by Ralph Benko
Recently, in the offices of the Mayor of the city of Nablus, Palestine, the missing pieces that would permit a just and lasting peace in the Middle East to flourish may have been presented. If harmony can be restored (as it can) within the social fabric that underlies the political fabric, peace finally becomes a possibility. If women, who are respected, not marginalized, in Palestinian and Israeli society will take center stage a fundamental rapprochement can be effected. Might this happen?
On February 14th, an American resident of Israel, Sharon Sullivan, who leads a gallant, if tiny, new group called “the Fellowship of Mothers” met with nine Palestinian women leaders under the generous auspices of Ghassan W. Shakaa, Mayor of Nablus, and Benyamim and Yefet Tsedaka, two social leaders of the Israelite-Samaritan community, and three members of the Samaritan Committee of the Mount Gerizim Community over Nablus. The meeting was led by Third Deputy Mayor Rima M. Zeid Al-Keilani.
This is not just one more story of an admirable but marginal “women for peace” movement. This is “women for harmony,” a subtle but profound distinction. The Fellowship of Mothers, while tiny, is possessed of an extraordinarily powerful narrative.
Its narrative was formulated with the key guidance of an internationally admired USC management professor, a paradigm shifter, Dave Logan, co-author of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization:
God had a plan for the descendants of both Sarah (the Hebrew matriarch of the Israelites) and Hagar (the Egyptian matriarch of the Arabs). To not allow Hagar’s offspring [the Ishmaelites] to be a great nation goes against God’s will. To not allow Sarah’s children to live in peace is also a violation of God’s will. There were promises made, and hope given, by the same God to both women. So God bridges the divide between “us” and “them.”
As Sullivan trenchantly observes: “We are outraged at the idea that the family relationship is denied by claims of Israelis being Western implants and of Palestinians not being accorded equal rights in the land that was, and under conditions of harmony, soon again would be, flowing with milk and honey. We focus on this as a ‘lie of men’ with indignation, rejecting it.”
The essence of the genius of the tiny Fellowship of Mothers is that peace is an outcome, not an input. Peace is the natural state resulting from social harmony. And social harmony comes from a high social rapport … which can be established.
While not implying that any political changes are in order — assuredly that would be premature, political structures typically following, rather than leading, the social consensus — it should be obvious by now that it is impossible to impose peace diplomatically — whether from the United Nations, or Washington, London, Moscow, or Oslo — or politically … from Jerusalem (known by the Arab branch of this family as Al Quds) — the capital both of Israel and Palestine. We now have not peace but an uneasy truce.
Peace can no more be forced to flower than a flower can be forced to blossom. Peace only can be, yet will be, an outcome of social harmony. Men, intrinsically more bellicose than women, have failed to deliver it. People who authentically like and respect one another can work through any problem. Antagonists, however, always will find a pretext for fighting. Only women, and, especially, mothers (such as Sullivan), have the discernment and innate authority to create, indeed insist upon, mutual respect and, with it, social harmony.
So the missing piece for Peace: resolve the underlying cause of strife rather than tussling with the symptoms. This calls for effecting a “family reconciliation” leading to vibrant social harmony. To accomplish this requires the formal recognition of the unique, and necessary, exercise of authority by women. Men have failed, for almost 4,000 years, to effect harmony between the descendants of two of the sons of the same great-grandfather, their mutual Patriarch, Abraham. Time for the daughters of Abraham to take on the responsibility and assert their authority.
Mayor Shakaa, himself a holder of the Samaritan Medal of Peace (2006), courageously organized for Sullivan the opportunity to meet with nine social lionesses of Nablus, among them Miriam Altif, an Israelite Samaritan. It took courage for Sullivan to accept this invitation. The trip from Jerusalem to Nablus is not for the faint of heart. Sullivan was accompanied only by her doughty Israeli fiancée, Haimon Eretz, and by Daniel Estrin, an AP reporter and Sullivan’s friend. She was received in Nablus by, in addition to her Palestinian hosts, a delegation of Israelite-Samaritans from their nearby Mountain of Blessings community, Kiryat Luza.
There is authentic historic significance to the presence of the Samaritans, the descendants of the northern Israelite tribes. Few are unfamiliar with the parable, told by Jesus, of the “Good Samaritan.” Far fewer know who the Samaritans are: the authentic representatives of the famed legendary “Lost Tribes of Israel” … who staged a tax revolt upon the death of Solomon.
Solomon’s son, as recorded in the Biblical books of Kings and Chronicles, ascending to power, confronted a very Tea-Party-like revolt by the ten northern tribes of the Kingdom against the crushing taxes imposed by King Solomon. Solomon’s successor to the throne contemptuously ignored pleas for a tax cut and, instead, raised taxes. This precipitated secession by the ten northern tribes, who created the Kingdom of Israel centered in the land of Samaria. When, later, this nation fell to invaders its people became known as “Samaritans,” or, more accurately, the Israelite Samaritans.
Fewer still are aware that a modest, fascinating, community of Samaritans lives on to this day. Mark Twain meeting a Samaritan elder wrote of the experience, in The Innocents Abroad, as to have been “just as one would stare at a living mastodon.” There are, as of this writing, 754 Israelite Samaritans. Almost half reside in Palestine and the balance live in Israel. The Israelite Samaritans live meticulously according to millennia-old Biblical traditions. Their High Priest Aaron b. Ab-Hisda b. High Priest Jacob, is the 132nd lineal descendent of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Yes, Moses’s blood great-grandnephew is alive and well.
Of key importance, this tiny noble community lives on terms of harmony and mutual respect with both the Arabs and the Israelis — possessing dual citizenship. The Mountain of Blessings, of Biblical fame, has given the world not just a “Good Samaritan” but four clans who might be called great Samaritans: Cohen, Tsedaka, Danfi, and Marhib.
The Samaritans, as thoughtfully described by writer Benjamin Balint in Tablet Magazine, tend toward insularity. One of their social leaders, the scholarly Benyamim Tsedaka, publisher of the A-B Samaritan News, translator and editor, with co-editor Ms. Sullivan, of the first English translation of the Israelite Samaritan version of the Holy Scriptures, however, is internationally celebrated. This Great Israelite Samaritan, Tsedaka, over the last three decades, has made an annual international goodwill tour to many of the capitals, and leading cities, of the world.
During one of his goodwill tours, seven years ago, this columnist established an enduring personal friendship with Tsedaka and, later, was given the honor of serving, along with Sullivan, among others, on the board of the Samaritan Medal Foundation that Tsedaka founded and chairs. This body grants medals for Peace, humanitarian achievement, and scholarly studies. The Fellowship works inside the halo of moral authority of the only authentic Biblical Samaritans. Tsedaka, thus, is the moral godfather of the Fellowship of Mothers.
It is early in the process. But the tea party in the office of the Nablus Mayor reportedly was electric. Sullivan:
“Each woman introduced herself and told a bit of her background in business, mothering, peacemaking (and in one case – prison). Yes, we had among us a Palestinian woman who had been released in a prisoner exchange between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Haimon talked (as the only Israeli there — non-Samaritan — which was a big deal to the group of women there). Haimon’s opening line was ‘I look around and I see family. Look at us. We all look alike. One is no different than the other.’ It was sweet. He spoke of his Grandfather who was born in Gaza, long before this conflict began, to which women from Palestine exclaimed ‘You’re Palestinian!’”
The Fellowship of Mothers, like the Samaritan people, is a small group with a powerful narrative and a big commitment. And as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” May the women of Palestine and Israel now assert, under the auspices of the noble Israelite Samaritans, their authority, bring about this family reconciliation, restore social harmony, and, with harmony firmly established, show the whole world how a just and lasting peace really blossoms.
Ralph Benko, an economics policy expert living and working in Washington, DC, served on detail as deputy general counsel to an Executive Office of the President agency under President Reagan and to a Reagan presidential commission.