Middle East

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Who Am I? Identity

Two teenagers live an hour’s drive but worlds apart, sharing a connection to Seeds of Peace, and a struggle just to be who they are in a land of conflict.

Arab, Palestinian, Israeli — and a Peacemaker
by Bashar Iraqi (Tira)

Bashar Iraqi

I know that my life is different from others, that there are events and experiences that are unique to me, a Palestinian Arab Israeli who feels that his state doesn’t respect him. There are many questions that my identity causes me to ask: Why do the two sides, Jews and Arabs, fear each other so much? Why can’t they bridge the gap by meeting, getting to know each other, discussing their problems, and getting along? And most important to me: What should be the identity of a Palestinian living in Israel?

In October 2000 I lost a close friend who was protesting the discrimination that Arab citizens of Israel feel in their daily lives, and the threats to their culture and roots. My friend was exercising his right to expression, not engaging in any violent behavior. But in the eyes of three Israeli soldiers, he threatened the security of the country. They chased him and shot him from point-blank range.

Soldiers killed my friend, but in reality, to me, the package of hatred, misunderstanding, and prejudices that each one of us carries is what killed him. What has happened here in Israel is that people have ceased communicating with each other, have forgotten each other’s humanity and are being dragged to the battlefield.

Arabs and Jews are all suffering from the violence. A Jewish mother lost her hope when her son was killed in a bus bombing. A Palestinian sister lost her brother in clashes with the soldiers. And many lose hope based on what they hear and see in the evening news. The situation is deteriorating and people continue to die from both sides, the Palestinian and the Israeli.

I too almost lost hope when my friend was murdered. The day after I heard he was killed, I felt angry towards everyone. I went to the streets where Arabs were demonstrating seeking revenge for my friend’s death. A soldier pointed his rifle at me and cursed. I picked up a stone and at that moment I felt like throwing it at him.

Just then I got a call on my cell phone from a Jewish Israeli friend from Seeds of Peace. She begged me to leave before I got hurt. I started to walk away, still holding the rock. That day I received more calls from my friends from all over the world: Americans, Jordanians, Egyptians, and Israeli Jews, that I had met through the Seeds of Peace camp. They were calling to find out if I was okay after my friend’s death, and warned me not to do anything that could end up harming me.

The fact that Israeli Jewish friends were calling me, crying and begging me to think twice before I took any action in a moment of anger, made me pause and think. It was ironic that they were expressing concern about my safety while an Israeli soldier had been threatening me with his gun.

I was so affected by the caring shown by these Jewish friends that it made me decide to return home and rethink what I want to do with all the anger that was inside of me. I concluded that my values as a peacemaker prevent me from throwing stones. Instead, I discovered that I could translate this anger into a powerful weapon by using words to convince people to oppose the violence that is breaking us apart.

A few days later, I decided to go to a peace tent near my city in which there were representatives from both sides, Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis. There they faced each other, and shared their points of view in a peaceful way. This was more in keeping with my identity as a peacemaker.

It is confusing, frustrating, and nowadays, scary to be a Palestinian Arab Israeli. But maybe these three parts of my identity are the most powerful weapons a peacemaker could ever have. My identity as a Palestinian Arab Israeli allows me to be a bridge between both sides and to help each side discover the reality of each other’s humanity.

By translating between the two sides in coexistence activities sponsored by Seeds of Peace in which Jews and Arabs, I have learned that I can make a difference in the world. Now I am able to make them see beyond the hatred, bloodshed, stereotypes, and misunderstandings that have divided the two sides. I have learned the art of coexistence and the magical steps that teach you how to reach the minds of your future partners in peacemaking.

These steps are listening to the other side and trying to understand their point of view regardless of whether you agree or disagree. By doing this we have the opportunity to share our sadness and happiness with each other, and can develop friendships with the other side. I live here abhorring the nightmare and anxiety in which we live every day. I want to stop it and make the changes that are needed. I want to see the real face of peace, a smile on children’s faces. I know that with the help of my friends from the other side we can do this and translate words into actions.

I know that I can be the bridge between the minds of both sides, that until now have led to hate and war. I may not be able to change everyone’s minds, but at least I can give them another way of thinking, a way that will lead to a future worth living. I want to stop the tears of mothers and sisters mourning their losses.

I will use my experience of coexistence to teach people to talk and compromise, keeping in mind our common humanity, so that they won’t have to experience war.

I have learned to be Palestinian, Arab and Israeli — to accept and appreciate the conflicting identities within me. I will work the rest of my life to bring Palestinians and Israelis to the peace I have reached within myself.

Fighting Racism in Russia and in Israel
by Julia Resnitsky (Jerusalem)

Julia Resnitsky

Imagine you are alone in this world. There is no one to understand you, no one to care. You live far from your home and family, and all that you have to deal with, you have to deal with it on your own.

I was born Jewish in Russia, and until the age of seven I was raised in a Christian society. I experienced racism and discrimination, just because of my nationality and religion. I know what it’s like to be hated, and that is why I could never hate.

I don’t want to bore you with my life story. I just want to tell you how I feel: I feel alone. Since the beginning of the Intifada I’ve been confused, scared and alone. I lost two friends in terror attacks, and my friend lost his mother and his sister. I am surrounded by death and I cannot escape it.

My school is very unsupportive. Most of the people are very right-wing and hate Arabs — actually it seems like they hate everyone who is different from them. Last time a political argument was held in class, I had to leave the room because it was actually dangerous to stay. No one even tried to understand me. All they wanted was to hate. They said I’m a dreamer, that I’m too naive. They are right, I am naive, but I have to be. I am surrounded by death. I hear shootings all the time. I’m scared to go on buses or anywhere outside. Every week when I leave home to go to school, I’m afraid I’ll never see my family again. So in order to go on and live my life the way I want to, I have to be naive, or I go insane!

My parents are also being very unsupportive. They don’t agree with what I do. They don’t understand why Seeds of Peace is so important to me. They don’t like the fact that some of my best friends are Arabs and Palestinians. It is so ironic that my parents, who most of their lives suffered from racism, are being racist toward others. It is really sad because I don’t know if I could ever bring my Arab friends to my house, whenever my parents are around. I don’t know if it makes me a bad friend or a bad Seed, but it makes me feel useless.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t explain to them — my parents, my classmates, even my friends — what Seeds of Peace means to me. It is where I belong, where I feel most at home, where people understand me and can relate to what I feel.

I don’t know when it became so hard, or when my optimism became a negative thing to those who refuse to believe. They are scared to believe that what we are fighting for, peace and coexistence, is possible. But it is possible.

I live in a place where no one understands me or my ideas, but I live two buses from a place where people do (the Seeds Center for Coexistence in Jerusalem). I refuse to lose hope or any part of my naivete. I guess all I want is to reach out and get an answer. I want not to be misunderstood, not to be scared, and not to be confused or alone.

Originally published winter 2002. The Olive Branch (www.seedsofpeace.org/OBCurrentIssue) is written and edited by youth from Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, India, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Macedonia, Morocco, Palestine, Pakistan, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Tunisia, Turkey, Yemen and the United States, who are part of the Seeds of Peace program.