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Friendship Across Borders: An Encounter between Palestinian and Israeli Friends in Tel Aviv

01/08/2011
Bella Rubin

Friendship Across Borders:  An Encounter between  Palestinian and Israeli Friends in Tel Aviv
The day had finally come when our Palestinian friends would visit us in Tel Aviv. Ziona Snir and her partner Gideon also participated in our friends' visit to my home, and of course, my two sons, Shachar and Uriah, joined us as well. I waited a bit anxiously for the taxi that would bring Samiya, Nabila and Siham to my neighborhood, hoping that they would have a safe trip. It was very exciting to see them step out of the taxi in front of my building and to welcome them into my home. We hugged each other and I showed them into my apartment. They immediately noticed the garden visible outside my salon window which made them feel at home. I was glad that they felt comfortable and relaxed. I showed them some photographs of my family in the U.S. and we sat around over cold drinks, nibbling on nuts and chatting about each other's lives. Siham was our faithful translator and helped us communicate with each other smoothly.

Nabila soon showed us the beautiful handicrafts she had made, and Ziona and I bought some lovely bags. We promised our friends to take them to the flea market in Jaffa to try and sell the handicrafts, but also to have some fun. We asked where else they wanted to go and of course the beach was high on the list.

My sons came over and met everyone and then proceeded to start the bar-b-q which I had promised them. We sat around the garden table munching on humus, tehina, and Ziona's eggplant salad and soon each one began to reveal her story. It was difficult to listen because there was sadness in each one's tale and I wanted so much to make this day a happy one for them, full of adventure and interest, but there was no running away. Each of our friends had the need to talk about the tragedies involving their loved ones and we needed to listen, to ask questions and to empathize with them.

Among other things, Nabila and Samiya recounted their experiences with Israeli soldiers and the children of Bet Ummar years ago. They believed that the children were often needlessly provoked into violent confrontation by the soldiers. Siham revealed her pain over losing her brother, Yussef, who was shot by an Israeli soldier for no apparent reason. We were astonished by the strength and courage of these 3 women and equally by their willingness to reach out to us in friendship. Gideon described his army service of many years ago and what eventually drove him to see the relationship between the Palestinian people and the Israelis in a different light. A lively conversation developed afterwards.

Soon the shipodim (bar-b-q food) were ready and we began to enjoy our meal together. All in all, Samiya and Nabila seemed comfortable in our home and we began to feel that the visit was a positive experience for them and for us. My sons joined in the conversation and in the end everybody was hugging and smiling. We then decided it was time to have some fun in Tel Aviv and we took everyone to the Jaffa flea market. Shachar came along with his camera and we strolled down the narrow streets stopping at various colorful shops, looking at antiques, jewelry, clothes...all the wares there were to offer. We came upon a shop that sold crafts from all over the world-Africa, India, the Middle East. We tried to interest the saleswoman in Nabila's handmade bags and trinkets; she was very polite and suggested that we get in touch with the owner. (A few days later I called the owner who was very forthcoming but explained that she was already working with two groups of Palestinian women and she didn't want to intrude on them. She did say she would look at some very unique things, so in the near future, I plan to show her Samiya's charming basket work which she showed us on our subsequent visit to Bet Ummar, as well as Nabila's crafts.)

Samiya and Nabila came alive in the market! Their eyes brightened and their hands began to touch all kinds of beads, earrings, dishes...We soon found ourselves inside an alleyway filled with dresses, jewelry and many other inviting goods. Siham joined in the game of bargaining, trying to mediate between the Israeli vendors and the Palestinian women intent on getting good buys, and so they did. My son photographed us, enjoying the colorful scenes. One could have thought that we were all tourists on holiday in ordinary times. How ironic the situation was since in the back of our minds we knew that these were not ordinary times; this was not an ordinary day for our friends or for us; they had to enjoy every moment for they would soon be required to return to the checkpoints and cross back over the border, wondering whether they would ever be able to visit us again.

After a few frugal purchases, we decided to jump in our cars and head for the Adjame beach in Jaffa. My son was the leader since he was quite familiar with the winding streets as well as the smells and sounds of Jaffa. As we approached the beach it was late afternoon. The sun was low in the horizon and the light was soft and yellowish on our faces, the sea was quite calm and inviting, the gentle waves and the tingling wet sand luring us into taking off our shoes and mingling with the water. The sun was setting, Ziona held her lovely dress above the water, all was quiet on the western front, click went my son's camera. Siham, also with a camera in hand, documented the happy visitors.

The Israeli driver was patiently waiting for the signal from our Palestinian friends to head back home. It was after 18:00, two hours beyond the designated time for their return, but nobody was in a hurry to leave the sea behind. For me, the day ended with a feeling of calm, warmth and a sense of fulfillment. I hope the others felt the same way.

Submitted by Bella Rubin, August, 2011
Participant in the "Grannies Group" sponsored by the Forum of Bereaved Families -- encounters among members from Tel Aviv/Bet Ummar

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