Being a Preconceived Concept

I can’t be your friend anymore.”

Those are the words that concluded a pretty brief – but passionate discussion – I had with a dear friend of mine a few years ago. Back then, I thought that this would be the last discussion we would ever have! Fortunately we’ve had many more.

I was a student at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. I met there some amazing people from Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The goal of the Institute is to bring people from the region together to learn, talk and try to find solutions to environmental issues we are all facing. Because Environment knows no borders!

imageBut our lives do.

While talking about water issues and endemic species we couldn’t avoid the big elephant in the room. No matter whether the elephant was green or not – society – the media – and often our families have told us we were enemies. Yet here we were, studying, learning, living together…and often, arguing together.

We were all coming to this place with hopes, for sure, but also with our scars, our fears and preconceived ideas of ‘the other’. It took me a very long time to open up and talk about the scars I brought with me.

One evening, as we were sharing our stories sitting around a narguila and some sweets, a dear friend of mine from Palestine suddenly realized that, as I was born abroad, decided to come to Israel and to “Made Aaliyah”. To him, it was clearly the worse betrayal possible.

His judgment was final. I was a spoiled Zionist who came to Israel to steal his land and get money. He couldn’t be my friend anymore.

I felt so hurt by his reaction and by his retroactive feeling of betrayal.

He called me a Zionist, and in his mouth it was clearly an insult. And worse, in his eyes, I was a spoiled one from elsewhere. In less than half a second he forgot everything I was, everything he knew about me, and everything we’ve been through. In less than half a second I became his preconceived idea of the enemy. I became the “other”, the other he has learned to not trust.

Zionist for racist, for hostile, for stranger, for enemy.  He suddenly antagonized me and made me the other that wants to win and make him lose.

He didn’t know much about my stories and the scars I was carrying with me.  But he was right, I was Zionist, and I still am. But it means a totally different thing to me.

Zionist for hopeful, for idealistic and pragmatic; for belonging to a people, and for being a neighbor to many other peoples.

I never connected the fact of being a Zionist to something negative. Studying environmental studies I even discovered that I could be a green Zionist, which totally made sense! Loving my country necessarily meant that I wanted to protect and love its resources and that I needed to work hand in hand with my neighbors in order to do so…because Nature knows no borders.

On the other hand, he was coming from a world where Zionist is the enemy, where if the other side wins, he loses. The word was the same, but what it was carrying for us was totally different.

For months he hardly talked to me, and we had to meet again years later for the discussion to continue.

It was a different evening, a different place, with different people. We all started to tell family stories. I finally opened up. At the end of my story my friend looked at me, quiet, then after a few seconds said: “I didn’t know.”

His preconceived idea has been shaken up.

We don’t agree about everything, but we deeply respect each other. I am his Israeli, friend, and he is my Palestinian friend. Both of us believe in Peace and want both our people to have its own country. And none of us needs to be losing!

Sarah Perle, Israel

YaLa Young Leaders

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