2002 was a year unlike any other, at least in Palestine and Israel. All news and pictures coming in were tinged in blood red. In Tel-Aviv, Ramallah, Jenin and Jerusalem the streets were not as usual. Cinema Square in Jenin, the heart of city, was completely deserted of the guys who used to come there to smoke and enjoy the cafes in the evening.
I was six years old and just starting to become aware of the world around me, staying at home and doing nothing except observing the unfolding situation. The days consisted of a few laughs alongside a lot of fear and observation. Schools had been closed, nothing heard except the sound of bullet.
A few days after the battle in Jinen Camp came to an end, the tanks withdrew and some of the fear withdrew with them. Some of the kids went into street, while others decided to climb the hill overlooking the top of the camp to see what had happened. My mother forbid me from climbing the hill because she was scared for me. She stood in front of me, signs of discomfort appearing on her face, and then asked me to go to the nearby grocery store to buy some bread and Israeli biscuits. ‘Elite’ were our favorite, but we hadn’t eaten any in three weeks since the fighting broke out.
On my way to store I heard a loud noise coming from the end of the street. I just stood there for a while as the ground shook beneath my feet. Then all of a sudden, two big tanks came hurling down in my direction at great speed. I quickly jumped into a group of olive trees to hide and closed my eyes, possibly as a means to escape from reality. After they had passed, I bought what my mother had asked and then headed back.
My 80 year old grandmother was standing at the entrance of my home when I arrived. She asked me, “why does your face look so strange?” After describing to her what I had just seen, I asked, “why do they do this, why do they come here!” She hugged and kissed me, trying to assuage my fear, before telling me the story of “The Jews” and their desire to steal our land and remove us from of our homes. Reminiscing to when she was a child, she then re-told me her new-yet-old story of how she escaped from her village next to Haifa, ‘Al-sendiana,’ during the 1948 war.
For many years, discourse has reinforced the negative image of Israelis– that each and every one of them are nothing more than soldiers fighting for a country who occupies and controls the daily lives of Palestinians. That not one of them is really against the occupation. That they all dream of kicking us out of our lands. That they don’t care about our suffering because they live happily ever after. That no one is interested in sitting with us to understand our suffering.
One day, while browsing Facebook, one of my friends commented about an Palestinian-Israeli page called “Bereaved Families Forum.” I decided to check them out to see what their page was about. Scrolling through, I saw pictures of Israeli and Palestinian women talking together, exchanging words and smiles.
At first, I asked myself, “what are these Palestinian women doing?! Don’t they feel the suffering of Palestinians under the occupation?! It is clear that this is some kind of acting and propaganda!” But then I saw one interesting photo. It was a powerful photo of two women, one Palestinian and one Israeli, who were laughing while sewing shoes. I decided to think deeply about it. After a minute of silence, I came to realize that those two women weren’t acting, that they really were being honest. That after losing their beloveds, both had simply chosen to hide their years of pain behind their laughs! That despite it all, they were sitting together to take steps towards peace.
Then I asked myself this– For all of us who haven’t lost our beloveds, what is our excuse not to work together rather than building walls or hate?