Lockdowns, closings, no in-person appointments, zoom calls, remote learning, stay home, go to work, teach your children…
This year has been full of changes for all of us. I think the most difficult part is the change in our social connections and interactions. Musalaha knows very well that “contact” is an essential ingredient in dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It helps us overcome our fears and suspicions, and allows us to open-up about our wounds.
Last weekend, a Musalaha women’s group was doing exactly this in one of our meetings. When I asked the ladies from this new group if they wanted to meet, even with COVID-19 around, I received a resounding YES! All of us are yearning for connections and fellowship.
However we did not give them an easy weekend. Yes, we want them to relax and enjoy the Dead Sea (the only place open for us to meet), but we also wanted them to do the hard work of reconciliation and discuss what prevents us from reconciling (even without COVID-19). Physical, emotional, social, and psychological obstacles normally prevent us from engaging with the ‘other’ side and being united. How can we move forward and be one voice? The ladies spent their weekend delving into these obstacles and checking their own biases and prejudices, as well as emotions that may keep them from being “us” instead of “us” and “them”.
One of the exercises we did was to line up and receive a role to play (battered religious woman, Orthodox-Jewish girl in love with a boy from another religion, atheist living in an urban setting, or a former Christian that converted to Islam). Then, I read a list of situations. If they felt comfortable in the situation, they had to take a step forward. And if not, they had to take a step back. As we went through normal scenarios – like a policeman approaches, or you can invite friends to your home for dinner, or you can participate in an international seminar abroad, or airport security asks you to step aside – we saw a growing gap between women with freedom and women being held back. This exercise is meant to open us up to empathizing with the “other”. Moreover, the women found it very hard to be in the shoes of another, especially those in difficult situations. This is an area we all need to grow in.
All in all, when we had 20 Israeli and Palestinian women discuss obstacles of reconciliation, the exercise helped us understand and feel the different layers that come into play. There are so many obstacles in 2020, above and beyond being Israeli and Palestinian, which we should help us be empathetic to all people, including Palestinians and Israelis.
Hedva Haymov — Musalaha Project Manager