Every few months, I need a shot of adrenaline and optimism to avoid yielding to the despair caused by the political freeze and obstacles to peace that we face in the Israeli reality. On May 3 in a meeting in Givatayim, I received a bolus of encouragement, feminine determination, and incentive from Huda Abu Arqoub. A resident of the town of Dura near Hebron and the director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, Huda is an extraordinary and inspiring woman.
Huda has embarked on a journey of meetings and forged connections with Israeli women with the goal of creating another language, the Politics of Acquaintance. The goal is to take leave of the slogans that bog us down again and again, and create a language based on sincere curiosity that strives to reveal what we share and what is possible.
By the way, it appears that the time worn claim that “there is no one to talk to” is voiced on the other side as well. Most Palestinians only meet Israelis who are on-duty soldiers or settlers. They thus conclude that all Israelis are “like that” and that “there is no one to talk to” on the Israeli side.
Huda says that the Politics of Acquaintance particularly serves women who must initiate a familiarity with each other and ensure that their communities get to know those of the “other” to work together toward peace.
Stereotypes thrive where there is no acquaintance. Israelis view Palestinians as victims or terrorists. But Huda is not willing to be pigeonholed that way. She urges us to unchain ourselves from victimhood and fear, and to strive for liberation – liberation from prejudice, stereotypes, and worn out political positions. Political action must be inclusive, respect confusion, and strive for diversity.
But liberation is not a brief and simple process. She compares the process which both parties must undergo to the exodus from Egypt. Moses led the people of Israel through the desert for 40 years so that they would unchain themselves from slavery and oppression and become a free people, responsible and confident in their own power. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lasted nearly 70 years. Now is the time to work diligently to end the conflict by means of a political solution!
Huda’s personal story explains to a great extent the sociopolitical passion that burns within her. She is the eldest daughter of a deep-seated Hebron family. Her parents, who had Communist political leanings, raised their 12 children in an atmosphere of egality and peace. They believed that liberation was contingent on education. During the first intifada, when she was a teenager, Huda joined her brothers and sisters in the street to “make trouble.” Her father, who wanted to protect her from getting in harm’s way, forbade her from going out. He ordered her to read Tolstoy instead. Huda credits the education she received at home for a great deal of her personality.
She speaks with admiration about her two grandmothers who modeled empowerment despite their lack of formal education. One remained home with her small children when her husband enlisted in the British army and disappeared from the family for several years. When they failed to hear any word from him, the community considered him dead. His wife was forced to fight to retain custody of her children, her home, and her land. She fought like a woman! She supported her family growing and selling vegetables. The father returned from war to his family after seven (!) years. That grandmother sent her daughters – before her sons – to be educated in Cairo.
The other grandmother spoke about the events in Hebron in 1929 in which Jewish residents of the city were killed. The family was friendly with Jewish families who were called Palestinian-Jews. During the clashes, her father took the neighbors into his home. When the rioters demanded that he give up the Jewish neighbors, he went out and said, “You’ll have to kill me before you hurt my guests.” He finally escorted his neighbors to a safe place on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Huda considers herself a proud Palestinian woman and relatively privileged in the community of her origin. She expresses great esteem for the Women Wage Peace movement and sees us as a growing and influential grass-roots movement. She and other Palestinian women are willing to go anywhere in Israel to hold discussions with other women.
When she comes to Tel Aviv, she is struck by the wealth and human diversity of the population in Israel – veterans and olim, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, moshavnikim, kibbutznikim, people from peripheral towns like Dimona, people of every color and even sexual orientation. She says that there is less diversity among the Palestinians. She wonders why Israelis accustomed to such diversity do not use this knack for acceptance to recognize and accept the Palestinians. If we accept people who are so different, why don’t we accept the Palestinians?
She spoke about a young, militant Palestinian who heard on the radio about a terror attack against a bus full of soldiers. When he arrived home, he heard his mother crying. When he asked why, his mother said she was crying for the mothers of the soldiers who were killed in the terror attack, recalling how she had cried when her 14-year old son was shot and killed in a refugee camp. Her response spurred a revolution in her son who became a fighter for peace.
In response to questions from the audience, Huda spoke about the courage of women in Gaza and how difficult it is to reach them and involve them in action for peace. She said that the anti-normalization movement, Palestinians who are unwilling to speak with Israelis, is a small movement based on lack of acquaintance. She called upon us to go to the territories and speak with the local residents, saying that only that would shatter the alienation and strangeness.
Huda will soon travel to Washington to attend the Alliance for Middle East Peace http://www.allmep.org/ conference. Her series of Politics of Acquaintance sessions throughout Israel will resume at the end of the month of Ramadan.
Thank you to the Palestinian relations committee, Hamutal Guri, Kochi Am Ad, and Dalia Karmon of Gush Dan for organizing the meeting, and to Rivka Shahaf the Chair of the WIZO branch in Givatayim for hosting us.
Translated from Hebrew by Varda Spiegel