“My father dropped me off at the checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel. I was going to Tel Aviv for the first time in my life. As soon as I arrived at the Tel Aviv bus station, my father had already called me, worried. He wanted to know if I was all right. A few hours later, he called again. ‘I’m still alive, daddy’, I told him. ‘Stop calling me all the time.’
During the second intifada, my father was jailed for six months because he hosted a friend who was fleeing the Israeli army. He was humiliated in jail. Because of that experience, he did not agree with me going to Israel, although he respected my choice. His only advice was: ‘always sleep with one eye open’, as we say in Arabic.
An ‘Israeli’, to me, was a soldier with a gun or a settler with a kippa. That is the way we see them in the West Bank. The Palestinian news is also full of these stereotypes. I never questioned them. Every morning at school, we had to stand up and sing the Palestinian anthem. Every single day, at every single school. This patriotism blinds us. I never thought of reading an Israeli newspaper, not even a left-wing, critical one.
I learned and unlearned a lot by going to the other side. Actually, it feels like a 180-degree transformation. The first time our group of young people met, we sat opposite each other: Palestinians on one side, Israelis on the other. Now, we mingle. We even give each other hugs.
The main thing I learned from Israelis is their activism. They can state any opinion and stand up for it. Palestinians are afraid to do so. I work in schools and volunteer in an orphanage. I teach the children to be confident by giving them improvisation classes. I teach them that they can go to the local Palestinian government and ask for a soccer field. Or even go to the office of president Abbas and demand their rights.
I do not feel like I am a traitor and I do not feel guilty. I am not ‘normalizing’ the occupation by meeting Israelis. I am here to stand up for Palestinians. In a modern, sophisticated way. We just want a safe, prosperous life. It is insane that we live in such unfair conditions. That a soldier can point a gun at you just because you have a different car plate. That you are treated disrespectfully. I want to be treated with respect: being Palestinian does not make us less valuable. An Israeli girl in the debate group said we were terrorists and lazy. I believe that is immoral. I told her: ‘either you stop, or I leave’.
The way we used to try and change the situation did not work. We went from fighting to talking. We had negotiations with people pointing fingers at each other in expensive hotels. And now, the talks are dead. I do believe in genuine meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, but on a personal level. There are some friends though I would not dare to discuss this with. For example, this friend whose father died in the first intifada. He knows what I am doing, but I would never confront him with my views.”