Nothing is impossible, the difficult takes longer

Nadwa Sarandah
3 June 2007

In 1999, my sister Naela was killed in the streets of Jerusalem. Naela was a public-health consultant who dedicated her career to the rights to life and justice. But her death, as much as it devastated and distressed me, opened a tiny window of hope.

Joining the Parents' Circle Families Forum, a group of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones but who still seek reconciliation based on mutual respect and understanding, I have come to realise, and for the first time in my life, that Israelis have never looked Palestinians in the eye, have never considered them as equals and never understood their suffering simply because the Palestinians did nothing to change this. Each party lived in total denial of the other's existence, never interacting as equal human beings, each believing they were the victim in one way or the other.

Understanding, not necessarily accepting each other's historical narratives, can bring about acceptance of one another as equals, and as partners in the search for the peaceful solution that we all claim the desire to achieve. This can only come about through dialogue - and dialogue with an open heart and mind, not a dialogue of the deaf. I've also come to realise that politicians are not going to bring about the change desired and needed: only the people can.

Albert Einstein rightfully said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Nadwa Sarandah is a member of Parents' Circle Families Forum, an organisation of Israeli and Palestinian families bereaved in the conflict

She is writing from the meeting of the Nobel Women's Initiative (NWI) in Galway, Ireland, on 29-31 May 2007

Also in openDemocracy from the NWI:

Isabel Hilton, "War, peace, and women: lessons we have failed to learn" (1 June 2007)

openDemocracy's blog about and podcast from the NWI conference are here and here

Palestine and loss

The background to my experience is that the partition of Palestine created a humanitarian, judicial and democratic crisis by which both Palestinians and Israelis became victims and are paying a heavy price. There is no justice in a resolution that divides a country for the sake of creating another. The world community accepted the Zionist argument of the necessity to create a Jewish state in Palestine, thus creating hatred and animosity for Jews in the Arab countries in general and amongst Palestinians in particular.

What was the world thinking when they expected the Palestinians to agree to such a partition? Accepting the partition of your country is far from normal. By the way, neither party accepted the partition at the time, for different reasons. A humanitarian crisis arose also due to the expulsion of most Palestinians from what was now called Israel. A political conflict was also created.

The world community at the United Nations partitioned my country and has watched my people suffer ever since.

In 1967, when Palestinians were unarmed and under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, a war broke out and what was left of Palestine was occupied. Israel took the opportunity to expand its borders and part-fulfil the dream of some Israelis for a "greater Israel" - at the expense of morality, humanity and democracy.

No international law or UN resolution has been able to end this horrific occupation. All this historical background left me with an occupation that took away my humanity, my dignity and - last but not least - my freedom. It led to the dispersion of my immediate family members. My sister lost her birthright because she was not in the country in June 1967. My brother lost his because he committed a crime of falling in love with an American and marrying her; his family will never be able to choose to live in Jerusalem.

As a child, I was always wandering whether I was the victim or the offender. I watched Israelis developing their country in a democracy for Jews while I was waiting for justice to take its course. It is a just cause, and a straightforward case, isn't it? Why isn't anybody doing anything? What is wrong with the world?

As an adult, I realised that both justice and my interest as a Palestinian might not coincide with the interest of other countries, and that there is no absolute justice in the world - and even if there is, it is not served in restaurants on silver platters. I've also realised that the stronger you are, the more you can get away with. I hated what I've come to understand.

What I witnessed too was that the policies of consecutive Israeli governments were creating "facts on the ground" in the occupied territories to make the creation of Palestine both an impossible dream and an unrealistic one. Any sincere intention to find a peaceful solution based on international law and UN resolution was absent. The rest of the world dealt disgracefully with the issue, employing double-standards to bypass the issue and accept misinformation in order to avoid exerting any pressure on Israel.

The change from within

This larger weight of concern meant that I long lived in conflict, leading up to that day in 1999 when I lost my beloved sister. If there had been no occupation, and no hatred between Jews and Palestinians, my sister would not have died and I would not have lost her for ever. Life would not have been so unbearable and undesirable at times. For years, I couldn't function. I was stuck in my grief, my anger, my hate. Does inflicting pain to others help? My answer was no. I couldn't live with the guilty feeling of hurting somebody. Revenge is not the answer, not for me at least.

I'd rather be killed than be a killer. All I want is very simple. I want to be recognised as a human being, as a Palestinian and free in my own country. To my surprise the solution came from an Israeli whose son was killed, and who was not seeking revenge but dialogue. This man's apology opened my mind and led to dialogue that led to understanding. When one recognises his or her mistake, the other can forgive - not in the sense of turning the other cheek, not in the sense of giving up your right to justice, but in the sense of "yes, we can live together as equals, with equal rights and equal opportunities for all". That is what democracy is all about, isn't it?

Peace and security does not come about by favouring one against the other, by enforcing a solution suitable to one and not the other, by a strong army or the construction of walls, by seeking to quell the hunger for freedom. It comes through dialogue, understanding and building trust between human beings who respect each other. That is possible, I've done it and I've experienced the change from within.

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