Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Week-end in Ramallah, West Bank or "Né en 17 a Leidenstadt"

Friday, 29th of July

In the sherut to East Jerusalem. My sister calls me.
Hey, where are you?”
I am on the way to Palestine”
Wow! You are so lucky!”

There is something beautiful about naivety. A comfortable state of mind. And happiness.
Like you wouldn’t tell a child that Santa Claus doesn't exist, I didn't tell her that the Palestine of her Magic Land was just a dream.

Souli gave me the direction to Zaman Cafe in Ramallah. I contacted him via to ask whether I could stay at his place for 1 night. It was a last minute request but Souli replied immediately.
Zaman Cafe turns out to be the new “à la mode” place where to be.
14 shekels ( 2.80euros) for a cappuccino. Yes, I am in Palestine.
Foreigners and locals, businessmen, youth, conservative and liberal local women, are gathering, chatting, laughing or working on their computers.
If not for the IDF soldiers on duty at every corner of the city, I could forget for an instant that I am in the West Bank.

Souli is working on his computer, making sure he can take a break from work for the week end. He tells me that he could help me with my Hebrew as he speaks it fluently as well as Arabic, his mother tongue. He apologizes for keeping me waiting.
No worries. Yesh li zman” ( I have time )
He looks around, horrified but glad that no one heard me. “No Hebrew here” he whispers.
The reality of Palestine.
What you don't see on the other side, because it is well hidden.
The fear, the hatred, the violence, the tragedy.
Here, it's a daily struggle.

He takes me to his place, a very nice brand new clean and tidy apartment. He makes me feel at home, offers food and drinks...the same extraordinary generosity and hospitality I had experienced last year in Bethlehem.
We spend the whole afternoon sharing ideas. A very deep and interesting conversation.
Souli is the co-founder and director of an organisation promoting dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youths. He organises football tournaments with mix teams, locally and abroad. His life story is quite impressive.
Arrested at the age of 14 for injuring a Israeli soldier with a knife, he spent 10 years and 5 months in jail. That is where he learnt Hebrew.
In 2003, he was chosen to take part in a life experience he would have never imagined possible to be. A 35days-trip to Antarctica, together with 3 other Palestinians and 4 Israelis.

I didn't accept straight away. I needed to think about it. One month in a confined and tough environment with...the enemy. It was the first time in my life I met Israelis who were not soldiers”. ( )

Since, he devoted himself to promote interactions between both cultures through sports. “ With football, they play the same rules. They don't really need to communicate much. The important is that they play together as a team. Not against each others.”

Today, 1600 youths are part of the organization. A team of 25 Israeli and Palestinian youths is flying to Australia where they will take part in an international tournament during the whole month of August. ( )
His work is not appreciated by everyone within the Israeli community or within his own community. But his work brings him and others a glimpse of hope for a better future. Kids are the leaders of tomorrow.
He is also one of the founders of Combatants for Peace. His story, as well as other personal stories of Israelis and Palestinians who were once fighting each other, can be found on their website at .

In the afternoon, one of his friends comes around for coffee. She is 25. American/Israeli Jewish.
She made her Aliyah 5 years ago. She was engaged to an Israeli man and she lived in Tel Aviv until she realized she had been brainwashed.
There was never nothing in the news about how many people had been killed in Palestine. All you could read and see in the local media was about how many Israelis had been killed and how we had to protect ourselves from the possibility of rockets hitting Tel Aviv. I was terrified by Palestinians. They were my enemies. I eventually learned about what was happening on the other side through my family and friends in the States.
Later, I got a job as a photographer to cover a demonstration in the West Bank. I was so scared. I met the Palestinian man in charge of the protest to tell him that I was Israeli Jewish, thinking “ he is going to kill me”. But, he just smiled and said “ Welcome. You are the most important person here today. Because you came to free your mind from its occupation””
Since, she became a peace activist and she broke up with her fiancée. He told her she was a traitor. She has been living in the West Bank, in Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah, for the past 2 years. She speaks both Hebrew and Arabic. “ Everyone knows I am Jewish. During the first year here, I felt that I had to tell everyone I met that I was Jewish. To not be scared any more. I was scared to be killed”.

In the evening, a friend of Souli invites us for dinner. Once again, really welcoming. We then drive to the centre of Ramallah and we stop in a nice fancy pub.
Many foreigners are here.
The whole word is here. Mainly to work with Peace Organisations.
Money is here too. A lot of it. Money is necessary for the economical growth. But who really benefits from it?

I look around the town. There is such a gap between the different cultures. Conservative Muslims, Liberal Muslims, Christian Palestinians, foreigners, and Israeli soldiers.
Even though some women show their shoulders and décolleté, Souli asked me to keep my shoulders covered while walking around.

it's better we don't get to much attention on us”.

He is a liberal Muslim and he really is one of the most open minded persons you could meet here. Still, he is aware of that culture gap.
The occupation and the oppression make it easier for conservative Islam to spread and to gain power.
He also knows hatred, traitors and enemies.
The only Israelis that the Palestinians meet are the IDF members. The soldiers. With guns.
Israeli = enemy. And any one working towards peace = traitor.

I'm an outsider in Palestine. And I feel oppressed here. Oppressed by the presence of the army, by the wall, by the atmosphere of hatred.
And oppressed by this culture gap too.

I am told that I could be part of the elite here. Massage therapy is a business to take. The Palestinian elite and the foreigners would love it and would pay good money for it, Souli says.
Making money in Palestine. That vision had never occurred in my mind.
I wanted to volunteer in Palestine. Now I am told that I could make a very good living here.
In an occupied territory. Awkward. Seriously?.
To teach massage therapy to Palestinian women would be something I would most probably love to do. Is there any opportunity?

On the next day, after an amazing breakfast in a typical Humus place, I'm queuing at the Check-Point.
45Minutes stuck in a 1m wild corridor made of iron bars.
A herd. A herd of human beings. Animals, yes, that how we look like right now.
Palestinians are so patient. They queue silently. Some don't make it to the other side. They are denied entry into Israel.
The soldier at the counter today: a very young woman, probably not even 20.

A never ending story. In a very inhuman way, Israel wants to protect its people with the occupation and the oppression. But the wall is not only encouraging the culture gap. It is also encouraging both anti-Semitism and hatred towards Muslims.
And it's business.
It's a World War Business.

Is there a way to peace here?
When I came back from Ramallah, I had lost every kind of hope.
You're lucky, you had hope for 35 years. I lost hope when I was 5 ” Merav says.

I waited for a few days to write this post. The time to flush out the bad thoughts.
During the past month, I experienced emotions and thoughts that I believed I could never experience, because, hey, I am a good person.
No, no, no. It doesn't work that way. I did feel hatred of every kind, I did have racial thoughts.
About everything and everyone and every side.
Not for a long time. On specific occasions. But long enough to be disgusted by myself. I felt like a double agent because I did love and hate both people.

Once, Terry, a dear friend who worked as a counsellor, had told me
we can't know what love is, if we don't experience hatred. It is a necessary feeling”
I don't know hatred. I don't hate anyone”
oh yes you do. At specific times. We all do. When you're stuck in a traffic jam and you wish you could kill the guy behind you just because he is swearing at you, that's hatred. And don't tell me you've never experienced that! “

Well Terry, I've now experienced hatred through a different perspective.
Ready for more love!

There is still hope on a human level here.
People need hope and love here.
I've met beautiful people on both sides.
People who interact with the other side.
They are the hope and love of tomorrow.

Et qu'on nous épargne à toi et moi si possible très longtemps,
D'avoir à choisir un camp”

from Né en 17 à Leidenstadt by Jean-Jacques Goldman, French Jewish singer/song writer/composer/musician/producer
Full song with English subtiltes on youtube

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