Tel Aviv. I meet Jaafar. I haven’t seen him since last year when I was in the West Bank.
I had met Jaafar in Nablus, because of Yahyah who is Sam’s brother. I had become their friend learning this way about all the intricacies of the thoughts of these young boys from Nablus.
They had driven me to Bethelem telling me they were already going there anyway. Which I realized quite soon it was not true, they were just being kind to me. I have written here before, about how difficult it was that time for me and my three Palestinian friends to be taken by my Italian friend to see the separation wall. I wrote extensively about how unhappy I was by his poor choice of making us walk inside of the metal bar corridors that lead us to the checkpoint. I wrote about how much I silently cried feeling like we were animals. How sad I was to realize that my friends here could not meet my friends there. How much I hated that wall. I wrote about taking refuge in an icecream with them.
Now Jaafar is here in Tel Aviv. He works with computers in Ramallah and had been invited by Microsoft in Herzelya to go visit them. Microsoft had applied for the permissions for Jaafar and 2 other Palestinians to come to Israel. It is not the first time that he comes to Microsoft. This time however, he could not make it. They were held too many hours in the checkpoint.
I know nothing of this when I go meeting him. All I know is that at 8pm he would be free for not very long as it was a one-day permit and they have to return soon from Tel Aviv to Ramallah.
I walk the streets towards the place we are supposed to meet in but Jaafar sees me first. He is inside of a natural shop with his friends. I go in. I am puzzled by what they are buying. “Protein” they explain. “It is for the gym”. I laugh and walk around the shop. Being intrigued by the amount of health food they hold. They speak to the older Jewish Israeli owner in English. He is curious and wants to know where they are from.
They say they are from “Schem” the Hebrew name of Nablus. The old man says he had been there as a child. That it was a wonderful place. He wished he could visit. They tell him he should come. I am intrigued by how friendly the conversation is.
We walk out. And Jaafar and I go for a walk. Michal, my Israeli Jewish friend, is coming to meet us. I feel some joy about it.
We meet her, and walk while we talk about all that has happened since I last saw him. Who got married, changing of jobs, ramadan, etc….
I see in Jaafar’s face how happy he is to see me. I am happy to see him too.
I tell him about my settler friend. I ask him whether it disturbs him I had been out with a settler. He asks me what kind of a settlement it is from. I explain it was a neighborhood mainly consisting of Palestinian people. That I was told that there were Jewish people who had always lived there. I ask him what he thinks about it
“I think it is ok.”
“Do you think they should be made to move back to Israel?”
“I think the new settlements yes. But people who have always been there no. Palestinians and Jews mostly lived in peace for years. The can stay.. but the new ones should go.”
I ask him what he feels about Palestinians Citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis). Should they move to Palestine once (if) there is a state? He does not think so. They live here. They are used to their lives here. They have always lived here so they should not have to move.
We are now seating in Habima beautiful square. Right in front of the Theater and right on the garden. We seat on a corner. Jaafar is to on the middle.
Michal asks him things as well. We talk about Nablus which Michal did not know it was the same place as Schem. We look for the etymology of the name. I tell him she wanted to come but is afraid. He tells her she is more than welcome to come. She explains she does not have a different passport. She is Israeli and according to the law Israelis can’t go to the West Bankn ( unless they are settlers, or IDF soldiers). He tells her she could ask for a Permit like he had done it. She explains she feels it might be dangerous for an Israeli to go there. She says it politely, careful, as she cares about what he thinks, and because she also wants to know more, and is afraid. He suggests she does not go around screaming she is an Israeli and that she speaks English. But he does not believe she would have a problem.
She explains she is certain that most people would be nice but she is afraid of terrorists. Her mother, she explains, would be terrified if she went to the WB. She is curious but at the same time she is afraid of going. She does not want to have to conceal her Israeli identity. He understands her fear thought he still thinks it would be fine.
I love Michal. And I understand her. I really do.
She is so young and so different than most people I know. She always is honest and says whatever she thinks. I met her in India and through having an accident in a bus we became more connected than ever. We traveled India together till I flew away. We sat for hours sometimes by the Rishikesh bridge in India just looking at the people. The saris. Saying yes to every man, boy, girl, woman, parents who wanted to take pictures with us. We must feature in hundreds of pictures. We found it funny. And because we always took pictures of people we thought it would be nothing but balanced to let people take pictures of us.
We once traveled to Rajasthan in a fully packed bus. We were 5 westerners in the bus. The other 3 did not want to have any contact with Indians. We gave one of our beds out so that 5 guys could go spend a whole night there rather than in the floor. Because of this they took cared of us.
And then when I broke my foot in Thailand she took 18 hours of a bus ride to see me.
And now I am here with her in Tel Aviv. She seats next to my Palestinian friend and I know she feels as sad as I do when she hears he missed the appointment because of the check point. Though we don’t talk about it I know it is hard for her to see him. It is nothing about him or her. But these meetings they are too human. I was once told by a philosopher I met in Jerusalem he could not deal with reading me. I pressed him to tell me more about it.
” It is too human Jules. If you talked politics I could fully agree or disagree with you. But when you tell me of the lives of people then I noticed something that is unbearably painful that as much as I am against the occupation it still functions in my mind in a certain way because we draw lines of separation”
I was thankful to him for saying that out loud to himself and to me. I knew it was incredibly hard to get it out of him. But when two human beings meet as humans. Not as a category of a specific group, all ideologies seem to fall. You cant possibly sustain an occupation of normal human beings. So we play with people’s minds. Some are convinced that all of those on the other side of the wall are dangerous. Others think is just a portion. And even the nicest feel that the existence of one terrorist is enough to occupy a whole country…
It work both sides as well… and in many places of the world.
It is hard to be a bridge.
I ask Jaafar to text me once he is back to the West Bank so that I know it went all fine.
A few hours later I get his message “Back to reality”
It hurts to be a bridge.. It hurts that the possibilities of encounter seem yet for all like a distant dream. It is hard to cross frontiers and internal borders. No matter who you are. Yet, I still think we must always do it. We must all embrace the pain. With it comes a silent more complex understanding. An everlasting faith that eventually, all walls fall down…