So far, Israel has been a learning experience. When I first started out on my bus to Tel Aviv on Thursday, I encountered unfriendly and unhelpful people. I felt uncomfortable in Tel Aviv. It felt fake, stolen. It was an entire world apart from Jerusalem and the places I’ve been in this region. Everyone was Jewish, most people were white, and it didn’t sit well with me.
It wasn’t until I reached mixed communities in the north like Haifa and Akko that I was comfortable. Here the Palestinian families that managed to stay in 1948 have grown to beautiful coexistence with the Jewish Israeli community. Almost every sign was written in Arabic and Hebrew, and Haifa even had a thriving Arabic market that made me feel at home. Abu Rami, with whom I practiced my Arabic, was half-Jewish and half-Palestinian. He owned a restaurant by my hostel and told me there were “good Jews, good Arabs, no good Jews, and no good Arabs.” In Akko, I saw an old Jewish man giving candy to Palestinian children who lived next to the ancient synagogue. A festival for Eid was being held in Akko and a local told me the same happens for Rosh Hashanah. Needless to say, these events were inspiring. I can’t help thinking that if things had been approached in a different manner from the start, then this is what all of Palestine/Israel could have looked like. And they may only get along because of necessity and growing up together, but either way it is peaceful and mutually respectful.
As I sat next to the Mediterranean Sea in Akko, a Palestinian Israeli family walked by with three of the most beautiful children–two girls and one boy. The youngest girl pointed to me. I greeted her in Arabic. The mother and I began a conversation in broken Arabic and English. I told her I was volunteering in Nablus and had time off for Eid. I watched her and her children interact and she asked her older daughter, “Bahar helweh?” (Is the sea beautiful?) “Helweh!” the daughter shouted. I thought about how fortunate this family was to see the sea any time they wanted. I wished them a Happy Eid and before they left, the mother took my hand and said, “I hope you have a wonderful time here, and please, remember me and my children.” “Thank you, I will,” I said. I was surprisingly overwhelmed by her kindness. She had her youngest say “goodbye” in English to me, and they walked back to their car. And I suddenly began to cry. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know whether I was happy or sad. I was both. I felt happy that this family had stayed and created a beautiful life here, but I was also sad because I thought of all the people I know who couldn’t and cannot even see the sea. A friend from Nablus finally came with her family to Jaffa with a permit last week, and upon return she seemed as if she would cry when she talked about seeing the sea for the first time. I felt as if I was seeing it for the first time too. I wasn’t, but suddenly the sea had so much more meaning.