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AHMED, MUNIR, OSAMA and ME

May 14, 2012

Following a workshop in theCarmel Mountains in Haifa, I told Ahmed, Munir, and Osama that I would have to take them back  to Jericho via Safed, since I needed to return my friend Marcia to her home. They were delighted, since it meant they would tour Palestine/Israel a bit and would end up at home rather than being dropped late in Jerusalem to look for a bus. After 39 years inIsrael, raised in the States, I’ve been a peace activist for years. But this was the first time I had driven a carload of Palestinians on a tour of the land. Their permits to be inside Israelwould expire at midnight, and I was Cinderella’s coachman, trying to squeeze in a few more minutes at the ball of freedom, before the car turns into a pumpkin.

We stopped off in Acco, since they had not seen the old city there. All three are originally from Palestinian villages, before their families fled the Israelis years ago. Osama and Ahmad had only seen the Galilee once or twice. Munir had never been to the north.  As we stood on the beach outside the old-city walls in Acco, watching the evening sun sink into the sea, Ahmad stripped to his undershirt, stretching his strong arms to the sky and breathing deep. I mooched a cigarette and invited them to the little waterfront shop for a bottle of something cold. Only Ahmad took me up on it. When we got to the lady to pay, I tried to give her a 100 shekel bill for a 17 shekel purchase. With a withering glance for me, she turned to Ahmad who fished the coins out of his pocket. As we returned to Osama and Munir, I told him we had just played out one common stereotype people have about Jews….I invite him for a drink and he ends up paying. His burst of laughter still peals in my ears.

When we got to Marcia’s little wooden home in the mountains of Safed, we watched the Sea of Galilee from her yard over embarrassingly bland Israeli coffee that tasted like friendship. These three fine men gracing us with their dignified presence. What were they thinking, feeling, as they drank in the vista of theJordanValleysouth beyond the lake?Palestine! 

Over the weekend, in the heart of the Carmel woods where six months before fire had ravaged huge swaths of the forest, I said that if I put myself in the shoes of the Palestinian firefighters who came from the West Bank to help extinguish the fire, I might have had strong mixed feelings, coming to rescue the land the Jews took from my people. They were offended that I could even raise the issue. “Ard hiyyeh ard,” they said…land is land. The firefighters who rushed to help in December had been welcomed then. Afterwards, at the ceremony held to recognize everyone who fought the fire, several of the Palestinian commanders were not permitted intoIsrael, “for security reasons….” A proud Israeli, sometimes I am so ashamed of us.

As I drove them through the mountains, we had time to talk, and they repeatedly confirmed their distinguishing between us peace-seeking Israelis and the people who occupy Palestine. They hate being seen as hating us. They are hurt that so many Israelis automatically identify them with the Palestinians who kill people. They are not killers. They acknowledged their past, when they fought the Israeli army in the streets and were shot, gassed, jailed in demonstrations. Ahmad will forever carry a bullet in his neck. They threw stones at us, vented their rage during the Intifada. But I too threw stones back in the sixties, at policemen inBerkeley during anti-war protests.   I even knew the thrill of seeing my stone hit a cop’s unprotected shin and watching him go down. The blinding adrenaline of warfare.

We’ve all grown. The three of them are leaders in the Sulha Peace Project, devoting endless hours to organizing face-to-face, heart-to-heart meetings of Israelis and Palestinians. We don’t all agree about things, but listening to the people beneath the positions is our mission. I am privileged to be with them there, recently joined the Sulha Board.

And violence? Katan aleynu, as we say in Hebrew. We’re bigger than violence now. We’re ready for real conflict, without escapes into violence. To struggle over the borders of their state-to-be, to struggle over the future ofJerusalem, to channel rage, to give up victimhood, to take back control over our lives and fates. “There is no happiness for people at the expense of other people,” said Anwar Sadat. My security depends on Munir being secure. It is so clear, our inter-dependence.

So many Palestinians want what Munir, Ahmad and Osama want. What you want, and what I want… To arise in the morning with curiosity about what we will do with our freedom and prosperity today, to plan how we will bless ourselves and each other with cooperation. Pitching in, reaching, stretching for the end of this conflict. With fierce compassion, we will sweat and work together for the day that must come. And in late afternoon we’ll all go to the sea to share the sunset.

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2 Comments
  1. silvana permalink

    dearest, it’s just like reading a rich, sensitive, gripping, wonderful written peace of literature.
    toda raba and kol hakavod! If you ever publish, you can count on me, I will buy!

  2. A wonderful post, YOav. Congratulations, Judy

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