David R.* participated in the Allgenders Seminar in 2019. At the time, he talked about his time in the Army, his experiences at the seminar, and his plan to completely cut all ties with the Army and refuse reserve service (see interview in the 2019 Annual Report). More than a year later, David spoke again with Schulamith Weil.
S.W.: What are you doing right now? What are you working on?
D.R.: I have been working at the Jerusalem Botanical Garden for two years. I am the head of the „Community and Sustainability“ department. (…) The idea of the work area is to figure out how the Botanical Garden as a place can have an impact on people’s lives in the city – also beyond the fences of the garden. We aim to bring a diverse community into the garden, but also go out and have an impact in the society. (…)
Jerusalem is a very diverse place. It has 900,000 inhabitants, about 300,000 belong to the Orthodox society, 300,000 to the Arab society, most of them living in East Jerusalem, and another 300,000 people, some of whom are not religious and some of whom belong to conservative communities. It is also a place of great social contrasts, poverty and wealth coexist closely.
All the complexity that is concentrated in this city is one of the reasons why I chose to live here, to be active here and to try to bring about a change.
The Botanical Garden is a ’neutral‘ place, both, politically and religiously, so it can be a meeting place. On vacations, you see many Orthodox families there, as well as Arab families from the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Not everyone feels comfortable in every place, sometimes not even in the municipal squares or public parks. We try to make the place accessible to as many different parts of society as possible: We have an Arabic education department with tours in Arabic for groups from schools and kindergartens from the East Jerusalem neighborhoods and also tours for groups from the Orthodox neighborhoods.
One of the biggest programs I implement is the ‚educational garden‘: We create educational vegetable gardens with wooden raised beds and an irrigation system in schools in East Jerusalem and in Orthodox schools. We show teachers and educators how to teach children about nature, agriculture, nutrition and health. My team also includes an Arabic-speaking coordinator who lives in both East Jerusalem and Ramallah. (…)
S.W.: Do you design the program in such a way that it is open to all parts of society in East Jerusalem as well, or is that also the official intention?
D.R.: Unlike other organizations, that is the intention of the Botanical Garden. And that is very important to me and also to my team. That is the spirit that I bring to our department and to the projects and one of the reasons why I decided to move to Jerusalem and work here.
S.W.: Let’s go back to 2019. Do you remember how you felt after the seminar? How did things go for you after that?
D.R.: For me it was a very powerful and meaningful experience. It was exactly what I needed, because at the time I was looking for opportunities for partnerships with Palestinians and at the same time I was working through my relationship with the army and the conflict in general.
Two months after we got back from Germany, I flew to Toronto for another seminar called „Liberation Journey,“ or „Peace of Mind“ in English. It is offered by an organization that deals with post-traumatic disorders of soldiers. They invite units that have served together in the military to week-long seminars to process the emotional experience of military service. Usually this happens many years after the service. We went 14 years after our military service. I came to this meeting with my comrades, some of whom are very far to the right; even back in the army they had different opinions. The experience from the seminar in Germany gave me a different motivation to participate.(…) The seminar in Toronto gave us a safe space to share our experiences. The soldiers talked about their deployments and how much the experience still accompanies and hurts them today. The army trains you to act quickly and with harshness, to take care of yourself and to fulfill any orders. Then you leave the army, but these habits remain in civilian life, where these reactions no longer fit. My former comrades told me how it affected their lives, even their partnerships.
I felt that after meeting the Palestinians, where I shared and experienced very hard and painful things, I came to this meeting in Toronto differently. I had a lot to contribute: my own experience as a soldier and the perspective of the Palestinians that I had learned about in Walberberg.
During the seminar in Germany, I was still in reserve service. The seminar in Walberberg encouraged me to enter a new phase of my life and to leave the army behind. The greatest difficulty for me was to bear the social cost of this decision to my family and especially to my comrades in the Army and to say, „I am quitting reserve service.“ But the experience at Walberberg gave me the strength to talk about it with my Army comrades. At the end of a long process, I have now left the Army a month ago. Today I am standing between the chairs, but they can no longer suddenly call me up.
S.W.: Did you talk about your experience in Walberberg at the seminar in Canada? Did that have an influence on your conversation?
D.R.: It was very interesting to my comrades, because it connected with their stories of encounters with Palestinians*, things they did that they regret and that still bother them today. I think it also opened a kind of window for them to meet Palestinians who they have only met in uniform. (…)
S.W.: Do you still have contact with other participants from the seminar?
D.R.: There were some meetings of the Israeli group, we tried to stay in touch, but then Corona came. We met online, but that was a challenge. I was a bit involved in the demonstrations that have been going on in the country for five months. I live not far from Balfourstreet, I went there a lot and we talked a lot about it. (…) For four years now I have been going to the Combatants for Peace joint ceremony on Remembrance Day, this year it took place online, but only those who follow their activities see that. There have been attacks on Palestinian olive groves again recently, so they have been trying to organize protests. I also know activists, but I have not yet managed to become active there myself.
I have not really succeeded in creating a kind of continuation of the seminar process. Whereby I think that the refusal of the reserve service and my current work are not insignificant. But to stay in personal contact with the Palestinian participants or to create joint projects, these are things that I have not managed to do, to my regret.(…) We planed to organize a meeting with the Palestinians for several months now, somewhere in nature where everyone can go. I hope that it will happen, maybe at the Dead Sea.
Shortly after the seminar we talked about joint meetings, then the focus shifted to uni-national processes of the Israeli group around Nonviolent Communication. The further back the seminar goes, the harder it becomes as the reality of others is less present. I am in touch with some on Facebook, now and then we send pictures and follow each other. This shows that our connection still exists. It is not normal to be friends on Facebook, to like, to write comments, because it is publicly visible.