We have no choice. This is the only way.

Today I took part in another meeting between Arab and Jewish teenagers in Israel. For those who don’t know this, I volunteer in an organization called “אפשר אחרת” or in English “A New Way.” It literally means- “A different way is possible.” During the meetings, I speak privately with the students and try to understand how they feel, and why. Today, I had the privilege in joining them at the circus!

67 students walked into a circus with hula-hoops, ropes, mattress’s, and were ready to start! This specific group today met for the 3rd time. I parked my car, got out and saw two men standing in the parking lot. I approached them asking if they knew where the students were and could tell me where to go. They smiled and told me “The Arabs and Jews?” I nodded. They told me they were inside. Before walking in they stopped me and said- “Wait, what is this for?” I began to explain what A New Way was, and their purpose. They were the bus drivers that brought the students, and ironically, one was an Arab bus driver and one was a Jewish bus driver. They began to laugh. The Arab told me- “I brought the Jewish students! And he brought the Arab students!” After a minute of laughing they stopped, looked at one another and then at me and said – “So is a different way possible?” I smiled and told them there is. One said Amen, the other Inshallah.

When entering the circus I noticed the problematic students, the easy going ones, and the girls who didn’t want to ruin their hair and sat on the side. I quickly made eye contact with one student. He seemed like the leader of his pack, and I needed him. After speaking to multiple students I asked him to come with me to the side. He stood, and I began to ask questions. His friends said “Can we come too?” And I said “of course, as long as you’re willing to answer questions!” I began to ask the leader of the pack, Salim, how he felt, if the meetings gave him hope, or changed his opinion… He was optimistic and told me there was a lot of racism between the two sides in the first meeting and he’s seen a huge difference. Suddenly, his friend cut him off and yelled “There is no peace with them! Are you crazy? This is all bull shit!” The other 5 students simply looked at him and were shocked he had the courage to speak this way to Salim. Salim was angry, you could tell by looking at his eyes but he gave his friend a friendly slap on the back and told him “Stop! If we don’t do it, no one will. We have no choice. This is the only way.” His friend was aggravated but said – “I guess you are right.” Salim continued to explain to his friends how important it was that I was recording them and sharing their message he said “If more people hear us talking like this on the radio, they will know the truth, that we are peaceful and want to live together.” He was right. And it wasn’t only I who saw it. His friends saw it too. The 48 year old bus driver asked me if it was possible, if a different way was even attainable. And the 16 year old Arab high school student could have given him the answer.

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How can an IDF soldier wear a Palestinian flag?

תמונה 21

There were a few hours left before I had to be at our meeting spot in Tel Aviv. So I started packing. Maybe this color isn’t nice? Maybe this color isn’t friendly enough? Maybe this color will scare them away from me? I took out something I could wear to sleep – only to then realize that every t-shirt I sleep in is from my service in the IDF. Great. What do I wear to sleep?

I finally figured out what clothes I should take. Closed my suitcase, headed to the bus. I was excited, I was anxious, I was scared, I didn’t know what to think. Even the one person I did tell said – ARE YOU CRAZY?! So I stopped telling people. Just went with my heart, I went with my fiends. I arrived at hotel after 4 hours on the road, entered the lobby, for the first time, I met the Palestinians. I met the human beings I’ve been speaking to for 6 months online. The people who a year ago I would have been scared to speak to even online cause I was taught they would show up at my house and hurt me. We started talking- Small talk. How was your ride? Great! Was the border check annoying? Eh not really. Let’s go get lunch! Ok! But I knew it was coming…

A small group of us decided to walk to the Dead Sea- An Israeli, A Palestinian, and A Tunisian, walking to the Dead Sea. I wear a bracelet of the Palestinian flag, I think it’s important to show coexistence, that I, an Israeli, can accept Palestine.  On our walk there I knew K wanted to ask. He looked at me and said “Do you wear this bracelet because we are here or because you love us? How can an IDF soldier wear a Palestinian flag?” It took him a few seconds to put the words together. He didn’t know how to word it- I believe he was just as scared as I was. I told him the truth- I want to defend Israel for my people, and for your people. He didn’t understand fully yet. But I knew he would at some point. “But you know how they treat us Palestinians? How could you?” I tried to explain my feelings towards Hamas. That building tunnels wasn’t the way to peace, and that we couldn’t allow them to hurt us and sit back and watch. He began to slowly understand. Over the next few days we spoke a lot. Every break we had we got deeper and deeper into the conversation. S was very quiet. He sat there just listening a lot, and I always wanted to hear him. On the last evening, I was alone. Just me, and 4 Palestinians, and oh- they had questions. We talked about the IDF, the US, wars in Gaza, what it’s like to serve in the IDF, weapons we use, with no anger. The conversation was calm. We spoke about the US, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan – We spoke politics, Abba, Bibi, how sad I was from the results and they were just as sad. We stayed up until 2 am talking about everything. I spoke about how terrible the occupation was, how inhumane I feel it is, how Abbas is a partner for peace and I pray he will succeed. An Israeli and 4 Palestinians – trying to figure out what is actually holding us back from reaching peace. I felt like I left the conversation feeling good. Like I made my point clear, but I was skeptical. When I got back to my room, S texted me, he said “I liked the way you think very much,” and sent me his phone number saying “if you’re ever in the West Bank and need help, here is my number.” It was beyond heart warming, I knew I gained a friend.

On the last day we sat down to keep working on our writing. After my discussion with K I was worried. But I hoped he would think fondly of me when he went back home. The day was starting to come to an end. He came up to me and said “Angy I would like to interview you. About how an IDF soldier can be pro-Palestine and wear this bracelet. Can I please?” I was excited beyond words. I managed to explain to them that you can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. You can love Israel and want good for the Palestinian people at the same time. You can fight for Israel because you aren’t only fighting for Israel, you are fighting for Palestinians. We are all fighting terror. Because we want peace, and terror is keeping us away from it. He asked me questions for 30 minutes straight. And I did my best to answer. To show him how important it was for Israel to fight terror, how traumatized we are, how important it for us to live in peace. I showed him a text message I got from a friend from Israel saying “Don’t forget to tell them we want peace.” He was surprised, but he smiled.

My message managed to reach 5 new Palestinians. People who would have never known that there are IDF soldiers who want peace. Who love the Palestinian people and believe they deserve rights just like anyone else. That there is someone who wears a uniform during wars, but is against the occupation. K told me he would share our interview and tell his friends. I promised that if they ever have questions, they are always welcome to contact me. This may seem like a small step for some, but it is a huge step for me. King Abdullah II said a few weeks ago, “Young people, especially, must be inspired by values that reject violence, create peace and build inclusive society.” And that is exactly what we did.

They are allowed to love, we are not.

Yesterday I attended a students activity day for A New Way. A New Way is an organization that brings Arab and Jewish Israeli students together for multiple activity meetings and then for a final meeting among their parents.
I walked into the classroom and I felt confused. Arabs sitting on one side, Jews sitting on the other. The Jewish girls made cookies and cakes, came up to every Arab student and offered them a piece with a smile. But the Arab students were lost, had no idea what they were doing there and were unable to smile. The first activity began. I sat with the girls. I noticed a girl with a head covering who didn’t say a word. She refused to even try and speak Hebrew. I heard her say her name one time, Aamira. I kept my eye on her…
I realized that everything that is said by a councilor or student is translated into Hebrew and Arabic so that everyone understands. A majority of the Arab students don’t speak Hebrew and none of the Jewish students had fluent Arabic. You see buddies, they don’t leave their buddies. It’s like they’re scared to move without someone from their side… They begin to laugh together, the ice is melting.
A conversation starts among the girls. The Jewish girls start to tell the Arab girls that they can have boyfriends, their parents know about them, and they come over often. Aamira looks angrier than when she walked in.
The Arab girls say there is no way they can have a boyfriend and tell their parents! They hide it away from them. The Jewish girls are shocked! They begin to talk and laugh about it, a young Arab girl talks about how a girl in their school is pregnant and her parents don’t know – she’s broken the ice.
Aamira yells in Arabic “They are allowed to love, we are not.” The ice they broke just shattered.

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Later I sat with the boys who just came back from playing soccer. The councilor was telling them about how this coming Wednesday the teachers and students are going on strike because schools in Israel have cancelled school trips. The councilor tells them “Look at how much power you as students have! No student in Israel is coming to school on Wednesday!” An Arab boy yells, “Us too??” confused on if he’s a part of these Israeli students the councilor is talking about…
The boys were asked if they were to build a soccer team together, how would it work?
Ben yells “Let’s agree that the team’s coach is a Christian! That way its fair!” The boys laugh and agree.
“What days will we train?” Ahmed yells
Gil says “Sunday’s and Thursday’s!”
“Our coach can’t train on Sunday’s!” Ben says
He’s right… So they agreed to Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“And what color shirt will we wear?” Adam says
“White! It’s the color of peace and clarity” Ahmed answers.
They all smile and nod. Leaving with the feeling of peace and clarity… Not looking back at the past but forward towards a clean and new future, together.