Saturday, August 11, 2007

Israelis flood into Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina

OK - now that I got your attention - we're not flooding in, but it would be great if we do visit there in droves.

A group of us met on Monday and carpooled our way to Dr. Mohammad Dajani's home in Beit Hanina. We were a quite large group of Jews who met some neighborhood Palestinians at his home, some of whom were active in Dajani's political party called Wasatia . For many Jews, this was the first time they ventured into an Arab neighborhood, and some voiced that they were quite nervous at first – but laughed it off seeing how silly it was to have felt this way, as we were sitting in Dajani's large closed off porch.

Funny that even well-to-do Arabs do not have these clonish homes as Israelis do, built by Israeli construction companies. They have their own individual look and feel. We were on the third floor and I saw a living room, a game room and a dining area – no kitchen visible - and a closed off porch and an open porch with a taboon oven. Upstairs was a rooftop patio where you could throw a big party. Downstairs was probably where his family resided and the first floor was his office, which we knew by the way the books poured out into the hallway. His walls were covered with vintage posters and magazine covers – cool stuff like Elvis and James Dean and classics like Gone with the Wind and sentimental Love Story. Moving towards the top of the house were family photos and embroidered Palestinian clothing hanging over the railings.

We were given an explanation of the area from the rooftop, viewing the Nusseibeh housing project, a project that housed all the refugees from the Old City in 1967 after their homes were raised to make room for the Western Wall Plaza. The Wall was a block away from his home,– it made life for those who held Israeli residency cards who lived beyond that wall, difficult, as they are now unable to pass easily through the checkpoints. The businesses on the main street suffered as a result of the checkpoint as it is no longer the main road to Ramallah and many have gone out of business or are no longer the expensive shops catering to the well-to-do as they once were.

After stuffing myself on fruit and cakes (I still do not have a kitchen, so any stray food around is considered 'dinner'), we went to hear Dr. Dajani speak briefly about his new party. Even though I had heard him speak beforehand, this was his turf now and there's always a different slant to it.

Basically what he said is that in order to create a moderate Palestinian culture, rather than have the masses be attracted to extremist parties like Hamas, speaking about democracy will not do it. Democracy is a Western concept and the religious Moslem man/woman on the street will not want to hear about it. Instead, he bases his party on the language of the Koran. The Koran states to walk the middle road ("We have made you a moderate nation"). He explains "It's God who wants this."

Elana Rozenman of Trust spoke a bit about her group. "What is lacking among our people is trust. We want normal interaction between our people." She gave us an exercise to do in which we took a partner and, while the other listened (without interrupting), one of us spoke about a person in our life whom we trusted and why we trusted that person, how we felt about having someone we are able to trust in, etc. Then we switched roles.

During the sharing one of the women visiting from Toronto said one has to feel empathy. "Put yourselves in the other's place and stop defending yourselves." A Palestinian young man said that others may look at moderates as infidels. But he's looking forward to "the opportunity for infidels to move ahead."

At the end of the meeting some of the Jewish participants, including myself, took a few Wasatia pamphlets, all in Arabic, to give out to people we knew who may not know about this movement, hoping they'll see this as the way towards peace.

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