Being invited to present at Montreal’s Jewish Festival, Le Mood, is a privilege.
I am a Palestinian and Lebanese woman living and raised in Montreal, and who has been part of activist and community initiatives for the last decade of my life.
I met interesting people, angry people, and motivated and tired people trying to make a difference, trying to speak out on violations in Palestine and Israel.
I’ve realized that my passion is leading me to speak with Jews. To meet Jews and speak with them on the very issue that is supposed to divide us, to keep us in separate camps, in isolated camps of thought and preventing any agreement or seeing eye-to-eye.
I refuse all that. When the status quo doesn’t make sense I challenge it and I am not satisfied ’til I do. Until I speak with enough people and ruffle enough feathers, and invite people around me to take a look at what is and at what can be.
Sunday, Carly and I were at Le Mood presenting on inviting Palestinian and Jewish Dialogue in front of a full crowd in the tight room 7 at Espace Réunion on Hutchison Street.
We didn’t expect so many people. We didn’t expect so much love and attention. So many people speaking with us afterwards to exchange email addresses, shake our hands, give us wide smiles and warm looks, and mostly, to thank us for encouraging speaking to one other. “You are trailblazers,” one man says to me. As honoured as I am to hear this from a Jewish man about my initiative to encourage dialogue between us, I feel as though I am doing something so mundane. Difficult, and trying, and satisfying, like raising a child or a puppy perhaps, but certainly a part of life that we need to engage in to move ahead.
“I feel like we’re celebrities!” squeals Carly. I laugh and understand her laughter. It’s great to feel that people get you, especially when we weren’t sure that the Jewish crowd would be open to our talk to talk.
During our presentation, we had a tearful testimonial from a young woman who recounts a time that she attended a meeting of Jews and Palestinians. This encounter led to the beginning of a positive recognition between her, a Jewish woman, and a young Palestinian man. She cried as she shared how touched she was by this relationship. “Why should I hate him? He is such a nice guy.”
During the discussion, several Jewish people in attendance asked why Palestinians are a minority in dialogue events with Jewish people.
I cannot answer this. I do know from what some Palestinians said to me when I invited them to such gatherings: “I can’t.”
These Palestinians, unlike me, having not yet been to Palestine, lived and live traumatic experiences in Palestine and Israel. Checkpoints, humiliating experiences at Ben Gurion airport, the daily stresses experienced by their family members in operating a shop or living or circulating in an ongoing limitation to daily freedoms by Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.
They can’t because it is ongoing. It is still there. Still fresh. It still hurts so they feel unable to talk with a Jewish person who they may or may not feel is responsible or complicit in the ongoing limitation of their freedoms and livelihoods as Palestinians in a land that is ancestral and dear.
I can only respect this feeling.
I do think that even when it’s painful, even when the trauma is ongoing, it is important to speak about it to someone who is willing, to at least an elementary degree, to listen because this Jewish person is there, he or she has come, left their cozy home and left their plans, to attend a dialogue event with a Palestinian.