Two from Palestine

This is from an interview yesterday with two youth from Palestine on the exchange. Since Sunday evening, we have been at a hostel surrounded by forest in the Netherlands, far from the turmoil we’ve been discussing all week. In parenthesis, I have made some minor language edits for clarification; my questions are italicised. Again, this is only a brief selection of a much larger discussion which was taking part this last week; I believe, at least for the Palestinians involved in this exchange, that the major accomplishment of the week was to put their story into words. They feel confined and shut off from the world’s ear; just the opportunity to quietly sit down in a neutral place and unburden themselves of their story is a major relief. I think a portion of the violence we see portrayed on the news is a result of their feeling that nobody is listening and they’ve no other way to communicate their message. Hopefully the work we’ve done this week has given them a new voice and some tools to express their situation positively.

Thaer: I was amazed when they [his host families and the Dutch youth on the exchange] told me they thought Palestine was full of Moslems; there are both Moslems and Christians in Palestine.

And you are both Christians?

Thaer: No, I’m Christian and Maram is Moslem; but we are friends.

And this is common?

Thaer: Yeah, sure.

Because I think many people today assume Moslems and Christians don’t actually get along anywhere in the world.

Thaer: No, that’s a wrong idea; me, as a Christian, I can tell that some of my best friends are Moslems and they are really kind. The idea that (they are all terrorists) is not right. We are all human beings.

Maram: Here [in the Netherlands] they have many many wrong ideas about Moslems, exactly. They think they are bad; but that’s wrong. We come to send a message; you have seen it, how we live (together) Moslem and Christian. The government tries to make problems; everything that happens they say Moslem, Christian, Moslem, Christian, religion, religion. They always (talk about) religion to make problems (worse). And make big issues.

[Maram is speaking generally about governments across the spectrum; one of our major discussion points this week was the mixing of religion and politics. However, she is also speaking specifically of the situation in Palestine which Thaer elaborates below.]

Thaer: In Jerusalem there are checkpoints; they ask are you Christian or Moslem. If you say “Christian” they let you pass; if you say “Moslem” or they can’t see a cross (around your) neck, they stop you and ask for your papers and that is just to make problems between Moslems and Christians.

Maram: They are trying to make Christians hate Moslems and Moslems hate Christians. They do many things like this.

Did you find that people here knew about what is happening in Palestine, other than what we see on the news?

Thaer: They don’t know exactly what is happening, but just what they see on the news. They know there is a war; (but) they don’t know the information (about) what happens every day. We spoke to them and told them how bad is the situation in Palestine; every day there are children and women killed—and nobody asks, nobody cares.

Some people here this week have wondered of you might rather stay here in the Netherlands, that you might dread going back. How do you feel going back home?

Thaer: Actually, I miss everything and everybody in Palestine: My friends, my family, the nature, [laughing] the roads, everything!

I think many people have a difficult time understanding the connection you have with your land. If it is so difficult to live there, why don’t you just leave and go somewhere else where life is easier? What would you say to someone who would ask you that?

Maram: It is not just a land; we have nothing but our land. We have nothing else. We are not rich; we have just our land and our home. It is not new; it is old, from our great-grandfathers. Every father gives it to his son; every son gives it to his son.

Thaer: First of all, it’s a Holy land. It collects three religions and is full of Holy places. Mosques and churches and everything. So we are proud to be in Palestine.

So would you see it as a place where religions could come together in peace?

Maram: (There) will be problems; problems always (happen); but, from when I was a child, my parents told me, “love God and then your home, your land.” This is the whole thing for us, (it is) our land; we have a close relationship with our land.

Whenever we see news from Palestine, we see angry people; yet, all I have seen from you this week is your joy. How is it you are so joyful in the face of such difficulties?

Thaer: Whenever we meet an obstacle or problem, we should not give up; we have to live.

Maram: We can be happy; we can be sad. What the time needs, we can be. When we come back home and see something (that would make us angry) we can’t be nothing. There will be anger. We are very angry when we see someone doing bad things (to) our people. You can’t stand and do nothing.

Thaer: Here, all of the group are laughing and dancing so we can’t just stay and be sad and do nothing.

Maram: We love to be happy; we love to be joyful. Also in our home we can be like that always. But there are times when you must (stand your ground) and do something.

I’m an American; what would you say if you could reach out and speak directly to people in my country about how they can better understand what is happening with you and your people?

Maram: First, the person must change himself so he can change his family. His family will change the countryside, his town. The town will change the society. We can start from one. One tells the message, tells what he knows and has seen. So…just that you know the truth; that’s all I want, just for you to see. We can make a change; from one person we can make a change.