Sometimes you have to travel far from home in order to see things that are right next to you. Last week I was in Italy engulfed by the beautifully curved, soft hills of Umbria. There I discovered again, anew, my next-door neighbor. I can only see this neighbor up close from far away in Italy rather than at home in Israel and Palestine. Oh, Bella Italia.
Italian society is far from perfect and, in many ways, is very similar to Israeli society. I often feel at home there. When you listen to Italians you feel sometimes like you are in a war zone. They face so many challenges and have never made peace with themselves. Divisions lie along the country's geographic borders -- north vs. south -- religion and politics, right against left, immigrants and so on. There is a fair amount of indifference -- many who care only about themselves and too many neo-Fascists.
Similarly to Israel, I thank God -- and God is very relevant in Italy -- that you can find enough good people in Italy. The country's Fabios, Randas, Silvios, Erics and Susans will never give up on their beloved Italy, nor will the world. They call it, 'For Peace' ('Per La Pace') but their concept of peace is much wider and more comprehensive than mine; than ours.
Here in Israel, when we say "peace" we think about a limited political solution for our endless bloody conflict. Something between a ceasefire agreement and a real estate deal. When Italians say peace, they dig deeper. They mean peace with the earth, peace in schools, peace in the family, with the immigrants, the poor, at work, in the cities and in the world in general. Nothing is beyond their scope of responsibility. They bring together people from many conflict zones: from Afghanistan and from Hiroshima, students and spiritual leaders and so on.
During my trip to Italy I participated in a truly inspirational event that epitomized this vision of peace: the Perugia-Assisi Peace March. Months of preparations, workshops, teaching and public affairs preceded the event. And then, finally, everything came to fruition; the convoy started to move. More than 100,000 people walked together as one, as equal partners, for the well being of humanity. The procession started in beautiful Perugia and ended in the sacred Assisi, the birth place of St. Francis, the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, or, as they are more commonly known, the Franciscans.
It was a sight to be seen by all. It was colorful, exciting, inspiring and moving. It was a jolt of optimism against oceans of stupidity and evilness.
And there, amongst the masses, I met my neighbor, Yusuuf, the mayor of Bir Zeit, a beautiful village on the other side of the separation wall. There is no peace between my Israel and his Palestine. Actually, thanks to Israel's short sightedness, where leaders prefer occupation, settlements and violence over the "risks" of peace, there is no Palestine, yet. So Yusuuf is, officially, my enemy. But he is not. I refuse to accept the right of my government to decide for me who is my foe and who is my friend.
In Umbria we discovered that we share the same values, language, and aspiration for a better world. We say 'Yes' to peace, equality, human rights and justice and 'No' to occupation, violence and stupidity. In Italy we made a personal peace between us that no wall can block, no politician can or should kill.
From far away -- all the way in Italy -- the details are so clear. Peace is possible, peace is necessary; peace is wider and deeper than the absence of war. Peace is about friendship and life, about harmony, values and goodness. Peace is a universal struggle that has not yet been resolved. Peace belongs to its partners who cooperate beyond walls, barbed wires, social barriers, economic differences, stereotypes, prejudices, fears and traumas. Peace belongs to those who dare to trust. Peace is essentially the same in Italy, Israel, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Tibet. I know. I met them all last week in Umbria and we are all full of energy. We are on the move and will eventually prevail.