Friday, November 05, 2004

Face to Face

I decided to stay home and not invite anyone over or wake up at ungodly hours to go olive picking. But the lure of curiousity of new dialogue groups is too strong. In the Old City in Jerusalem there was a meeting this afternoon of Face-to-Face, a Palestinian/Israeli group where members on both sides lost an immediate family member due to the conflict. My Shabbat guest from South Africa invited me to go since they were having a special meeting of a delegation of South Africans telling their story - before and after. It was very interesting listening to stories from a black woman - about how they had to live in separate townships, have little or very inferior or even no education, how they couldn't own farms, but worked on white people's farms. The "colored" woman spoke about how she was in the middle. Her ancestry dubious - not exactly white, not exactly black. How her parents served tea to their white guests but when black guests came, who were relatives of her dad's, she thought they were the servants. My Shabbat guest, the white guy, spoke about his privileged life growing up in South Africa and knowing very little about the "other" until he went to university and questioned his government. They spoke about hierarchies - whites at the top, coloreds in the middle and the blacks on the lower rung. Like here where you have the Jews on the top level, the Druze and Bedouin on the next lower level, then Israeli Arabs and the lowest being the Palestinian Arabs. The self-claimed "colored" woman talked about the white "settlers" who came around 1820 and took away the land from the natives. And how much the blacks hated the oppressive whites and how they spoke about throwing the whites into the sea and/or taking their homes when they leave, and about the whites being deported back to where they came from. Until somehow they came to a realization that they had to get to know the other. She said they all finally came to the conclusion that each have no other home - that this is their home and they have to make the best of it together.

During the break I sat with some Jewish women, I spoke about coming from a religious background and how I broke away from it. The blond one was so impressed with my personal history, she told her friend from the Left-Wing femnist Bat Shalom about me and that woman dressed in black smiled at me from ear to ear telling me how happy she was at my decision to break away from religion. My new best friend. Until I told her where I live. Somewhere over the green-line. With a wave of her hand she dismissed me like a flea and looked away. So much for dialogue between Jew and Jew. She spoke about boycotting her own country's products. I wanted to talk to her after the session ended about her lack of proper dialogue but she left with her blond friend.

Before I went to this meeting, Hubby explained to me that he thought perhaps all these internationals are a front for Al Qaida. He thinks Al Qaida is everywhere. Like air. One Palestinian man came over to speak to me. "Hi. My name is Osama", he said. Great. Just what I need to tell Hubby. I never asked for his last name, fearing the worst, although he looks nothing at all like the arch-terrorist. "How do you know Ismail?" he asked. "I come from his village." On my way into the Old City, I stopped off to look for my friend, Ismail, who works right inside Jaffa Gate. Not to worry. I asked around for him and everyone in the area turned muezzin for me. ISMAIL! ISMAIL! They all yelled for him. You could hear them all the way to Mecca. Finally a figure in a white robe emerges from a building way down the block. I never saw him dressed in a traditional white robe and a bead necklace. He looked majestic in his Ramadan Friday splendor. We hugged. I told him I was going to a Face-to-Face meeting and he nixed his planned prayer time at the mosque to join me. I hope Allah won't get mad at me. His cowboy friend from New Mexico joined us as well.

Back to Osama, when he heard where I lived, he didn't walk away, he didn't frown, he just told me that it wasn't a place where I should be living, working as a peace activist. It just didn't make any sense. But my talk about this land belonging to the both of us, with equal rights - real equal rights did make sense to him. I invited him to my interfaith group meeting this month. He is the Palestinian head of Face to Face. I gave him my card and chuckled at the thought of my kids picking up the phone to hear that "Osama" is calling for me. Daddy's right, they'd whisper.


Anonymous said...

My parents lived in South Africa, they were oftened warned not to go out during Neo-Nazi marches, my mum was considered weird by the white Afrikans because she didnt have a maid...I guess I was lucky I wasnt born there.


jerusalemgypsy said...

Kudos to your mum then! She was probably the only white person who did not take advantage of the "cheap" black labor. I remember meeting white teenage girls from S. Africa when I was 17 and dormed with them. They never made a bed in their life - or washed a dish.