They arrived one at a time. I reached out my hand to a slim grey haired woman and said, it is a pleasure to meet you. She tersely replied that she would let me know at the end of the evening whether it was a pleasure to meet me. Brenda, a relatively new friend had generously invited a small group of her friends to her home in the hills of Jerusalem. I told her I was collecting miracle stories and although she could not promise her friends had any, she would invite them and together we would see what emerged.
The sunset had recklessly splashed pink and orange all over the horizon and the colour was dripping down over the buildings.
I asked the eight women who were sitting in Brenda’s living room what brought them to a conversation about miracles and was told, it was their scepticism. This was not going to be easy. I shared a few miracles to start the ball rolling but was told these stories have no real meaning for them. So what does have meaning for you, I asked.
In a gruff and slightly irritated voice one woman said she had a strong reaction to the word miracle. It just doesn’t fit in life in Israel. Life was hard and getting harder. She had never known a day without something terrible happening here. There are no miracles here.
Marilyn, had arrived in Israeli in 1961 as a young bright eyed eighteen year old. She fell in love at the age of twenty married an Israeli man. In the next six years she had three children. She and her husband worked hard to make a life. Inflation, war and security were the primary issues. Everyone was listening and nodding. She was telling their story too.
“In some ways it is a miracle I am still here,” she said, shacking her head. “I have lived through the Six Day war, the War of Attrition in 1968, the Yom Kippur war in 1973, the Lebanon war in 1978 and 1982 and 1987. The Persian Gulf war, the Hezbollah war in 2006 and the war in Gaza in 2008. We are sick and tired of war. We, all of us here have been working towards peace since the day we arrived. We have all but lost faith in our politicians.
Women like myself work hard to break to cycle of fear and humiliation by reaching out to other women on the other side. We meet, Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs to find ways to build a new ground of peace that our leaders on both sides seem unable to do. In 2001 we heard about a woman called Lia Nirgad and we joined her organisation called Machson Watch. Two of us at a time used to go to check posts and just witness what was happening. We support the soldiers in behaving respectfully and when something happens we ask them why. They don’t have to pay any attention at all to us, but our presence sets them a type of challenge. Even though they see us as elderly aunts who are driving them nuts, we bring to the checkpoints an effect of sanity, something extra-army, and that stops the knee-jerk reactions for a moment. They are compelled to stop for a moment. When a soldier tells us `I can’t do that,’ we say `Yes, you can.’ At that point he has a choice.”
“We all do our part to make this place a better one. She looked around the room and caught the eye of another woman who then nodded her permission.”
“Only yesterday”, said Marilyn, “Anita and I were sitting in the tent with Noam and Aviva Shalit.”
“Along with dozens of other people we sat with these parents to show our support for their son, and in so many ways he is now our son, to be returned. It is time.”
So you talk about miracles? I don’t see any miracles here.
But I did.
Gilad Shalit was captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006, was at the time still being held by Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, for four years. Hamas demanded the release of more than a thousand Palestinian soldiers held in Israel in exchange for the Israel Defence Forces soldier’s freedom. His freedom became a reality on October 18, 2011.