A Pilgrim's Notebook - Chapter 9

Pilgrim notes #9 - Dalia's House (see footnote)
Tuesday: 03/14/2000

Cyrus, the king of Persia said, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you - - may the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up." 2 Chronicles 36:23

Thus ends the Babylonian exile and begins the return of the Jews to their promised land. These are the last words in the Hebrew scripture, acording to the rabbinic ordering of the biblical books. With these words, the people of Israel were called home again in the twentieth century. With these words, Yehezkel Landau, born in Chile, raised and educated in the United States, returned to Israel, but with a peace and justice calling to "Consecrate this space together as heirs to the legacy of Abraham."

A stated goal of our course at St. George's College is "To understand some of the contemporary issues in Israel-Palestine." To that end we have met with Christian Palestinian leaders and Muslim Palestinian leaders. This day we met with Jewish and Palestinian peace leaders in a remarkable partnership, the Open House. Yehezkel Landau is the Administrative Director of Open House. Yehezkel's story, and the story of Open House, pivots on the life of his wife Dalia. Although Yehezkel lectured us for nearly an hour before we departed for Open House, saying he would talk about Dalia's story in the last five minutes, he actually ended up telling us Dalia's remarkable story over the PA system in the bus during most of the hour long ride to Ramle on the coastal plain west of Jerusalem.

Dalia Eshkenazi Landau was born in December 1947 in Bulgaria. Her family emigrated to Israel 11 months later in 1948 along with 50,000 other Bulgarian Jews, the only one on their clap trap ship that did not get seasick. They arrived in the middle of the war of survival and were placed in a camp for transients.

The family was told they had the opportunity to move into vacant houses, mainly in Jaffa, Lydda and Ramle, that had been abandoned by Arab occupants fleeing the advancing Israeli forces. Saying yes to the miracle offer, the family moved into their new home in Ramle, that years later was bought by her father from the state. So, Dalia grew up in that house which they grew to love.

One day in 1967, shortly after the Six-Day War, when Dalia was home from university at Tel Aviv for summer break, the bell rang at the front gate and Dalia answered. There she saw three Arab men, immaculately dressed in jacket and tie despite the summer heat (Israeli men never wear coat and tie). One of the men introduced himself to her as Bashir Al-Khayri and said that he had been born in that house, was forcibly evicted in July 1948, and since the occupation of the West Bank by Israel, could only just now return to Ramle from Ramallah. Dalia's family never knew that the former Palestinian occupants/owners had actually been evicted and moved by government.

Dalia graciously welcomed the visitors, prepared some refreshments as she let them walk through the house and garden in total silence feeling like they were treading in a sanctuary. Later, Dalia talked with her guests for some time. Before they left, Bashir invited her to visit the Al-Khayris in Ramallah, which she did.

Far apart politically, Bashir was active in the Palestinian resistance. He was arrested several times, convicted, imprisoned, and finally deported, and made his way to Jordan where he lived with his wife and children until he was able to return to the West Bank in 1996.

When Dalia's parents died, she inherited the house as sole legal owner under Israeli law. Dalia and Yehezkel sought out Bashir to consult with him on what they might do with what Dalia insisted was theirs together. Bashir, moved by the gesture, entered into a series of discussion about the future use of the Ramle house. Bashir proposed that it become a preschool for Arab children and the Landaus accepted this idea enthusiastically. Dalia, and Yehezkel also felt that it should be a center for Arabs and Jews to meet one another in joint activities to overcome prejudices and fears and to forge a common future. And so Open House was created to serve these two interrelated goals, both of which promote coexistence based on equality of services and opportunities.

In April 1991, the Open House was launched in the Ramle house with a tutorial program for Arab elementary school children. In October the first Arabic-speaking day-care center was started in the city where 18% of the population are Arabs (35% of which are Christians, quite a bit higher than most). The day-care currently serves 35 children. A Peace Camp was added in 1992 for Palestinians and Jews, but in the first year they had to import Jewish children from the camps of recent arrivals from Russia. After the third year, local Jewish children began participating in significant numbers.

Bashir is Muslim and Dalia and Yehezkel are Jewish. The third leg of the Abrahamic triad was filled by Michail Fanous, a Palestinian Anglican whose family has lived in Ramle for over 700 years. In 1948, they were favored by providence and not required to become refugees. When Michail heard the project was looking for a director, he immediately signed on. Michail is active in local politics and has served for over 11 years on the city council. In the new city government he was invited to join the dominant Likud-led coalition government. Through these activities, the Open House has received official city recognition.

Projects like Open House, are working to improve the long-range peace prospects in Israel-Palestine before official peace is made by politicians. Through such efforts spearheaded by individuals, all of the people of Israel and Palestine might live out their Abrahamic legacy, "through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me." Genesis 22:18

You may visit the Open House through their web sites at:
Open House
Friends of Open House

footnote: On April 23rd, Yehezkel Landau wrote to me after reading this article on-line regarding my thoughts about running an article about Open House in an upcoming Interchange. One of the things he suggested was that this story might more appropriately be named "Dailia and Bashir's House" since it is not just Dalia's house as is made clear in the story. Two things kept me from doing quite that. One reason is that the suggested name doesn't quite have a ring to it. The larger reason is that the story is written thru the eyes of Dalia, as told by her husband, about what she learned about "her house" and how that experience not only resulted in this ministry but how this knowledge transformed her own life.


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