacts with Jews and he told me almost never. That's why his father, Ahmed Al'qum, showed up here.

AL'QUM: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: I'm 51 years old, he says. My life is done, but what about this young person? I want my son to be able to feel peaceful around Israelis. Nobody is so bold as to suggest this gathering can end the war in Gaza or even resolve tensions in the West Bank. But settler Sha'ul Judelman says if you try to plant seeds of peace without tilling the soil first, nothing will grow. Judelman is an observant Jew, who looks the part with a long beard and a yarmulke. He's also one of tonight's organizers.

SHA'UL JUDELMAN: And the way people relate to this conflict from abroad with the anger and the fury, it's like they're all for one side and the other side's wrong. Anybody who wants to know anything about this conflict should go away with one message - two sides have done a lot of right, two sides have done a lot of wrong. And the people here know that. We're on the ground. We see it.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: As the darkness settles in, people pass around dates and tea. A man sings in Hebrew and Arabic, while volunteers put out platters of chicken, salad, rice and lamb. Eventually, people say they don't want to talk on tape anymore. They've been fasting all day and it's time to eat. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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