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.