This post was originally published a few days after the National Day of Catalonia (La Diada) last year on the 16th of September. I decided not to touch the introduction that I wrote at that time.
It has been a very hectic week in Catalonia because of La Diada and the issue of national identity. The national issue is a daily topic in the Middle East; leveraging these dates, I present the first interview that I had the opportunity to do with a Palestinian boy.
The interview is not focussed on the political reality of the region, but I tried to comprehend the effects that this reality has on the life and identity of M.A.R, a young Palestinian boy from Hebron in the West Bank.
I met him for the first time on a Saturday evening in Jerusalem’s central bus station. I was coming back from spending my weekend in the city and he was coming from Hebron, where he spent the weekend with his family. I saw him after I crossed the check points that separate the West Bank and Israel. I asked him for the times of the buses and he asked me where I was from. We had to wait two hours for our buses so we spent the time talking about life.
M.A.R is studying in Hebron for most of the year; when he is not studying, he works in Israel with a working and residence permit. This fact creates a weekly routine that places him in between two lands, two cultures, and two languages which are so close and yet so far from one another.
This interview shows a side of this story, a different intersection between the individual and the environment. Therefore, I leave you with M.A.R, a young Palestinian in Israel.
Voices II: A meeting with M.A.R
G.Y: I understand that being Palestinian, your relationship with Israel began from the day you were born. The political and military conflict between territories is unavoidable for the populations from both sides. But I’d like to know when you made your first step into Israel. When did you cross the border for first time? How did you feel?
The first time I came to Israel was during a one-day tour to go to the beach, have fun and go back to Palestine. Before I came to Israel for the first time, everything I used to hear in Palestine about Israel was bad things about the people, the politicians, I used to hear that they are our enemies, that we couldn’t live together, that we couldn’t do business, that we couldn’t be friends. The day I made my first step into Israel, this feeling was inside me. I was in Tel Aviv seeing people as enemies, and I was looking to the people around me and saying to myself “Finally I can see my enemies.” I found it different than what I expected or thought because all I could see before was that Israelis were soldiers in Palestine. When I came here and I saw people, it was surprising. I realized that they are people like us– working, living, doing everything like us, like everybody. At that time I didn’t speak the Hebrew language, only Arabic and English. I remember one time at the beach, I was sitting with a friend and a boy came up to me from behind and started to talk to me in Hebrew. I was so scared. I was sure that it was a soldier who came to take me and was going to do something bad to me because I was a Palestinian in Israel. Then my friend asked him if he could talk in English and then he said, “Yes, English and Arabic too, I can speak your language.” Then he started talking with us like one of us, like a friend, and we had a long talk. Finally he realized that I was afraid and told me “You don’t need to be afraid of me, I just want a lighter to light my cigarette”. That was my first interaction with an Israeli person who was not a policeman or a soldier.
G.Y: You’re the first Palestinian person I’ve interviewed for my blog, so I feel it is a mandatory question to ask you about your perception about Israel after your relationship with its people, the place and culture that is already going on for many years.
M.A.R: After my first visit, I found out that Israel is a nice country and that there are nice people, so I decided to come again and again. And I thought about having Israeli friends to check if what I heard about Israel was right. After visiting more than seven or eight times I made one friend from Tel Aviv. I met him for the first time during my second visit and by coincidence we met again the during my next visit. He was playing football alone on the beach, and since I love football, I asked him if I could play with him. The moment I asked him, I realized he was afraid of me because I’m Arab. That was exactly what happened with me when I met an Israeli for the first time, and I told him the same thing I was told: “You don’t need to be afraid.” Then we exchanged contact information, phone numbers and our Facebook names so we could keep in touch. We’re still in touch.
After three years working in Israel I made a lot of friends, both Arabs and Jewish Israelis. I also have friends from Hebron working in Israel. Together with my Jewish Israeli friends we agree that our governments are cheating us about the reality on the “other side”. We used to believe what we used to hear on the news, on the radio, on the television, but after we met people we discovered that we didn’t trust it anymore.
During the week, when I spend my time in Israel and I am working there, it doesn’t make a difference, the fact that I’m Palestinian. Many people think that I am an Arab Israeli and some of them even think that I’m a Jewish Israeli. People who are close to me know that I’m a Palestinian.
I have met Israelis who don’t like the Arabs as well. I remember once that I was still learning Hebrew and I wanted to buy something. The man in the shop realized that I didn’t speak Hebrew very well and asked me if I am Arabic. When I told him yes, he told me that he didn’t want to sell to me, to go buy from another place. After reading Joel Migdal’s interview, I can say that this man belongs to the third of the population in Israel who don’t want a solution to the conflict and peace. The same thing happens in Palestine–you will find people who want peace and friendship, and those who don’t trust and don’t want to know anything about Israel and Israeli people.
G.Y: It’s also unavoidable to ask you about your experience as a Palestinian citizen when crossing check points, the border, or once in Israeli territory, when your national identity is revealed. The last question was about interactive, social relations with Israeli people. Here I’m asking more about the institutional side of Israel.
M.A.R: When I crossed the border for the first time and I passed by the check point, they looked for weapons or bombs in all my belongings and on my body, they took a picture of me and I couldn’t really understand why that whole process was happening. I felt as if I was going to visit the White House. I just wanted to go to the beach and have fun. Nowadays, after three years of crossing the border to come to Israel each week to work during the week and going back home to see my family during the weekend, crossing a check point is part of my weekly routine. It doesn’t bother me so much to cross the check point, see the soldiers. Even if it is easier for me because I got used to it, they still act like it’s the first time. They check all my belongings, but since I speak Hebrew at least, we can speak a few words.
In Israel, every shopping center and some other restaurants and popular places have security guards at the entrance. This reminds me in a way of the check points between Palestinian cities. It’s part of the same way of thinking even if the context is very different.
G.Y: On the other hand, you’re more than integrated into a routine that requires you to cross the borders every week. I can see that a very important part of your life is taking place in Israel. Can you explain a little bit about your routines?
M.A.R: I study business administration in Hebron, Palestine for six months a year. The other six months I work in Ashdod, in Israel, in a restaurant. The only project I keep going the whole year is my football project, which takes place in Tel Aviv. When I am working in Israel, every Saturday evening I cross the border to go from Hebron to Jerusalem and then make my way to Ashdod to begin the work week. During the week, I work every day from the morning until four in the afternoon, and after work I hang out with my Israeli and Palestinian friends who are working with me. On Thursday afternoon I go back to Hebron and I spend the rest of the day with my family. On Friday morning I come back to Tel Aviv and I work on a football project. On Friday afternoon I go back to Hebron again to spend the weekend there, and on Sunday morning the story starts again. It’s four times a week that I cross the check point. During the half a year that I’m studying in Hebron, I only cross the border once a week to work on the football project. I like both my studies and football, but I prefer the football world so I’ll try to find a way to combine both of them.
G.Y: At this point I’d like to ask you about one nice project you described to me once. You’re working in a project carried out by a German organization called Zevec which aims to favor peaceful and friendly relations between Arab and Jewish Israelis. A project in which people like you who are Palestinian Arabs also take part. Can you explain about the project itself and about when and how you got into it? Where was the project developed, who is taking part, which is your role, success–or not–of the project, etc.)
M.A.R: This project is carried out by Zevec, a German organization, they finance the project. Then there is an Israeli organization called Mifalot that is in charge of making the project real (with the collaboration of Hapoel Tel Aviv Football Club) and into material terms. They bring together both Jewish and Arab Israelis and Palestinians (both Muslim and Christian), all working together. I got engaged with this project one year ago. I know about this project through a friend who has worked with me for three years in a Palestinian organization whose purposes are similar to Mefalot’s. It’s called Palestinian Youth Creations. I sent my CV and they accepted me.
This project is about encouraging Palestinians and Israelis to play, to work together, to know each other and to know a different truth, a different reality. The working team is formed by Israeli and Palestinian citizens. At this moment we are seven Palestinians, five are Israeli Arabs and five are Jewish coaches training different teams. After this project we are all getting a diploma as football coaches. We work with different procedures and children of different ages.
Through this project I made a lot of relationships with Israeli people. Now we treat each other like brothers. Sometimes we go hang out together. Working together is the best way to know each other, sharing experiences and challenges. I hope some day we can see Israeli and Palestinian children playing together and adults working together.
G.Y: Can you comment on a couple of important, exciting and emotional moments of this project since you’ve been involved? (curious, difficult, interesting, happy moments)
M.A.R: A few months ago we had a meeting for two days in Bethlehem, Palestine with all the coaches who take part in the project, Israelis and Palestinians. Those two days were unforgettable. We were like a family for two days, waking up together, eating together, having fun together, everything. Exactly like a family.
Every Friday is a special occasion. We organize matches between different coaches’ teams. For example, this week on my team there were Israeli Muslims and Jews as well as Palestinian Muslims and Christians. When someone makes a goal, it doesn’t matter who it is or what his national or religious identity is, we all celebrate together. Two nations and three religions.
G.Y: Can you describe Israel with a few adjectives?
M.A.R: Needing peace, modern, prosperous, opportunistic.
G.Y: Can you describe Palestine with a few adjectives?
M.A.R: Needing peace, determined, patient, ambitious people.