Humans, not headlines

Daily News Egypt
7 Min Read

TEL AVIV: The news is in: Israel’s press status has now been downgraded to “partly free by Freedom House, the organization dedicated to promoting democracy and civil liberties around the world. It is a disheartening reminder that we are not necessarily getting a clear-eyed look at the world in which we live. But it is also an opportunity. Perhaps we can use this news as impetus to depart from one-dimensional headlines and embark on a journey of trying to understand our living, breathing neighbors – on a personal level.

Understanding doesn’t just arrive – it’s not delivered like a newspaper hitting your doorstep. Moving past the narrow slice of reality carved out by the media and towards the rounder, decidedly more complicated, truth is a process that must be vigorously pursued.

The writing of Edward Said formed the stones beneath my first steps in this process. These may have been timid steps on my part, but they marked the beginning of something more profound – a path of self-education.

This is a walk I’ve been on for some time now. It has taken me through most of the Arab world – to countries that I can enter on one passport – American, and only if I hide the other – Israeli. It has brought me face-to-face with Palestinian refugees who have spoken about their desire to return to their families’ homes in Jaffa, a stone’s throw from my own apartment in Tel Aviv. And it has brought me to a provocative documentary, “Chronicles of a Refugee .

The six-part series, which is currently running on al-Jazeera’s documentary channel, targets Palestinian audiences in order to both expose the issues Palestinians face worldwide and to spark internal debate. The filmmakers also hope that it will motivate the Palestinian people to unite and work together towards solutions. I recently watched it on DVD – all eight hours – with the intention of better understanding the issues facing Palestinians and, by extension, the region. But there came a point that the film brought me face-to-face with someone I hadn’t expected to confront – me.

It happened when I was viewing the fifth segment, titled “The Talk of Return . A young Palestinian woman, Nadine, whose family was displaced from Akko and now lives in Syria, spoke to an off-screen interviewer: “Do you know what the problem is? Nadine asked rhetorically. She continued, “It’s that the Palestinian has the ability to forgive, the Palestinian has the ability to start over. If you as an Israeli killed his mother and father and his family, he has the ability to start all over again. But the Israeli doesn’t have the ability to believe that the Palestinian will forgive, or that the Palestinian is able to start all over again.

Nadine’s words are sure to provoke murmurs of disagreement – for there are certainly people on both sides that do and don’t forgive. But it seems to me that she is attempting to boil the conflict – and a possible resolution – down to its very human essence, one that is often overlooked and lost amongst all the political and theoretical babbling. Feelings.

For all my thinking, travelling and self-education, I have never stopped and looked at the emotions Nadine is pointing to-forgiveness, fearlessness and trust-which are, arguably, crucial first steps towards overcoming the conflict. And I have to admit that I am harboring some, however little and amorphous, mistrust – and this feeling leads to fear.

How do I, as an individual, and we, as nations, overcome mistrust and fear? How can I set aside my few lingering doubts and believe that Nadine is right – that Palestinians can forgive and start over?

In Israel, there are forums that employ both education and interaction – and both are necessary to nurture feelings of trust and forgiveness. There are the Hand in Hand private schools – integrated schools where Jewish and Arab students sit side-by-side in the classroom, learning both Arabic and Hebrew. The recent Jaffa Photography Project, a grassroots effort, taught photography to a group of Arab and Jewish teenagers who call Jaffa home.

And in addition to the work the Sulha Peace Project does year-round, it brings thousands of people together every year at its annual gathering in Israel to rally around the cause of coexistence.

But organizations such as these are few and far between. Further, it has become clear that we cannot rely on the state to provide platforms for reconciliation – the fate of the Weizmann School, the only Jewish-Arab state-run school is uncertain. In most instances, we can’t rely on the media – that the press in Israel is only “partly free speaks to that.

Ultimately, the individual must be active and the individual must take responsibility.

Seeing the three-dimensional human rather than the black and white headline is a critical step. Hard lines and binaries quickly drop away and we are left, instead, with people like Nadine – people with experiences, thoughts and feelings. Listen to their voices and their words, even if you don’t agree with them, and use them to look at and engage with yourself. After all, if reconciliation is to happen between our peoples, it us up to us, the people, to make it happen.

Mya Guarnieri is a freelance writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv. Her articles have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Ma’an News Agency, Common Ground News Service and Outlook India, among other publications. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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