Comprehension at Winterschool 2012/2013: Yair from Israel gives an accout of his encounter with Jihad, a palestinian woman from Gaza.
I met Jihad at the seminar in Germany. When in the round of names she introduced herself as Jihad, I had to stop myself from uttering anything. Even the fact that the girl before her introduced herself as Islam, didn’t help much. During the first few days of the seminar, not more than a polite and embarrassed 'Hi' was exchanged . Two days before the end of the seminar I told myself that I could not and would not miss such a rare opportunity to speak to someone from Gaza face to face. So in one of the breaks I initiated a conversation with her in my broken English.
Yair: So, how is the seminar?
Jihad: Ok. I am a little tired, but otherwise it’s fine.
Y. Was the journey from Gaza to Germany tiring?
J. Yes, and so long. First to Cairo, then to Istanbul and from there to Germany. Such a long time – and our luggage got lost. It arrived only today.
Y. What a mess! The truth is that I am also quite tired although my journey was shorter.
J. How did you get here?
Y. On the flight from Tel Aviv!
Y. Tell me Jihad, where in Gaza do you live?
J. In Rafiah, the southern part of the Strip.
Y. Does all your family live there?
J. We are two thousand people in the family.
Y. Two thousand family members, all in Rafiah?
J. No. Two thousand in all of Gaza, but I also have a brother, who is an engineer, and he lives in the States.
J. And where are you from?
Y. I work in Ashdod, or as they say in Arabic – Asdood.
J. (With an embarrassed smile and moving her hands towards me to illustrate her words) : You had lots of rockets.
Y. Yes, quite. But (with the same movement towards her) you had it hard, worse, I imagine.
J. Oy weh! It was very difficult – you cannot imagine how.
Y. Indeed I can’t. Is this your first time abroad?
J. It is my first time out of Gaza.
Y. Was it hard to get out of Gaza?
J. Very, very hard. I didn’t know whether I would go, until the very last moment.
Y. And how does it feel being abroad?
J. Fun. Good. And it’s nice to meet people from all different places.
Y. Yes, there are lots of very nice people here ... I would like to ask you – were there any hits near your home?
J. The building next to us was destroyed.
Y. There weren’t any hurt or wounded in your family?
J. No, thanks God!
Y. I am glad to hear. Do you like Gaza?
J. Yes, very much. Gaza is very beautiful.
Y. What do you like in Gaza?
J. The people. It is very crowded there, so there is a strong feeling of community. We all live in each other’s pockets.
Y. If I am not mistaken, Gaza is one of the two most populated areas in the world. It must be quite difficult to live in such a crowded place.
J. It is, but it is also very special. It’s unique.
Y. Is there electricity in Gaza?
J. Yes, but the electricity in Rafiah comes from Egypt and sometimes we are left without it for ten days.
Y. And water? Is there always water?
J. Yes, but not of a good quality.
Y. Another question, if I may? How do you feel about meeting Israelis? Is it difficult?
J. I am very happy to meet you. I think it is very good.
Y. I am glad to meet you too. It is the first time that I have met someone who lives in Gaza. But the people in Gaza? Surely they hate Israelis … don’t they?
J. Not at all. Many people remember the times when they worked in Israel. My parents have many friends in Israel whom they love.
Y. You know, in Israeli media we hear all the time that all Gazans support Hamas.
J. This is not so. Many people blamed Hammas for the deaths of Gaza people in the last war.
Y. Are you talking about the deaths of people killed by our forces.
J. Yes, but any action brings reaction. Gaza residents know that, when Hamas shoots, we will suffer much more. The people in Gaza are tired of all this killing and war. We just want to live in peace. The people in Gaza will support those who will better their lives. Ever since Hamas came to rule, there has been no improvement, but the reverse. It has become worse.
Y. And Fattah? Is there support for Abu Mazen?
J. Let me say it again. The people of Gaza will support whoever makes their lives better. Life in Gaza is really very, very hard. One of the biggest problems is that there is no development. Many young people are unemployed, doing nothing.
Y. Do you think that one day the people of Gaza will get rid of the Hamas rule?
J. I am absolutely certain that this will happen.
Y. Really? Here in Israel we keep hearing that Hamas is an undisputed ruler.
J. This is true – but they are a small group of extremists. Most people want to achieve some kind of agreement with Israel and stop this continuing bloodshed.
Y. Do people of Gaza take Israel ’s existence for granted? All the time we hear that Hamas wants to eradicate Israel from the map and take over the whole country.
J. The majority knows that Israel is a fact that will never change. Moreover, Gaza and Palestine cannot exist without Israel. We are intertwined. Israel is strong and it will never disappear, just as the people of Gaza will not disappear. That is why the only solution is Peace.
Y. You know, here in Israel many people have lost hope . They say that nothing has changed for the past 60 years, it has even become worse, and nothing can change. I believe that things can change but it seems that there is a long way to go for all the nations in our area and there will be a lot of pain until both sides choose differently. Another fifty years, in my opinion.
J. Much, much less. There will be peace, I am optimistic, I am really optimistic, there will be peace because there is no other way.
Y. Here we are not so optimistic, and there is a lot of hate towards the other side …
J. It’s OK. It is the people like you or me who will make difference. I am a teacher in the elementary school. I teach four year olds and all the time I prepare them for peace. I tell them stories about peace so they will know and be ready.
Y. Wow! I can’t believe my ears.
J. I am really optimistic. It is us who will make the change. You and I must go on doing what we do. You’ll see. It will be well. There will be peace.
My conversation with Jihad shook me. Even if she showed me a picture rosier than the reality, she still showed the truth. Her face and her voice gave me hope and that embarrassed me. It was embarrassing to see that I was the one who had not much hope, I who live freely, who can choose to go wherever I want, eat what I want and vote for whatever party I choose. I was hopeless and she, Jihad, whose everyday reality is hard, under the extremist religious rule, tells me that she is optimistic and reminds me that it is our task to make the change. Years of prejudice and thoughts which grew out of hopelessness , lack of communication, pain and hate disappeared in a 15 minute conversation face to face. I have always known that there are human beings there, but it was the first time I also felt it.