October 09, 2015

Support by friends

This wasn't my week...

The situation in Israel/Palestinian Authority is terribly tense between Arabs and Jews, everywhere, but especially in and around Jerusalem. Stone throwing, riots, violent attacks, destroyed property, wounded people and occasional deaths occur on a daily base. The neighborhood I live in, French Hill, is in the North of Jerusalem, just near the separation wall. It is inhabited mostly by Jews, but also Muslims and Christians live there. French Hill is surrounded by three Arab neighborhoods, Issawiya, Shuafat & Beth Hanina. As a result, violence is for me on walking distance, and police and soldiers are all over, even in the air. It's awfully depressing.

In conflict

Among Israelis there is fear and anger, but life is not necessarily disrupted. At the Palestinian side, life is affected much more, because of additional restrictions of movement, closures either by authorities or as a consequence of the violence, and even less work. In situations like these, when there is national conflict people tend to polarize, blaming the other side. Thus, Israeli media emphasise the violence of Palestinians and the Palestinian media vice versa. It's amazing to see that when you switch the news channel, you get a completely different narrative.

However, also in private conversations and among friends it is difficult to suggest that perhaps it's "your" people doing something wrong, without being harshly criticized. Moreover, Jewish/Arab friendships are often viewed as a form of betrayal, on both sides, even more now. Therefore, I make a point of being in touch with my Arab friends, especially in times like these, and keep human contact, despite the pain. I guess I am naive; can I really change something? Perhaps I keep this contact mostly to be able to continue seeing myself as a good person, but anyway I do believe in bridging conflict.

But then, I also got upset with my long-standing Bedouin friend. In fact, he got at least as upset with me. I will not go into the personal reasons, but for me the main issue was that he took more distance from me than he was used to. He had his own reasons. Although not the crux of our fight, clearly, it was affected by the present political difficulties and the immense built-in power difference between me, as representative of the occupying forces and him, who tries to make a living.

Friends who help

As had happened before in similar situations, my Israeli friends wanted to know the details of the story, were supportive of me as a person, but would use the opportunity to recommend that I leave my Bedouin friend alone and go my own way. Their interest and support were more appreciated, than their attempt to dissolve the friendship. With my Palestinian friends the manner of dealing was totally different. I went to the garage, which used to be called the "Garage of Peace" and is now named the "Bedouin Garage", to have my car fixed. I was still terribly upset, which was showing. Ali, the garage manager, who knows me, didn't ask a thing. There were several cars, customers and workers to handle, but Ali remained close to me in the few hours I was there and took care that not just the car, but also I would come out okay.

Another Ali, Palestinian but not Bedouin, pressed us for a sulha. This Ali went through efforts to show to each of us - separately - the point of view of the other, while emphasizing how important it is to be considerate, because of the other's state. This created an atmosphere in which my Bedouin friend and I were able to meet again and talk things over. We sat down at a cafe, had tea and then coffee, and talked. While talking, it turned out that my friend's narrative of the situation was highly different from mine. Both in the political and in the personal, things depend on perspective. Eventually, we reached the point at which each of us was able to understand the other's perspective. The conversation was difficult and painful, but after a couple of hours, we separated on good terms.

I'm happy to have Palestinian friends!


  1. Thank you, Daniel, this is thought provoking. The different kinds of friendship and support. The ability to talk through all the fog and mud and noise we experience right now is no small feat at all.