I’m writing in reference to Faisal’s conclusion on Israelis.
I’m late I know…but it just reminded me of my own contact with Israelis…
My friend Heba has been active in a peace organization called CISV, which organizes camps for kids and teens from various countries. I joined for a while, although it became very clear to me that I’m not the type that will work hard for the sake of world peace. For I can find many other causes that I think are much more worthy of my efforts. That’s because I don’t believe that world peace is realistically achievable. By this I don’t mean that one shouldn’t at least try to make some change, since that would mean that we shouldn’t work on the environment either. But I just don’t think that some Arab and some Israeli children should meet and become friends, for the only thing that this creates is an inner conflict which can become really painful in case those two countries should get into war again. That is, if the kids really learn to become friends in the first place. My experience showed otherwise.
I was a late teen at the time when I was sent to a CISV project management workshop in Italy. It was a lot of fun and I learnt a lot. I must add that the main reason I had joined CISV was the amazing organizational skills of the junior branch of which I was part.
Due to Egypt Air, I arrived in Italy 12 hours too late. So I didn’t get to choose my bed. The bed I got was in a room with 2 Jordanian girls and – in the lower bunk of my bed – an Israeli girl. The Israeli girl was being too nice for my taste and it just felt too fake. She was the first Israeli I had ever met and I hadn’t thought about how to deal with such a situation before. So I just played her game: great cooperation at work, extreme kindness and friendliness, if a little cool, and expressed religious and national pride – as if there was no problem at all. But we had a secret that flowed between us: there was no peace, we hated each other. And we were secretly lobbying for our cultures. Of course the Arab side – parallel to reality – had the advantage of larger numbers. I just couldn’t like her. I caught myself expressing my dislike in very secretive ways, like by jumping off of the bunk bed in the early morning, making sure she woke up from the thump. Having her around and in my own room was very uncomfortable. I had to let it out in some way.
Then there was the Israeli guy on board. With him it was different. We kept our communication to the minimum. We kept our distance, acknowledging and respecting our mutual hatred.
But in both cases, our conflict was kept very silent.
When it was time to leave, the girl hugged me “warmly” and i thought she was carrying our fake friendship too far, so I didn’t hug her back. I said goodbye to everyone else and at the end, the Israeli guy, passing me by, thumped me on the back in a rather kind way and gave me a half smile. For some reason, I was really touched. I liked the way he handled the situation. That thump on the back kind of meant it was all not personal, but that this was the way it was and we didn’t have to force it or to pretend it was otherwise. That thump was a “thank you” for not faking it. There was a mutual understanding. So for some reason, by the end of the camp, I liked the not-nice Israeli more than the overly friendly one.
A camp can’t remove hatred towards Israel in general, it just teaches you to hide it well and play it right. And if you do get to like one of them, it is an exception; it doesn’t make you reconsider your feelings towards Israelis in general. It rather makes you forgive the fact that he’s an Israeli, and treat it as a flaw that you learn to tolerate.