I’ve had the opportunity this year as an Elissa Froman Fellow to meet with several NIF grantees, including Ir Amim. Their tour of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas opened my eyes to a city I thought I knew. Based on this week’s parasha, I think Joseph would have been moved, too.
In Parashat Miketz, Joseph shows his rare ability to mobilize people around an impending threat beyond their line of vision: a famine slated to destroy Egypt. Indeed, Rashi translates the name that Pharoah gives Joseph — Zaphnath-Paaneah — as “he who discovers hidden things.”
Ir Amim, founded in 2000, is similarly working to help people see what is coming down the road. Ir Amim works with Israeli and Palestinian partners toward a more equitable and sustainable Jerusalem for all those who share it. They also work to help secure a negotiated resolution on the city. Through advocacy and awareness-raising activities, including the tour I went on, Ir Amim shines a light on the harsh realities facing East Jerusalem Palestinian residents, who are not Israeli citizens and lack access to many municipal services.
On my tour, we traveled by bus to Har Homa, just a short drive from the Jerusalem city center and within eyeshot of Bethlehem. Ten years ago, then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemned Israel’s plans to build hundreds of homes there, calling it a “settlement the U.S. has opposed from the very beginning.” Now, Har Homa is a thriving community with wide, pristine streets, well-equipped children’s playgrounds, and manicured topiaries.
Ir Amim’s maps, revised regularly to illustrate this rapidly changing landscape, help foreshadow what’s to come: expanding Jewish settlements like these, sandwiched between under-resourced Palestinian villages, make it substantially less and less viable for Palestinians to have a contiguous state of their own. For too many of us, it feels as though “the facts on the ground” may remain hidden until it’s too late, but Ir Amim’s work helps us visualize how the Israeli government is creating a situation where it becomes less and less likely that there will someday be an Israel living side-by-side with a Palestinian state.
As Joseph’s story teaches us, predicting the famine and preparing for it are two different things. Later in the tour, our Israeli guide lamented that, during a time of war, there’s no real way for Palestinians and Jewish Israelis to have constructive dialogue. Yet when there is relative calm and no war, people feel little reason to do so. Here again, Ir Amim bucks the trend, convening diverse stakeholders, seeking out shared interests, and identifying negotiating points for Jerusalem’s future. Like Joseph’s work of rationing grain, Ir Amim makes short-term sacrifices — naming where the Israeli government has mis-stepped and then enduring criticism for being disloyal to Israel for doing so — that may just lay the groundwork for long-term solutions.
May the examples of Joseph and Ir Amim inspire us all to confront difficult truths and make the sacrifices necessary to build a stronger, more peaceful future.