At the second meeting of the Palestinian-Jewish women’s forum at A-Ram, near Ramallah, there was electricity in the air.
Fourteen guests and more than a score of hostesses buzzed around like busy bees in a hive, in the impressive and hospitable offices.
The Palestinian hostesses also gave their guests, who had arrived from all corners of Israel, a feeling of “we are part of a family”.
Already on the minibus en route to A-Ram, the atmosphere was festive; the girls didn’t hide their excitement and anticipation.
This was in no way an ordinary trip.
I will share with you an open secret: even from my closest friends I receive skeptic and sometimes dismissive response, “What have you got to look for there??? Do you honestly believe dialogue is possible?! Beware of traveling there…”.
I find it difficult to argue with people, especially those closest to me, about this.
It is also difficult for me to transfer to them my sincere and innermost feelings, “Yes, yes! This is exactly the way!”
There is here, and here is there. Especially when it comes to the souls at work within the Palestinian-Jewish Forum. But let’s leave this debate and get back to the magical morning there.
Tamara and ‘Ayisha were the cultural editors of the meeting, and did this with heart warming grace and sensitivity. Tamara’s humor embroidered the most delicate stitches, one by one, in artistic masterwork. We so loved her comment, immediately after the opening greeting, after ‘Ayisha had translated word for word her from English (to Arabic); and what did Tamara comment with deadpan seriousness? - “I did NOT say that!!!” ‘Ayisha, shocked, looked at Tamara bewildered, while the rest of us had a laughing fit… indeed, ‘Ayisha joined us laughing, and the ice had broken.
We are already laughing together. What more can we ask for?!
Tamara told us that initially people didn’t believe the forum would gain inertia, that it would amount to anything, and “now look at us, everyone’s ‘scared’ of us…”, as an organization in the making that is able to move things in the real world, and be a player, and perhaps it’s really time to regard us with awe.
That morning crystallized a strong group, which wishes to remain united and to start making history.
“We had decided that each meeting will begin with half an hour of learning Arabic and Hebrew. You all have homework from the previous meeting, which one of you prepared her homework?” Tamara recruited her pedagogical powers. It turns out that many of us must sit in the corner or bring a note from our parents… homework? Not so much in our school…
Nonetheless, those of us who had studied – were able to chatter a bit and coax their immediate neighbors sitting in the circle, demonstrating a strong will for dialogue in a not-so foreign (any more) tongue.
The attempt at thawing of emotions was a success.
The individual, who thought up the question, asked of us all in the circle in rotation: “what makes you joyous, in one word?” had made all of us work hard to distill our immediate joy, that which is most banal but real. The answers united each of us with the others’ dreams, and created one unified picture: we are all joyous with the smaller things in life, those which are the truly big things.
Zafa from Shechem (Nablus) is joyous if she can raise her kids in safety. Daniela – is joyous to be at home during the weekend. Asnan is joyous that her supportive parents are backing her up. Neta is joyous with India (Ah... her India). Tzurit shares with us her recent joy: she doesn’t have to get up for work anymore. Nassrin from Bethlehem finds joy in traveling. Nashkhed derives joy from helping anyone out, while Siham softly says, almost in a whisper: “that God looks after my brother…”; a familiar joy. Arnona from Jerusalem lovingly embraces the local child sitting on her knees and says: “what gives me joy is hugging this child, she reminds me of my granddaughter…”, suddenly, all of it is so embracing, so familial. Nizza is joyous walking the fields of her kibbutz (Ramot Menashe) and that nothing blows up…
Fadya – to see everyone here together. Her answer speaks for us all. Nira shamelessly breaks with the room’s tradition and says: “I don’t get it, so many women together in one place, and not one of you points out that what makes you joyous is FOOD?!”… the all-around laughter proves beyond words how we all agree and identify with what she has said. Not to worry, the chapter of food that makes us joyous is yet to arrive!
Forgive me for not detailing the entire round of answers, but I will say that each answer knitted all of us closer together. Only a handful gave answers that touched on joy cracked by our mutual fate.
‘Ayisha managed to steer clear of this pothole with a gentle touch: “we haven’t come here to cry… we would like to be joyous together”.
- Keef halaq? – Qawis!
- How are you? – Alright!
- Sabah el-Hir, Kam sa’a?
- Good morning, what’s the time?
- At mabsouta? – Na’am.
- Are you pleased? – Yes.
This was a good start, and it started with cue cards passed from one to the other and from group to group, helping us learn each other’s languages simultaneously.
Words cannot describe the laughter that erupted when we each of us tried to practice the other’s language and the accent and melody of the language didn’t always fit the tongue we were trying to speak. One corrected the other and all in all there was much happiness in the room. When the lesson was over, we passed a spool of thread from one to the other, from Palestinian to Jew, and each of us had to say a word to her colleague who then had to translate that word. It’s hard to describe the glee! We now also have a common language!
Did I promise food?
The feast prepared by the hostesses was beyond any expectation. The luncheon we were presented with was wonderful. The love and care with which it was prepared was tangible. Have you tasted the sweet Knafa from Hebron?! That was the question of all questions, and the taste of the answer still sweetens the memories.
During the last part of the meeting, we were given the task to write a story or poem on the subject: what is forbidden and what is allowed in the society in which I live?
Naturally, the products of this exemplified to the extreme the differences in mentality, rhythm and style of life in our respective societies.
Here also, as before, we couldn’t stop our outbursts of laughter, especially with the great job Nizza did with her sketch – well, after all, it is her field of expertise.
The farewell came with hugs and kisses like at the end of a family wedding, with Mashka firing away all the while with her camera.
It seemed that even she, who is seasoned in such meetings, was moved.
Only at the army barrier at the exit from A-Ram, when we were asked to show our identification cards, did the reality from which we had briefly escaped catch up with us. It was impossible not to be saddened by such a moment, which proved, even us optimists, that the laughter we had experienced and those magical moments from which it came are not yet to be taken for granted.