I was invited to a tea during which a new Palestinian organization was introducing itself. My daughter, my adopted daughter and I walked into a lovely home and, after greeting our hostess, we walked towards the area where the guests were gathered sipping their tea and munching on the sumptuous delicacies laid out. As I glanced across the room, I saw a woman with beautiful all-white hair talking energetically with another guest. I realized immediately that I knew her very well, however the name eluded me! Ah, those many Senior Moments! Anyway, by the time I had walked over to greet her the name miraculously appeared in my mind’s eye!
She smiled and looked at me quizzically. We all have Senior Moments, I guess!
“It’s Hala Jabbour.”
“Hala! Of course!”
About thirty years melted away as we hugged, reconnected and remembered the numerous occasions during which our paths had crossed, the many meetings, activism and emotions of that long ago time when we were both involved with Israeli-Palestinian peace issues and with all the hopes that made it all seem so close at hand and, yet, that were shattered quite rapidly and tragically.
I reminded her how I used to say that, if I went out for a smoke during the many heated dialogue discussions, I would feel very comfortable with her speaking on my behalf. That’s how much I respected and trusted Ellen.
You see, Ellen is Jewish. She is a nurse by profession who was working at the Gaza Hospital in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp in 1982 when the massacres on that camp occurred. Consequently, Ellen testified before the Israeli Commission of Inquiry that indicted Ariel Sharon for his involvement in that atrocious massacre. She still goes back to Beirut, Lebanon every year on the commemoration of that terrible memory.
“Your mother,” she tells my daughter, “is a courageous woman who dared to participate in dialogues with Jewish people when such an idea was still very taboo.”
And it was quite bold, especially prior to those Oslo years when we were all apprehensive, wary, worried, somehow reluctant of participating in dialoguing. However, we did it anyway and moved forward believing that peace between our two people was not only possible, but necessary for both. Most of us who believed in that worthy movement have persevered throughout these dismal years, relentlessly hoping against all hope that the elusive peace will happen one day as it should. Unfortunately, since then, much that is positive, and many horrors and bloodshed have occurred.
Ellen is a wonderful woman, a terrific activist and a proponent of peace who first realized the plight of the Palestinian people in 1972 (before which she had no idea) whereupon she worked with Palestinian and Jewish groups in London, went on to support the Israeli Peace Movement in the US with special focus on the IDF soldiers who refused to serve, and proceeded from there to help start the Jewish Committee for Israeli Palestinian Peace. Encountering her that afternoon was another affirmation of our commitment to that peace and of both of our unrealized ongoing efforts in that regard.
That same week . . .
Upon my suggestion, my book club is reading “Mornings in Jenin,” a beautiful novel about the Palestinian catastrophe written by an extraordinary Palestinian woman, Susan Abulhawa. In the meantime, one of our members had invited another interested person to join our book club. That woman gladly accepted. However, as soon as she was told about our current book selection, she said that she preferred not to attend and that, moreover, she and her husband had discussed “Mornings in Jenin,” read about its content and that she would not read the book, adding that “this is not really what happened!” Needless to tell you, the woman is Jewish.
When I was told about her reaction I was quite literally blown away! How could any educated, reasonable human being be unwilling to realize that there are Always two sides to a coin and that the Israeli narrative is certainly not the only Truth out there; that there are undisputed historical facts and accounts that no one can ignore and call themselves knowledgeable. How can Anyone dismiss someone else’s agony and distress so flippantly? How would such a person react had I, for instance, offhandedly dismissed the Holocaust simply as one of the sad consequences of an atrocious war? She would have been rightfully aghast! So how could she dismiss the entire Palestinian narrative as “that’s not really what happened” when I am a first-hand witness of that tragic event and history having lived it daily since 1948? Was she even there, or did she just listen to the racist, bigoted Israeli propaganda narrative? Denial? Willful Blindness? Racism? Bigotry?
So compare and contrast, my friends!
On the one hand there is a super woman named Ellen Siegel and the many Jewish people like her and, on the other hand, you have that other Jewish woman – and the many Jews like her – who dismisses my catastrophe with one appalling phrase: “that’s not how it happened!” Seriously?!!
It is fine to stand in solidarity with one’s people. It is not fine to be so close-minded in a warring world that needs more heart and less muscle.
However, indignant as I am about this story, and furious as I may be about the criminal behaviors of some Israeli settlers and at the Israeli Government, I have to admit in all fairness that there are many Palestinians and Arabs who are just as bigoted and as close-minded as this woman. Many of those have, over the years, told me that I am naïve for being broad-minded about my desire for peace between Israelis and Palestinians; of my genuine belief that belligerence and animosity only breed more of the same. Some have even gone so far as to call us peace proponents: traitors! Quite unbelievable!
Compare and Contrast, my friends!!! Truly Quite Remarkable!