Palestinians, Israelis Shape New Reality through Dialogue (Part II)
“I met fun, life-loving people, not like what I’m used to from the Occupation setting. I was used to meeting Palestinians while I was in uniform. I had never seen a Palestinian smile before. ” – Yuval, an Israeli
Dialogue sessions open the door to a new reality, giving victims in Israel and the Palestinian territories a chance to discover the humanity in one another, something that seemed inconceivable before. Faras, Goni, Fadwa and Yuval continue their challenge to question their existing life of war and fear by asking questions and telling their stories.
Faras described the discovery of an inner peace and freedom after expressing his narrative and gaining sensitivity to new friends’ narratives. “First of all, it was the first time ever in my life to talk to someone from the other side, to live with them, eat with them, and talk to them in such an environment in which I would not feel oppressed. It taught me how to look on others as humans, and deal with them as humans, it made me feel the missing inner peace. During that project, we felt each other’s pain. We shared smiles and tears. We had bonds of humanity growing up between all of us, which made us cry at the end, leaving that place in which we became friends, leaving the place that saw many of us, including me, make their hopes of peace and a better future alive again.”
This was also Fadwa’s first time to meet the “other side” and talk to them. Fadwa recalls her first conversation with an Israeli girl upon entering their dormitory. “I felt that she is so close to me. I felt that the wall between us is disappearing step by step and that I did the first step by talking with her. Then I said to myself that she is treating me in a humane way. She is not like the army who killed my dad in a cruel way. She is completely different. That made me think carefully about Israelis, that maybe there’s a real human person inside of them.
The next day we had our breakfast together and the Israeli girl introduced me to the other Israelis. That was my next step. We shared our breakfast together, and we sat at the same table beside each other without fears. We laughed, talked, and ate. It was the same as if I was talking to Palestinians. I found myself talking freely to them, and I like that way, to feel comfortable while you’re talking to the Israeli.
During the dialogue, we listened to each other, fought, screamed, cried, laughed, and finally hugged and kissed each other. I always used to cry because of Israelis and how they affected my life in a bad way. I never imagined myself crying because I would leave the Israeli group. Really we became more than friends; we became sisters and brothers, one family living under the same building without any kind of differences. I remember when I was talking with an Israeli girl about the conflict and how the war affected us in a direct way. I heard her story, and I was so sad because of her. We had a good time together and we were good friends. We shared our secrets with each other, which means that we really trusted each other. She was the first one that I shared my secret with out of the whole group.”
Yuval valued the opportunity to openly discuss the conflict with like-minded Israelis and to meet Palestinians as equals. “I came in an open-minded state, and I really enjoyed my time there. I felt like I was discovering something really true about myself. The atmosphere helped me feel like I was in the right place, hard, but good. I didn’t feel like I was making best friends, but I made good friends with Israelis, people who think and feel the way I feel. It was a very different feeling than being in the army reserves, where the people are apathetic and not really feeling their actions.”
Yuval felt shocked and impressed to meet the Palestinians in his group. “I met fun, life-loving people, not like what I’m used to from the Occupation setting. I was used to meeting Palestinians while I was in uniform. I had never seen a Palestinian smile before. I also met such pretty girls and felt a bond that is beyond something inter-cultural.”
He described a strong, honest, and true friendship that formed with a Palestinian girl from Ramallah. “She could talk with me and understand me. Once we had a political conversation about Jerusalem. Suddenly, I really felt like I understand the problem. ‘You feel like Jerusalem is yours as much as we feel that it is ours. You don’t want to feel like we, Israelis, are giving you a present,’ I told her. She looked at me and with her eyes, I could tell that there was a true understanding. Afterwards we stayed in touch.”
Goni greatly valued the personal friendships that she made. While this was not her first experience hearing first-hand about the Occupation from Palestinians, it was her first time developing deep friendships with Palestinians. She made even deeper friendships a year after this dialogue program, when she was part of the New Story Leadership program in Washington D.C. for two months. “Along with nine other Palestinian and Israeli students, we interned for a human rights organizations, lived side by side with Palestinians, and spoke at large events. I valued the magical moments with both the Israelis and Palestinians. I made a dear friend from Gaza. We would talk until 4 a.m. It was important for me to spend as much time as I could with him, because I didn’t know if I would have the chance to see him again. I also made another friend from Haifa. Although we lived 15 minutes from each other in Israel, we never had the opportunity to talk in such an open way and to become close friends. I remember that we used to dance together in our room to Lebanese music.”
After the summer session abroad, Goni, Yuval, Fadwa and Faras had heard, shared, met and felt hopeful with a vision and drive to change the reality of this conflict-stricken region, the only thing that they had ever known. They had tasted the dream of peace.
***Some of the names are fictitious.
Laura Shaz is full of motivation and belief that an environment of mutual understanding, respect, peace and love are possible in Israel/Palestine. Working with various organizations, Laura facilitates and builds friendships among people of different cultures. She also works in education, paints, and comes closer to realizing her dreams of peace every day.
Laura was born and raised in Rockville, Maryland, USA to Jewish refugee parents of Moroccan and Eastern European descent. She went to public school and made friends regardless of race, religion, or class. She studied Sociology and Near Eastern & Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. She made aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) in 2005 and completed her graduate studies in conflict resolution and mediation from Tel Aviv University.
The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.