On July 15, we held the first meeting of Middle Eastern Salad – 13 women from the team for contact with Palestinian women, including our two Palestinian partners, from Shu’afat and Beit Jala, and 14 Palestinian women from the area of Bethlehem. To our surprise, and delight, the Palestinian women brought their children. Most of the women from the Bethlehem area do not speak English. Together with Orna Ashkenazi, who served as the facilitator of the meeting, Susan Abed ElKadar served as a facilitator and translator. For most of the Palestinian women, with the notable exception of Samia, who organized the meeting, this was their, and their childrens’, first encounter with Israelis. We went around the group and everyone introduced herself, we watched a video clip on the Mothers’ Prayer, we shared personal stories of incidents in which we had displayed courage. Samia facilitated meditation (she is a yoga teacher), we drew squares (Pieces for Peace) depicting peace and we eat a light supper together. In the individual pairings, painful stories were shared that opened the heart (and made the tears flow). The team from the Women Wage Peace Movement was diverse, both in terms of social sectors and political outlook. For those who were experiencing their first encounter with Palestinians and heard stories from the other side for the first time, it was an experience that opened their hearts and touched them deeply, which stayed with them even after the encounter.
A few of the more powerful moments:
It was apparent that the oldest woman in the Palestinian group was extremely uncomfortable being with us … she avoided eye contact, her expression was angry and closed. When the clip of the Mothers’ Prayer began, she averted her gaze from the screen. The moment that the song began in Arabic, she looked at the screen … another glance … and another … until she watched the clip to the end. We all noticed the change that came over her afterwards. One small step, but still – a step.
At the end, four of us sat together with Samia to plan the next encounter. Samia would like to hold monthly meetings. Three grade school boys who had been running around until then sat and listened to the women planning the meeting with wide-opened eyes, in total silence, following every word. I was astonished and felt that these children are seeing their mothers meeting with Israeli women, and that other than us, their only encounter with Israelis is with the soldiers at the barrier. For me, these were seeds of peace within the next generation.
The plan is to increase the size of the group a bit each time and to encourage more women from the movement, outside of our team, to take part in these encounters.
Translated from Hebrew by Amy Yourman
Rivi Diamond is a coordinator of the team for contact with the Palestinian women, together with Orna Ashkenazi and Yael Treidel