by Meredith Rothbart, K4P Director of Development
“Have you ever been to Ramallah?”
This seems like a simple question. If you were to ask me if I’d been to New York, I would say, “Yes, I have been to New York.” If you were to ask me if I have been to China, I would say, “No, I have not been to China.” With Ramallah however, the answer is a bit trickier, as some Kids4Peace International Board members and US Chapter directors found out last week.
For many of “us,” (Israelis), the answer last week on the bus on our way to Ramallah was “well, not as a civilian.” This confused the foreigners among us, and sent shivers up the spines of some of our Palestinian colleagues. Many of us had been to Ramallah or villages in the Ramallah area as IDF soldiers on missions, just like I had during my time serving as a Non-Commissioned Officer in COGAT. Few of us had walked the streets, chatted with locals, and ordered a local coffee.
“Ana bidi…ehh….kaweh. Kaweh ma chalib? Cappucino?”
I have had many opportunities to travel into Ramallah before, but I have always had an excuse. Most recently, when a friend celebrated the birth of his child in his home, I just said flat out, “I want to visit, but I’m too scared.” I sent a gift instead. It wasn’t the same.
When one of our American colleagues asked me if I felt calm after passing through Kalandia checkpoint, I didn’t know how to respond. Calm? Of course not! Calm would have been the Israeli soldiers sending me home and giving me an excuse not to face my fears. Calm would have been a friendly face in all green telling me that for my own safety, I cannot cross into enemy territory. Making it through Kalandia checkpoint was not calming–it was terrifying. There was that big red sign spelling out “DANGER!” and we just drove right past it. I wasn’t protected anymore. My identity alone now put me in danger. “No,” I said, “I am not calm now. It’s not the checkpoint I was afraid of, it is being here and G-d forbid, being killed.”
So then why did I go? Well, for a few reasons
Reason #1. Deep down I just felt that it would end up ok. I trust my instincts and I trust my Kids4Peace family. We’re a team in the deepest sense of the word. I knew that my Palestinian brothers and sisters were there with me, holding my hands, and making sure that everything was ok. I know that they actually legitimately care about me and wouldn’t put me in danger. So, as much as they could promise and as much as they could control–they would keep me safe from the unknown that had me shivering with fear on that 20-minute drive to Ramallah.
“Ehh, sure, I’ve been to Ramallah…”, I’ve said to those who ask.
What I don’t always say is “with a bullet proof vest, a helmet, an M-16, and armored vehicles in front of me and behind me.”
Reason #2. I’m a leader in Kids4Peace. Believe it or not–this scaredy-cat has to admit the reality. I’m one of many leaders in this awe-inspiring community and the community deserves the intellectual honesty from its staff that we as leaders ask of them. I ask our youth, our parents, our graduates, our volunteers, our educators, and our facilitators to step outside of their comfort zones all the time. I ask them to step into enemy territory. And you know what? They do. Some of them do every single day. I don’t know that if the tables were turned if I would be as strong as my Palestinian colleagues. So I decided to at least take a first step.
Reason #3. On Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), I realized during the siren that I was the only Jew in my office. I stood silently between my Palestinian friends as we stared at each other—trying to internalize the complexity of this moment of silence together. One colleague sat quietly and respectfully so not to disturb me, but did not stand. Another stood, partly out of respect and partly (admittedly) out of confusion. We spent the rest of the day discussing, arguing, crying and trying to make some sense of the reality we live in. We did not solve the conflict that day, but one thing became clear to me–they know Israeli society a million times better than I know Palestinian society. So I figured…yalla, let’s go get some coffee in Ramallah.