Ikhlas Ishtaya

An honest look which goes straight to the heart

During the story, I didn’t sense that the other participants were crying, especially the Israelis, but my friend who sat next to me whispered in my ear, “if you could only see how moved both the Israeli and Palestinian women are by your story…”

 

Ikhals is a resident of the village of Salem near Nablus.

 
עברית

My name is Ikhlas Ishtaya. I play the harp and live in Salem, a village beside Nablus. I was born blind, and I read and write with Braille and with special computer programs.

In 2015 I participated in The Narrative Project, in the group “Influential Women.”

After being invited to participate in the project, I debated a great deal. In the end I decided to talk to people from the Parents Circle – Families Forum in order to better understand the project. After realizing that both Israelis and Palestinians participate in the project, I once again began debating whether to participate. I thought about getting advice from some more people since meeting with Israelis is a very sensitive issue in our society. After a lot of thought, I decided to participate even if it would mean some kind of personal cost, because I believe that peace is the best solution to ending the occupation and obtaining freedom.

In the first meeting I discovered that the group was made up of Israeli and Palestinian women who are influential, each one in her own community, but that I was the only disabled person in the group. I worried that my blindness would cause discomfort in others and I thought about leaving the project because of this. In the end, I decided that I have the right to be part of society and take part without shame or hesitation. I decided to continue and discovered that the women sought connection with me as an equal. I took an active role in all the discussions and activities.

One of my most difficult experiences in the project came when it was my turn to tell the group about a tragic personal experience that happened to me and my family as a result of the conflict. My father Sa’al was murdered by a settler from Itamar in September 2004. When I shared with the group about the moment that I was told that an Israeli settler shot my father who died on the spot, I began to shake and to cry. During the story, I didn’t sense that the other participants were crying, especially the Israelis, but my friend who sat next to me whispered in my ear, “if you could only see how moved both the Israeli and Palestinian women are by your story…”

Before I took part in the project I thought there were very few Israelis who are in favor of peace, and that most Israelis are violent murderers, especially the youngsters. As a result of my participation in the project, and listening to the stories of grief and fear of the Israeli women, I understand that Israelis also have painful stories as a result of the conflict. I was very moved by their stories because at the end of the day they are people with feelings just like me.

The discussions that we had in the groups really enriched me with information about the other and her narrative. I learnt to listen to the narrative of the other and to respect it even if I do not agree with it. I learnt that the impact of the individual, human story is greater than the impact of the national narrative, and that it is possible to change the future without giving each side’s narrative the power to deepen the conflict and lead to ignorance and extremism on both sides, as is happening today.

I want to expand particularly on the two day trips that are part of the project. In the first trip, we went to the village of Lifta, one of the Palestinian villages whose inhabitants were expelled in 1948. In this trip, we as Palestinians, had the chance to visit, to get to know an important part of our own history. This trip helped us show the Israeli participants about Palestinian history and the importance of this place for us. In the trip to the Yad Vashem Museum, I understood the history and the immense impact of the Holocaust on the Israeli participants. I want to mention that I learnt about the Holocaust at school but I did not know about its magnitude.

The project had a huge influence on us. It helped us to better understand the other, her culture and her pain. At the end of the day, I think projects like these impact people and give them a rare opportunity to get to know the other in a direct way, to feel the pain of the other and therefore to try to find non-violent ways to end the occupation. Personally, the project greatly influenced my thinking and allowed me to express my own and my family’s suffering due to the murder of my father. At the end of the project, I recommended that special needs Israeli-Palestinian narrative groups be established, and that projects with this kind of influence be expanded as much as possible.

Last updated: 21.1.2016
 

Alon Simon

Looking for partners to create a new reality

"People tend to stick to their own truth and seal their ears to conflicting opinions. There is a fear that if we would really listen to different views, our own truth will crack and break, which can even lead to total acceptance of the view of the other."

 

Alon, 34, originally from Kibbutz Nitzanim.

 
עברית

My name is Alon Simon. I’m 34 years old, originally from Kibbutz Nitzanim, and now live in Tel Aviv.

Last year I participated in the Narrative Project – a series of meetings in Beit Jala organised by The Parents Circle – Families Forum. The purpose of the project is to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to share and understand each others’ personal and national narratives.

I experienced meeting with the Palestinians in the group in two different ways.

During breaks from the organised discussion groups and seminars, I met very hospitable, smiling people. 

They shared with me pictures of their families and homes, told me how much they wanted peace, and their belief that all people are equal. Above all they dreamed of a normal life – of working for a living, caring for their family, taking a vacation without fear or worry, and without the constant threat of roadblocks and curfews.

The meeting that took place in the organised discussion groups was completely different. The atmosphere was of Israelis opposing Palestinians, of nation against nation.

From the first discussion group the Palestinians were enraged with us, the Israelis. It made no difference that the Israeli participants were all people who wanted to see an end to the occupation. In the discussion groups we were representatives of all Israelis from all generations.

Many of the Palestinians had stories about violence they had experienced at the hands of the army and security services. They spoke of how they had been detained, interrogated, beaten and humiliated. We Israelis heard the stories and didn’t know how to react. I did not know what to say. What could I say? I am on the stronger side, free to go where I choose, and have never been humiliated or abused by the authorities.

The feelings in the Israeli group ranged from empathy and guilt to anger and frustration. We were angry that the Palestinians could represent themselves as an entirely innocent people and Islam as a religion of peace when from among them come horrific acts of terrorism. We were frustrated by the lack of balance in the discussion. One side spoke of its suffering and accusations and the other was expected to listen and accept it in silence.

To the anger of the individual Palestinian’s experience was then added the anger and humiliation of the national Palestinian experience of the nakba.

Our group took a tour to Lifta, a village at the Western edge of Jerusalem that has been abandoned since the 1948 war. According to our guide, the Israeli state had done everything it could to clear the Palestinian residents from its territories, using violence and intimidation. After the war the Palestinians who fled were not allowed to settle back in their homes, which became Israeli settlements.

The trip shook my beliefs and perceptions. I had always seen Jewish settlement of the land inside the borders of Israel as just, and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, on the other side of the Green Line, as immoral. But after my experience at Lifta, the whole morality of the state of Israel has been thrown into doubt. It forced me to question the country where I was born and grew up, and that my grandfathers fought to establish.

Now that I am conscious of the nakba, should I believe that Petah Tikva, the first Jewish settlement in Israel, is no different than the outposts in the West Bank, as one Palestinian participant claimed? Are the contemporary settlers of the West Bank the new Zionists – as they claim – equivalent to the Zionists that established the state? I still cannot accept these conclusions, and I’m still looking for arguments strong enough to reject them.

So what can I say? It’s clear to me that the reality is far less black and white than is often portrayed. Most people – including leftists and humanists – tend to stick to their own reality and close their ears to conflicting opinions. They fear that if they listen to other perspectives their own truth will bend and crack, and even lead to complete acceptance of the opposing view. It’s difficult to concede that there can be elements of truth in both narratives. If I took anything from these meetings, it’s the determination to overcome this instinct and to truly listen to the person facing me with an open mind.

I recently read an article about whether it was good to use the term ‘Palestinian’ in Israel. The article quoted Menachem Begin, saying “If this is the Land of Israel, we have returned to it. If it is Palestine, we have invaded it. If it is the state of Israel, we have established legitimate rule throughout it; if it is Palestine, our rule is not legitimate in any area of it.” I want to get away from Begin’s conception, Israel or Palestine. I want Israelis to accept the Palestinians and their suffering and needs, as I wish they would recognise us, with our suffering and our needs. I want each side to loosen its grip over their national narrative.

The Palestinians are people just like us. Before the meetings, I had the impression that they had the moral high ground because they were under occupation. Now I think less like this. They have corruption, racism, violence and provocation – just as we do.

But to finish on an optimistic note, I genuinely feel after these meetings that I have someone to talk to on the other side. I won’t always like what they have to say, and I don’t think we’ll agree about everything, but I know there are Palestinian partners with which we can create a new reality – a reality of two states living side by side.

Last updated: 22.1.2016

We need to put aside for a moment our most painful and difficult experiences and look at the 'other' and truly see him, listen to him and truly hear him.

 
 

Gili Meisler

A bereaved brother who ceased to be angry

In the case of the group in which I participated, the common theme was that we all came from bereaved families. My brother Giora was killed in the Yom Kippur War. He was missing in action for almost two years until he was found and buried. A few years ago I made the film “Fireflies” which tells the story of the mystery of him going missing as well as my own story about what happened to me years later in the Far East. The two stories are intertwined with one another.

 

Gili is the brother of Giora Meisler, who was missing for two years until it was discovered that he was killed during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

 
עברית

My name is Gili Meisler, I am formerly a Jerusalemite but have lived in Givatayim for many years. I am married with two kids, and I manage a small studio that produces and edits films.

About a year ago, I joined a project called “The Narrative Project” which is organized by the Parents Circle – Families Forum. I’ll explain in short: 15 Israelis and 15 Palestinians with something in common (all are doctors or all are educators or journalists, and so on), meet a number of times, both together and separately, with the goal of getting to know the personal and national narrative of the other side. In the case of the group in which I participated, the common theme was that we all came from bereaved families. My brother Giora was killed in the Yom Kippur War. He was missing in action for almost two years until he was found and buried. A few years ago I made the film “Fireflies” which tells the story of the mystery of him going missing as well as my own story about what happened to me years later in the Far East. The two stories are intertwined with one another.

The joint meetings were etched into all of us, on both sides, especially the first meeting. For a whole weekend, we all stayed at a simple hotel in Beit Jala (next to Har Gilo in Jerusalem). We participated in intense meetings alongside meals and other joint activities, as we began to get to know the other participants.

All of us, certainly on the Israeli side, were especially touched and impressed by the person who was the most recently bereaved. 40-year-old Jihad had lost his son right before his eyes, when he was hit by a bullet in the entrance to their house, three months prior during Operation Projective Edge. Perhaps because his grief was so fresh, it was amazing to meet such an optimistic person, who believes in co-existence and aspires for reconciliation. Jihad got nervous every time it was his turn to speak, but nonetheless he was able to get his point across calmly and with great strength. He told us about his pain and frustration, a little bit about his wife, who cries continuously and rarely leaves the house since the disaster, about his attempts to raise his other children, and about how much the loss impacted his own closest brother, until his brother died suddenly from a heart attack after a month and a half. We learnt that since his tragedy, he hasn’t worked. This is both because it is incredibly difficult for him to return to a regular routine, but mainly because the Israeli security forces put those who have lost family members in the conflict into the category “security forces unauthorized,” meaning someone who has the potential to turn into a terrorist and is therefore not allowed to enter Israeli territory. Until Operation Protective Edge Jihad made his living as a home renovator in the Jewish settlements in the area and in Israel. Since losing his son, he cannot obtain an Israeli entry permit, and is also subjected to other restrictions on his movement. He also told us about his dream, as a devout Muslim who prays daily, to return to the Mosque of Omar to which he has been only once, many years ago.  

This dream of his reminded me of the dramatic political change that I went through. During the Yom Kippur War I was 12-years-old, and during the two years that my brother Giora was missing I became filled with hatred and a desire for revenge against all Arabs. During those years I started a right wing youth group, and I joined the activities of the Temple Mount Faithful movement, especially the demonstrations demanding that Jews be allowed to enter and pray on the Temple Mount. Over the years leading up to my enlistment in the army, I underwent a drastic change in my political beliefs when I understood that nothing would bring my brother back to me, when I realized that it doesn’t make sense for me to hate people just because of their ethnic origin, and when I began to look at the conflict from the other side’s point of view as well.

With this loaded part of my own personal history, I could recognize in Jihad’s dream to pray once more at the Mosque of Omar, the personal element which is not political or oppositional, but is rather between him and God. And despite being an atheist and a non-believer, I found myself praying along with him that his dream would come true.

Alon-WEB-2pics

Last updated: 26.1.2016

There are high walls of fear and hatred that separate the two nations these days. And we, through this work, will open cracks in this wall - until it will fall.