Personal encounters from afar

Bryan Hamlin
12 April 2002

I live in Boston, USA. I have friends in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank – I’ve made seven visits there, helping build groups of friendship and dialogue across the barriers. The violence of recent days has brought me to despair and feeling of helplessness. But then what are my feelings, compared to my friends’ realities?

I have spent a lot of time in recent days phoning my Palestinian and Israeli friends. Here is what they said.

I have spoken a couple of times with a friend in Bethlehem. He lives in an extended family, including his wife and four young children. They have run out of some foodstuffs but still have rice. In their part of town the water and electricity are still on - they are lucky, my friend says. They can see soldiers on nearby rooftops. They stay away from windows.

My friend’s brother is missing - is he dead, arrested, or in hiding? They don’t know. My friend’s little boy is sick and needed an urgent injection. With the phone still working, they were able to arrange a Red Crescent ambulance to come to their home.

My friend did express some anger, but he was amazingly calm. He choked me up by thanking me for calling.

I’ve also had two phone conversations with an Israeli friend. She has organized carefully structured discussion groups between Palestinian and Israeli women. Last week she told me that she expected to go ahead with a scheduled meeting on Friday 5th despite the war situation. I shouldn’t have, but I expressed doubt. Her boss had said the same - no Palestinians can, or will, turn up.

Well, nine West Bank Palestinian women somehow managed to get to the meeting in Israel. But then one of the Israeli women began by announcing that a cousin of hers had died as a result of the Sader restaurant suicide bombing: that she couldn’t go on with these discussions anymore.

Then some of the Palestinian women offered to come to the shivah, or wake. The Israeli woman was deeply touched. She stayed.

Through her contacts on the West Bank, this same Israeli friend was phoned by the head of the Jenin hospital begging for help. She was able eventually to arrange for two truckloads of medical supplies to get through to Jenin hospital. She received a phone-call from the head of the hospital, a man she has yet to meet, with an emotional thank you.

I offer these vignettes to pass on the hope that they have given to me. At least some people on both sides of this insane carnage are keeping their heads and their hearts open. They will be ready to restart the long, painful and difficult reconstruction of relationships at the grass-roots, when the fighting stops.

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