Can we make peace now? The Jews offering Muslims a date

The Jews giving Muslims fruit and flowers explain why they believe the gesture is so important right now


A Jewish man hands out dates in Jerusalem to Muslims breaking their fast (Photo: Jacob Binyamin)

 Ramadan prayers on Temple Mount have long been a tinderbox in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But for the last four years, as the sun has dipped over the Old City during the holy month, thousands of sweet treats and flowers have been handed out to Muslim fasters by their Jewish and Christian neighbours at Damascus Gate.

“People are angry, we can understand it is hard and they might have relatives in Gaza. But we have so many things in common,” says Dr Gadi Gvaryahu, the chairman and co-founder of Tag Meir, the organisation behind the initiative and whose volunteers were seen handing out the dates in a clip that went viral last weekend.

“The date is a symbol that shows we are neighbours, we care, we don’t hate, and it is a symbol of friendship,” he adds.

The tradition began in 2020, when a Jerusalem Jew and a Franciscan Christian started giving out the dried fruit, a traditional treat with which Muslims break their fast. Now dozens of volunteers join them and Tag Meir on three evenings during the holy month to hand out boxes of dried fruit, sweets and bottles of water.

“Everyone gives out the dates: Orthodox, secular, reform, conservative, Christians. It helps the giver and the receiver,” says Gvaryahu, who is an Orthodox Jew.

About 40 per cent of Jerusalem is Muslim. While Ramadan prayers in the Old City have been broadly peaceful since October 7, unsurprisingly tensions have been high.

On one occasion a Muslim prayer-goer asked why his Jewish neighbours were handing out dates. The Tag Meir volunteer said it was “to give hope that Muslim and Jew can live together”, and the man started to cry.

“Ninety-five per cent accept the dates,” says Gvaryahu, who founded Tag Meir in 2011 to build bridges between Jews and Arabs.

Tag Meir is Israel’s biggest charity that works against hate crime. It visits the victims of attacks by Jewish extremists, arranges interfaith work and fights against the far-right in the political arena. Its name, meaning Light Tag, is a deliberate response to the Tag Mehir (“price tag”) attacks on Arabs or Israeli security forces that can follow efforts to crack down on unauthorised settlement activities.

Gvaryahu is a father of five and grandfather of six with a doctorate from Hebrew University. He works full time for Tag Meir – and the dates are just part of the picture.

The organisation distributes flowers on Jerusalem Day – the Israeli holiday that commemorates the reunification of East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem following the Six-Day War – to residents of the Muslim, Christian and Armenian Quarters of the Old City ahead of the controversial Flag March, which has become associated with the far-right. Like the dates, the flowers carry a message of peace.

“It’s a complicated day, there is a huge march and it’s not simple for them [Muslim residents]. We cannot force them to celebrate this day. You don’t need to walk in their street and sing hate songs. So we give them flowers before the march. They don’t all accept, but most do,” the 68-year-old goes on.

Tag Meir is made up of 49 different organisations from across the religious and political spectrum. He says: “In the beginning we went for solidarity visits to places where extreme Jews attacked mosques, churches and monasteries, and we collected friends. After a few years they joined Tag Meir.

“We have visited every mosque and church that has been attacked in the last 12 years. Usually we come with an olive tree to show we are talking peace, we tell them that we are sorry and ashamed [for the attack] and we sit down and drink coffee. The most important thing is to be in touch with the victims,” the charity leader says.

Gvaryahu says the attacks have increased as a result of extremists “taking advantage of the war” – and also after the coalition government that included the far right formed in 2023.

The scale of the internal conflict for Israel’s soul is almost overwhelming for the coexistence activist. He says: “We have a huge fight on our hands in Israel. What will the state look like, are we going to be a Jewish democracy or a theocracy?”

Gvaryahu’s organisation appealed against far-right politician Itamar Ben Gvir’s nomination as Minister of National Security. It took the courts a year to reject Tag Meir’s appeal, but Gvaryahu stands firm in his defence of democratic institutions in Israel.

“I am religious Zionist; I believe that there is a strong connection between being Jewish and being democratic,” he says.

The charity leader became socially active after the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. He started an Orthodox synagogue in Rabin’s name in his home town of Rehovot, which is now a hub for around 100 families.

“After Rabin was assassinated by an Orthodox Jew, I understood that if we were not active then the extremists will lead the country and then we will not have a Jewish state.

“Extremists will either destroy Israel or it won’t be a democracy I want to live in any more.

“All Jewish people should join this fight; the Jewish state is not just for Jews but everyone, it’s a Jewish democracy and we should fight for it together,” he says.

As he gets ready to head to Mahaneh Yehudah Market to give away another box of dates, Gvaryahu thinks about his grandchildren. “When they ask us, what did you do? We will be able to show them”, he says.

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