Barriers to Coexistence
Last week, I went to the beach with a friend. While we were there, we ran into two of her friends. We sat together enjoying the sun, a small picnic, and the peacefulness of the sea.
If anyone saw us talking and laughing, they probably never would have guessed that I am a Palestinian and the other ladies are Jewish, and that we could possibly be having a nice time together.
I met my friend in a coexistence / photography class for Jewish and Palestinian women. Once a week for seven months, 15 women met to discuss their lives, problems, and hopes, while learning the techniques of photography.
The class was a nice break from life’s realities. Jewish and Arab women had a chance to meet, something we may not have done otherwise. But after seven months, the group did not become close or develop trust.
Even though we were there to talk about the issues that divide us, and to develop understanding, we shied away from those issues. We maintained polite, superficial relationships with each other. The last day of class each lady said a few words about what she gained. Again everyone skirted around the issue – except me.
Close to tears, I told them about the humiliating checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel, and how twice my car and belongings had been thoroughly searched by security sniffing dogs and while I waited for close to an hour – one time while I was doing my project for my coexistence class! I told them about my 81 year old father, who as a child walked unhindered from village to village, and now teenage soldiers have the power to stop his passage. And I told them about the Arab citizens of Israel being evicted from their homes, and about demolitions of Arabs homes in Israel and the West Bank. I talked about the Wall and the settlements which are eating up so much Palestinian land, and destroying families and livelihoods. And I told them that classes like this are great, but until the Israeli public sees the reality, a class such as this will never work.
My “speech” was met with total silence. Then a couple of Israeli woman told me they had no idea this happens, and they felt disappointment and shame. In those minutes, just by speaking from my heart, I made an impact.
Overcoming the barriers which have existed for 63 years is not easy. It should happen slowly because with these barriers exist discrimination, pain and mistrust.
Although there are a few mixed cities in Israel, Jews and Arabs live in different cities, and associate mostly on a work level. I have played with the idea of bringing some of my Jewish and Palestinian friends together to make simple toys and blankets to donate to needy or sick kids from both sides. It’s hard to look into the eyes of a sick or poor child, and think about politics – one sees the human being, the heart and soul, instead of the nationality. When women work together with a common goal, good things can happen. (I have already talked to a social worker about this idea.)
In the meantime, I will continue contributing to PulseWire, and other online publications in the hopes that my message will be received with open hearts and minds.