The Emotional Challenge of Listening to The Other

OCTOBER 28, 2016

In September, 28 Palestinian and Israeli women came together for a weekend to learn about historical narrative. We presented the Palestinian and Israeli narratives to a mixed group of women who have been meeting together for two years. The women have established their relationships, become close, and they were ready to hear difficult truths and perspectives different from their own. 

Grace, presenting the Palestinian narrative, shared with us about the symbol of the key in Palestine, which is used to remind people that one day they hope to return to the homes they lost during the creation of the state of Israel. I presented the Israeli narrative, including the yearning of the Israeli people for 2,000 years to return to Zion, the land they were exiled from. Neither of us held back on the difficult parts of our stories. Grace told the women about the population demographics in Palestine from 1936 (97% Palestinian, 2% Jewish) to 1948 (67% Palestinian, 33% Jewish) and the amount of land that was once Palestine, now almost completely controlled by Israel. I was not sure how graphic to be when describing the pogroms of Europe or the experiences of Jews during the Second World War, but I described the horror in as much detail as I thought the group could handle.

The narrative Grace shared reflected many of the Palestinian women’s family stories and personal histories. It is not hard to imagine the discomfort that this narrative causes Israelis, who often doubt its truthfulness. It commonly sparks defensiveness; this narrative is difficult to accept upon first hearing, as it is not taught in the Israeli school system. But for those working their way towards reconciliation, there is a willingness to listen and try to understand. After hearing Grace’s presentation, an Israeli participant shared,

It was hard for me to listen to the Palestinian presentation – and it surprised me. I know a lot of the history, but to hear it presented today was hard for me. I almost needed to scream. But after you presented the Israeli narrative and explained why the Jews are living in the Land and connected it so strongly to the Bible, I was calm and felt that I was heard.

When the Palestinian women listened to the Israeli narrative, they were less defensive as they have been exposed to it over time. Palestinians from northern Israel speak Hebrew and many have gone through the Israeli school system, mixing freely with Israeli Jews. They are more familiar with the role that the Israeli narrative plays in the makeup of modern day Israeli Jewish identity. We often see that such Palestinian participants who live in Israel do not know enough about their own narrative. A Palestinian participant from Nazareth expressed,

I felt so much pain today. I’m glad I came and heard the Palestinian narrative. I am walking a thin line in the north between the Israelis who don’t accept me because I’m Palestinian and the Palestinians because I live among the Israelis. Because I was raised in Israel, I was taught the Israeli narrative and I know it very well. This is the first time I have heard the Palestinian narrative presented so clearly. It was painful to hear.

When it was time to leave, the women bent their knees and we all prayed for our children. We prayed that they would be protected from the lies of the world and the narratives that divide them. The group felt a sense of accomplishment for entering this challenging phase of the reconciliation process.

I know people learned a lot. I know it was difficult and painful to hear. I hope it convinces people to listen to each other and develop a new narrative together, one that respects and includes the other.

By Hedva Haymov, Musalaha Women’s Coordinator