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It’s All In a Word: Muslim, Jewish, Friend

20 October 2010 3 Comments

Whittni Brown-Abdullah (l) and Irit Hakim-Keller

Whittni Brown-Abdullah
USA/Israel-Palestine

Whittni is an American Muslim who writes by the penname W.B.Abdullah. She traveled with her husband Hassan and their daughter to Israel/Palestine this September on pilgrimmage. Below is an account from a day they spent in Hebron with their new Jewish friend, Myron. They met Myron through fellow Peace X Peace Community member, Irit Hakim-Keller.

***
We parked by the Lone Tree and Myron filled our heads and hearts with stories of the past, present, and future. Stories of war, love, triumph, and failure. Stories of Israelis and Palestinians getting along. And stories of Israelis and Palestinians not getting along. This Lone Tree, which is more than a century old, saw it all. We were in Gush Etzion (also written as Gush Ezzyon), the Hebrew name for a group of Jewish villages established in the 1920s in the West Bank, that had been established, uprooted, and then established again many times. All the trees in this area were uprooted once upon a time under the Jordanian rule of the West Bank and East Jerusalem (1949-1967) except for this lone oak tree. Hence, its name…and its almost sacred nature to all inhabitants of this area.

Talking to Myron was as refreshing as the nice cool lemonade with mint leaves that has become my daily treat here. Hearing an American-born Israeli talk down-to-earth and honestly about the situation here gives me hope…for the future of Palestine and Israel…and for Muslim-Jewish interaction. I wish more Palestinians could meet Myron. Perhaps they would become less jaded and unify in action with him and other like-minded Palestinians, rather than consuming their souls with the feelings of hate and prejudice that I have witnessed during my stay. I think Myron wants to meet more Palestinians and Muslims. And I think if there were more people like Myron around perhaps there could be a peace here.

Then Myron surprised us. During the course of our conversation, he labels himself a Zionist and accepts the label of him as a settler. We are perplexed. How could we agree with a Zionist? How could a Zionist be so cordial to Muslims and Palestinians?

Well, my dears, it’s all in the word. Zionism has gotten a bad rap. It is responsible for so much pain and heartache. So without any prompting, Myron defined it for us in the way that fits him. We accept it, and we accept him, although we don’t like what Zionism has done to the Palestinians.

For Myron, as well as many Jews who moved to Israel, Zionism is the word that encompasses supporting the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people based on the (Biblically-speaking) historical homeland of the Jews. It is a movement saying that the Jewish people are an ummah (a nation) and are entitled to a national homeland.

During this whole stay, I’ve wondered why a people who know displacement, prejudice, racism, and nationalism all too well would do the same to others, but then again, in psychology, one learns that the abused often repeat patterns of abuse. Here, understanding requires taking a walk in the other’s shoes, both Israeli and Palestinian alike.

The Lone Tree park of Gush Ezzion and Hirbeit Zakariya

So we took a walk on the wild side. Myron invited us into his home in the kibbutz, a Jewish commune, and we accepted. There was security all around the kibbutz…it had its own little checkpoint but no one was on duty. I guess the guard was enjoying his Succoth. Myron keyed us in through his phone and off we were on our first adventure to an Israeli settlement.

It was nice. It reminded us of home. The sad thing is that the kibbutz is ten minutes walking distance from a Palestinian village and they look and feel worlds apart. In the kibbutz, we were in the First World with all the luxuries of America and the West, including toilets that you can flush paper down (a lot of the Palestinian toilets suffer from bad plumbing). In the Palestinian village, you would’ve thought we were in a commercial for aid to Africa, surrounded by flies, animals, cement, and rubbish. While the insides of Palestinian homes always look nice and relatively modern, it just doesn’t compare to an Israeli home.

We enjoyed yummy jasmine tea, cake, and fruit in Myron’s sukkah. As we still hadn’t made maghrib (sunset) prayer yet, Myron invited us to pray in his sukkah. He even chased his dog down to make sure that he didn’t bother or invalidate our prayer. Mash’Allah.

Through talking to Myron and his wife, we learned that Jews and Muslims have more in common than many think. I believe further discussions like these are necessary to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Forget the peace talks. The people of Palestine and Israel need to talk and get to know their neighbors.

We left Myron and his wife to their kibbutz and made our way back to our home in Nachlaot. We were stopped at a checkpoint and told that tourists were not allowed through. The guards thought we were coming from Bethlehem, and said that we needed to go back through Bethlehem to another checkpoint. We kept explaining to the guard that we weren’t coming from Bethlehem and didn’t even know how to get back through Bethlehem. The guard didn’t care. He wanted us to turn our car around and then he’d give us back our passports. So we turned our car around, and Hassan got out of the car to do the awesome bargaining that he always does.

Hassan walking to the checkpoint

Hassan was out of my sight for all of five minutes, but to me it seemed like an eternity. I didn’t know where he was, and based on how rude and unrelenting the guard was, and how I know my husband, I feared the worse. Was he being detained? Was I going to have to operate this car (I don’t have a driver’s license) and get my baby and me out of here? But Hassan came back with a smile.

He had pleaded and reasoned with the guard until that guard told him to talk to his captain. Hassan went to speak to the captain, who didn’t speak English and didn’t want Hassan to speak English. Hassan told him in Arabic that we were coming from a kibbutz in Gush Ezzyon. The captain was astonished. Gush Ezzyon? A kibbutz? What were Muslims doing there? Hassan told him that we were visiting our friend Myron; we were his guests during the Sukkoth. We knew about the Sukkoth? Yes, Hassan told him. The captain was dumbfounded. He asked Hassan to phone Myron. Myron didn’t pick up (we later learned he was washing dishes–he called back to check on us). The guard believed my husband anyway. I guess there were too many details on all-things-Jewish for him to be lying. We were let through the checkpoint.

For a moment there, I felt Palestinian. For a brief moment, my American citizenship didn’t even rescue me to cross the checkpoints. It was a friendship that saved me…saved us. A friendship with a Jew…an Israeli…a Zionist?!?!…Myron.

***

To follow the rest of Whittni’s 20 day pilgrimmage, check out her blog The Sandal at: http://wbabdullah.wordpress.com/

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3 Comments to “It’s All In a Word: Muslim, Jewish, Friend”
  1. irit says:

    Thank you, dearest Whittni for sharing.

    I hope people will get the right idea, by this post of yours, about the things which are going here, which are so different to what they probably know.

    I am very happy you have had the opportunity to meet Israelis, Myron- most of all- from whom you could learn a lot, and much better than one can learn from the media :)

    I hope to be meeting you again, soon.

    Much love to you three
    Irit

  2. Christine Quelch says:

    Big adventure, great way to make friends.

    However, friendliness is not going to bring peace to the Holy Land.

    THE CONFLICT IS ABOUT OWNERSHIP AND CONTROL. Most of the land owned by Jews is also ‘owned’ by Arabs. Many of the original refugees actually owned their houses or farms, and they happen to want them back, or alternatively, expect to be given full compensation. (Meanwhile, they have nowhere to live, and no national identity documents, for more than 40 years!)

    ALL the settlements are on land that belongs to Palestinians, none of it was purchased, none of it was even for sale. It was all commandeered by Israel, which has made it illegal for anyone who is not Jewish to own land, thereby negating land titles held by Arabs.

    Even if Israel trusted every Palestinian 100% not one dunum of land would be returned, in fact, more would be taken – (I can see this sentence looks very negative, but it is impossible to imagine Israel giving back even one blade of grass, based on past performances.) The Sinai was returned in exchange for peace, but the Palestinians have nothing to barter with, and many Palestinians have UN sanctioned entitlement to reclaim property within Israel.

    There are some genuine peace loving respectful Israelis such as Irit and the Myron I know, but we will be waiting until they become a numerical majority, for peace to come through friendship exchanges, and I cannot see this happening in the next 50 years, which is long enough to destabilize the entire Muslim world. What happens to Arabs in Israel creates bitterness elsewhere.

  3. Christine Quelch says:

    The Checkpoints.

    We have all heard so many bad checkpoint stories we think it is normal and natural for people to be abused and humiliated at checkpoints.

    If the IDF cannot handle everybody promptly, with dignity and respect, they should hand the job to someone who can – the UN.

    I know a retired professor who was frightened witless at a checkpoint on his way home to Bethlehem, his hometown. He was most embarrassed to admit how frightened he had been.

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