Israeli, 28 years

Participant in a debate group of Palestinians and Israelis

“I did not realize that I would be meeting with individuals. I never saw them as such. I thought I was going to meet ‘them’. This group of people that speaks a language I am afraid of. A harsh, aggressive language. I cannot even recall how many times I left the bus in Jerusalem upon hearing Arabic. I was sure they all hated me, wanted to kill me. These were the people that committed suicide attacks when I was a child, during the second intifada. Suddenly, we had all kinds of security measures in the Jewish community in the country where I grew up. Even there, overseas, far from Israel.

Their language changed for me in one of the meetings with our debate group. At one point during the meeting, the Palestinian guys started laughing. I was confused: what were they laughing about? Then, I realized they were making jokes about a waitress. I felt so relieved. A normal laugh! Now, when I am on a bus and hear a Palestinian talking on the phone, I do not think: he is talking about a suicide attack. He is probably just talking to his mother about what to eat for lunch.

I come from a place where questions were not allowed. I grew up in a very orthodox family without any direct connection to Israel. But the many Israeli backpackers in my country made me want to know: who are you, what is this country that you come from, what is this language you speak? I made Aliyah to Israel because I wanted to find answers to these questions.

I went through some huge changes after I arrived. I took off my orthodox clothes – although I am still religious -, I became a vegetarian, and I responded to a Facebook-post about facilitating meetings between young Israelis and Palestinians. I wanted to understand more, aside from all the things people say. These meetings are amazing, you get to possibility to explore, without any agenda. I’m sensitive to brainwashing because of my youth, so this is really special to me.

I do still have conflicting feelings about the situation here. On the one hand, I am open to everyone. I wonder why so many Jews lack compassion for Arabs. It hurts me to see my good people lack compassion. On the other hand, I am Jewish and I feel we have to protect ourselves. I was on a tour in Jaffa recently, when an Arab guy told me to shut up when I started to explain why Jews have to be in Israel. For me, it is a strong sense of belonging.

I prefer to talk anonymously about these issues because I can talk more openly this way. I have been here – in Israel – for 4 years now, and I am planning to stay. I do not know yet what the full impact of my personal opinions will be for my future. It is tricky. I do not want to be labelled as left wing. I am a bit scared to lose my sense of belonging to this society by becoming too left-wing, because it feels so good to be here in this Jewish country. I feel that, before looking to the Palestinian side, we have to be together, as Jews.”