by Mohammad Joulany, K4P Jerusalem Co-Director
Yesterday marked sixty-seven years of what my people refer to as “Nakba day” which means the day of the catastrophe. On the day of Nakba I remember my grandfather who was forced to move from his spacious apartment in Baka to live in a tiny room in the Muslim quarter of The Old City of Jerusalem.
I remember those who suffer until this very moment from the consequences of their displacement in refugee camps in the West Bank, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. The day that I commemorate is the same day that my Israeli colleagues celebrate and refer to as Independence Day. Here I ask myself the same question that our Jerusalem steering committee chair asked in a previous post: can we really bridge the gap when our worldviews are so different? A simple answer would be a “yes” or “no” answer but an honest one would be “I am not sure”.
The gap is huge for a reason. It is huge because of over sixty-seven years of the unwillingness of recognizing the other. It is due to the education that Israeli’s and Palestinian’s have that does not teach about the other and if it does, it is often to dehumanize the other. While I believe that my people’s cause is just I am sure that my people’s victory should not be over other’s misery. This might sound like a romantic discourse but the reality is that in a small country like ours it is impossible to live alone and pretend that the other side does not exist and here I remember the words of Martin Luther King when he said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.
One may ask why I refer to coexistence when I commemorate the Nakba day instead of referring the right of return for example. It is almost impossible to convince Israeli’s of the “right of return” if they see you as a threat and when their prime minister encourage them to vote for his extreme government because as he called it “the Arabs are voting in droves”. The mutual responsibility we have is to encourage our people to interact and live together. Israeli’s and Palestinians should be convinced that coexisting is not a naïve choice rather a strategic one to face growing extremism in our societies and the region as well.
Last week a number of angry Palestinian youth stopped an Israeli-Palestinian meeting that was about to take place in East Jerusalem. While I understand the frustration of those youth living under occupation, I do see that what they did is mainly contributing to the policies of the extreme right in Israel, which calls for Isolation. What damage is to happen if this meeting actually took place? Well, I can only think of so many advantages and very little disadvantages. It is our role as Palestinians to present our suffering, hopes, and fears in front of Israelis before anyone else in the world. “The system” does not allow for much interaction, most encounters are on the surface and are not deep enough to the level when gaps are identified.
My message is also to those who pretend to do the “coexistence work”. Being polite and friendly will not help much. Be honest but sensitive when presenting your fears or sufferings to the other. The best present to your people on the Israeli Independence Day or on the Day of Nakba is to be proactive and take a step forward towards talking to a new person from the other side.
Tomorrow is what the Israelis refer to as “Jerusalem Day”. It is the day when the extreme right march towards to Eastern side of the city chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Mohammad is dead”. I dream of the day when we citizens of Jerusalem can walk for peace unified, regardless of our religion or national belonging.
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