I listen to the three women around me in the bustle of Lafontaine park on the first evening of August. Each, in turn, shares their upbringing, their feeling about her Jewishness, stories from grandparents who survived World War II’s holocaust, their awakening and relationship to the word Zionism and to a place (or to a state) called Israel, and their comprehension of everything they have been told as 20-something-year-olds in Montreal.
It’s a gift.
Years ago, I would fantasize that I would be in such a gathering—listening, discussing and sharing with Jewish peers about their lives, my life, and about how we each feel about the turmoil called Palestine/Israel that we were thrown into involuntarily by past generations.
Voluntarily, we are each climbing out. Together. By talking. Seeking out each other’s company to talk about Palestine/Israel, what it makes of us, and how we can tear down the barrier. The false barrier, in my view.
I am Palestinian and Lebanese—with Kabyle ancestry—and a Montrealer since childhood.
I studied at Marianopolis College, McGill University and Concordia University in Montreal. I met classmates, colleagues and acquaintances who are Jewish, and they dreaded the topic.
It seemed that Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews and Israelis could not speak together about the one thing that ties our fate, the elephant in the room: Palestine/Israel.
You tell me something cannot be done and I will not let it go until I figure out why. Why can’t any two be able to communicate and be friends? How can two people be enemies or have a reason not to like one another?
I refuse fictitious lines.
In history, it is the same modus operandi: paint a people in a bad light to justify what you do. Palestinians are in the way of a Zionist dream. We were in Palestine, inhabiting a land quietly that was later chosen as a place of solace for Jews to seek refuge from the atrocities of the world against them.
You can choose a land, but what about the people there? Golda Meir said there was no one there. She was wrong.
Most of us—nearing 10 million Palestinians now—built lives outside of Palestine and Israel since The Nakba in 1948. We fled our homeland. We had to. The Palestinians in Palestine and in Israel are living the lives of prisoners, unable to move, work, live.
Back to Montreal. I don’t have a reason not to speak to a Jewish person. I increasingly feel it is necessary. Palestine and Israel depend on Palestinians and Jews in Palestine/Israel to speak with each other and the same is true in Montreal, Québec, Canada. Not argue, not debate, not get angry and emotional.
After a decade-long journey through conferences on the Middle East, I decided that the only way is to speak with Jews about this. What’s going on? What do they believe?
I realised that the similarities are astonishing. We are similar in our experiences of our respective faiths and cultures in Montreal. A Jewish woman raised in her family culture, dating someone who is not Jewish, growing up wondering what is Israel, how she feels about it. Me, growing up Muslim, Palestinian, Lebanese, Arab, in Montreal, wondering what my culture is, how it fits, how it can fit, how I feel about Palestine, how I feel about Israel.
We are similar. When we speak it feels good. When it comes to Palestine, Palestinians, Israel, the navigation to the dialogue is demanding. But worth it. I have scraped my hands a little, walked away exasperated, discouraged, but I come back. I come back to the table, to the discussion, to the living room. We talk, sometimes we stagnate, sometimes it gets a little tense, each tries to diffuse to keep the respect and the harmony.
Through this tug, we feel our humanity and desire to be in one another’s presence.
We need each other. We can only speak with one another. We can only learn from one another. If I don’t know about you, how can you know about me? We have to do so not just through documentaries and plays and films, but also through personal, live interaction that is difficult and worth it.
*Photo from Wikipedia (Creative Commons).