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November 25, 2015

While we are transfixed by headlines, switching on the news every hour to find out where the latest stabbing has happened, we may forget that the overwhelming majority of the nearly four million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem are trying to live their lives, not seeking Israelis to kill. They are getting up in the morning and preparing breakfast and sending their kids to school, going off to work, if they have work, busy getting by. It is very difficult lately to persuade the Palestinians to attend Israeli-Palestinian events. We are disappointed, but if we are to understand, we must ask what life is like for them, these days.

On Monday, I got together with some Palestinian and Israeli friends for a quiet meeting. Here is what we heard from the Palestinians. Amal, who lives in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, told us of her three kids. The army and border police are in their streets every night. The kids are wracked with fear, sleeping poorly, awakening throughout the night at the frequent cracks of weapons in the streets below their apartment, conscious of the arrests of suspects taking place nightly. Her seven year old son did not speak with her for 24 hours when she told him she was coming to meet with Israelis. The boy had been with us at a Sulha gathering just a few months ago, laughing and playing with the Israeli activists. She tries to get him to distinguish between the Israeli soldiers and the peace activists, but he will not hear her.

Mahmoud has worked for five years at a hotel in the territories, where buses of Israeli and foreign tourists come to relax and visit a nearby archaeological site. He works 10-12 hour shifts, earning $1,250 a month. He has always enjoyed good relations with his boss. However, the boss now comes to work wearing a pistol. And the other day, Mahmoud heard him explaining to his wife on the phone that if her car is stopped for some reason and there are Palestinians nearby, she should not hesitate to run them over. “The entire atmosphere has changed at work,” says Mahmoud. “The Palestinian workers are now suspects. We are uneasy all the time.”

Jalal tells of driving from Bethlehem to visit relatives in Hebron. “It’s a 40 minute drive. But it now takes 2-3 hours and 4-5 hours coming back, because of the soldiers’ roadblocks. They are nasty, empty our cars and check all the bags, and sometimes when they finish checking our ID, they just keep us waiting, for the fun of it.”

The Palestinians are attached to their smartphones all the time. They watch the filmed attacks, and they are certain that many of the Palestinians are being shot and killed needlessly. They watch the footage of the two girls who attacked people with scissors the other day, and see clearly that the girls had been stopped, “neutralized,” lying on the sidewalk, well before they were shot, one killed, the other critically wounded. Here is the film.

It is terrible to see this, but this is what the everyday Palestinians are watching, over and over. This is their reality.

As I drove Jamal and Mahmoud back to the checkpoint at Kalandia, I said to them, “You know, guys, it’s clearly very tough for you all now. But it would still be important for Israelis to hear Palestinians say that they too are repelled by the violence, that you don’t support these senseless knife-attacks.” My friends would not agree. “We have nothing, and you have a strong country, with an army,” said Jalal. “These are our freedom-fighters, even if their actions will never solve the problem. They are courageous, and we cannot oppose them.” Jalal went on to explain: “Many of these kids may be teenagers, but in terms of the lives they have lived, they are already grown men and women. They believe they will be killed eventually, so why not now? They die as shaheeds, their families are honored.”

We approached Kalandia, there was nothing left to say. We hugged, embracing each other, and embracing the gulf that divides us. Yet, before we parted, we pulled out our diaries to set a date for our next meeting.

Yoav Peck




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