When the Odds Meet, Borders Fall

BACKGROUND
    Now living in Columbia, Missouri, Palestinian journalist Walid Batrawi and his family will return home to Ramallah this June, 2003.
    First, he wanted to write about meeting Judy Schermer, an exceptional Jewish woman in Columbia.
    It was an encounter he couldn’t have had back home where people are sadly cut off from one another, worsening the “big disconnect” between the two, equally fine peoples.
    Walid writes:  “For Palestinians, checkpoints are a symbol of occupation and humiliation, but when it comes to meeting with their Israeli peace colleagues, checkpoints and borders start falling in the backs of their minds.”
    Judy described by telephone her “great longing and desire to move out to Walid and others . . . the only way to have things turn around.”
    Judy said: “You realize that everyone is a victim.  I have also been victimized by the propaganda machine.  It hurts.”
    “Above and beyond politics” is how she describes this face-to-face citizen relationship-building.
    She talked about her challenge in her Missouri home town: “I would have no trouble finding some other Jews who are interested in beginning dialogue.  But I just don’t know any Palestinians.”
    Judy will try to find others, to keep building bridges.  She hopes her new friend, Walid Batrawi, will help her before he returns home to the West Bank.


When the Odds Meet, Borders Fall
by Walid Batrawi

    Joe Schermer is a first-grade Jewish boy who goes to the same school where my second-grade daughter, Tamar, goes in Columbia, Missouri.
    The Jewish boy and the Palestinian girl are neighbors at school, as only a wall separates their classrooms.
    Every morning I walk Tamar to school, while Joe’s mother drives him there. The mother and I usually met at the ‘borders’ between the two classrooms, but we never spoke to each other.
    One evening, just as I finished participating in a panel after the screening of ‘Gaza Strip,’ a film by James Longley about the life of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Joe’s mother approached me to introduce herself.
    “I’m Judy, and I’m a Jew.”
    I smiled and said, “Nice to meet you.”
    “Your daughter goes to the same school where my son goes,” Judy said, trying to break the ice.
    “Yes,” I said.  “I see you there.”
    “I was impressed with the way you spoke tonight,” she commented. “I really appreciate it when people speak objectively, and I would like for us to meet again.  It is very important for me to know more about the suffering of the Palestinians.”
    “And the suffering of the Israelis,” I interrupted. “We both suffer.”
    “Yes, and this is why I think people like us should always talk.  Maybe we can make a change,” Judy responded.
    At the end of this conversation, we exchanged addresses and greetings, and we agreed to meet sometime soon to continue our talk.
    A few days later, we met again at the classroom ‘border.’ This time we spoke.
    “Someone told me that there is a Palestinian family in this school.  When I saw you for the first time at school, I could tell it was you,” Judy said.
    “Well, that’s what we call the cousinship,” I laughed.
    “It’s true,” Judy laughed back. “I hope Israelis and Palestinians will be able to live together again.”
“If it was up to the two peoples, I am sure that they could reach a solution,” I said, “but politicians give us no choice.”
    “Tell me more about the suffering of Palestinians,” requested Judy.  “I hear all kinds of stories; it must have been hard for your daughter to live under such a difficult situation.”
    Her request made me tell a few stories, but again, we both were running late for our jobs, so we shook hands and walked in two different directions.
    The ‘border’ wall between Tamar and Joe is the only barrier between the two children. At recess, they talk and play; in their hearts there is no conflict. Joe has never visited Israel, but his mother did in the seventies. For Joe’s family, not all Palestinians are ‘terrorists.’ Our family never told Tamar that all Jews or Israelis are occupiers.
    Before coming to the US, Tamar lived for two years under Israeli shelling.  She witnessed the re-occupation of her hometown, Ramallah, watched Israeli tanks as they passed by the window of her room, spent sleepless nights of fear, and was locked in the house for days and weeks of curfew. Such scenes are the only images she saw of a Jew or an Israeli. Therefore, I was not sure what her reaction would be when she learned that Joe is a Jew, so I asked her.
    “But he is a good Jew, Daddy,” she answered.
    “Yes, not all Jews are soldiers,” I continued.
    “So, there are good Jews and good Palestinians,” Tamar said.  “Joe is a nice boy.  I like playing with him.”
    It is only when I see Joe and Tamar playing together that I start to hope again that all the attempts to reach a common ground for understanding and co-existence between the two peoples will be achieved one day.
    Israeli and Palestinian peace activists are trying their best to come together. Getting together is not easy, as both have suffered from the violence.  With a true belief in peace deep in their hearts, they can heal the wounds and go on.
    Israeli checkpoints, the actual ‘border’ between the Palestinian territories and Israel, are the only places where both sides can meet.
    For Palestinians, checkpoints are a symbol of occupation and humiliation, but when it comes to meeting with their Israeli peace colleagues, checkpoints and borders start falling in the backs of their minds.


Published by Common Ground News Service (CGNews)  ­— March 7, 2003
See its Archives, and Subscribe to it at http://www.sfcg.org/cgnews/middle-east.cfm .
Reprinted in The American Muslim with the permission of the author.

UPDATE:
Dear Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue participants and supporters,
    In these violent, repressive days, it is easy to see only dark forces—“ours” and “theirs”—who fall mindlessly for the violent way, treating others who do not comply like traitors, threatening and using force upon suspects.
    “Losing our minds,” we allow our reptilian, dinosaur brains to take over, dehumanizing ourselves and others, hardening our hearts and theirs.
    Forgetting our beautiful humanity and high destiny, we disregard law and the order of interdependence and cooperation—listening, reasoning, searching collectively for wisdom, collaborating like the diverse, human community we are destined to become.
    Preceding major change, there is often chaos and perturbation—a shaking-up of our old, familiar world.
    We are in that time.
    And the decision to change is binary.  We say no to “the old, the obsolete.”
    And we must define and model that to which we are saying “yes”—a new way of thinking and treating one another.
    Signs of civil change are appearing.
    There is a growing new breed of citizens who are learning to communicate in a web of global information and spirit—listening to Earth and to one another.
    The narratives of all “sides”—equally human and excellent peoples—are increasingly being told in the broadcast and print media.
    Below are two new Children’s Novels About Palestinian-Jewish Relationship-Building and three University Theses About Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue.
    This is a new trend among citizens who are, according to our new friend, Palestinian Walid Batrawi, “seeds for peace.”
    And Walid reminds us: “The seeds must be watered.  And blood is never water.”
    We encourage everyone to “water” and nurture new relationships where you live.
        —L&L

1.  Children’s Novels About Palestinian-Jewish Relationship-Building

THE ENEMY HAS A FACE (a novel for age 12 and up) 
by Gloria Miklowitz, Eerdmans Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003, 143 pages, age 12 and up
There is more on the Web at http://traubman.igc.org/bookchild.htm#face
In this thoughtful and suspenseful 2003 book for youth, Gloria D. Miklowitz explores issues of Middle Eastern relationships through the eyes of young people on both sides of the age-old conflict. The surprising conclusion to the novel will leave readers with a renewed understanding of other people’s needs, fears, and beliefs. 139 pages. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

SNOW IN JERUSALEM (a novel for ages 6-10) 
by Deborah da Costa, Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu
32 pages; water color and pencil drawings; map; Albert Whitman & Co.; Morton Grove, IL.; 2001

There is more on the Web at http://traubman.igc.org/bookchild.htm#snow
This optimistic story is the first children’s book by author Deborah da Costa. Its messages is of tolerance, compromise, and peace. Two boys—one from the Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, the other from the Muslim section of the walled city—reconsider their own boundaries, expand their identification, and find a solution together.

2.  University Theses About Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue
See them at http://traubman.igc.org/theses.htm

BRIDGING DIFFERENT TRUTHS: Creating Dialogue for Reconciliation and Healing
    International Christian University, Tokyo, 2003
BUILDING PEACE BETWEEN PEOPLE: The Role of NGOs in Transforming Relations Between Israelis and Palestinians
    by Louis-Alexandre Berg, Brown University, 2000
CONVERSATIONS FOR PEACE: An Oral History of the Path to Palestinian and Jewish Reconciliation in Two California Communities
    by Alison Helise Rubalcava, California State Univ-Fullerton, 2001

If you are interested in becoming involved in such dialogues, contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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