Saturday, November 03, 2007

Meeting the Deputy Head of PLO mission to the US

There was an interesting and rare occasion this past week to meet with Dr. Nabil Abu Znaid, Deputy Head of the PLO Mission to the U.S who was speaking at Elana Rozenman's home (Elana is head of the EMUN-TRUST organization). On the way there, on the same street at Elana's, I saw Taayush activist Ezra Nawi, trying to park his elongated van. He saw me smile warmly at him as I approached and smiled back, with a bit of uncertainty, as he gets harrassed frequently for his untiring assistance to Palestinians with the group Taayush, but when I asked him where he was going, it turned out he and I were going to different places.

Getting back to the meeting, Dr. Nabil had invited Elana to his home in Washington in April and stated that this was the first time he had Israelis in his home, and seemed to want to continue that contact. Elana was impressed by his revelation and his supra-efforts to cook them a festive meal (his brothers flew in from Florida to help him with the feast) Now it was Elana's turn to host him as he flew back home for family-related reasons and invited a bunch of us, as an activity of her organization - EMUN-TRUST - to hear him speak.

We went around the room introducing ourselves and I was surprised to learn that quite a few women had never met any Palestinian before, albeit a real live Palestinian official, and some were even residents of settlements. Elana stressed that this was not to be a political meeting, just a "getting to know you" sort of thing, but there were gentle arguments back and forth of "why are the people in Gaza shelling Sederot?" (Dr. Nabil is totally against this - it does nothing for the Palestinian cause)and the occupation, and avoided the "dividing Jerusalem" issue hanging over everyone's heads.

Dr. Nabil told us how we have to listen to the Palestinian's hardship because Israelis generally don't hear them. He gave us a most recent example of his being stopped at a checkpoint that day. The Israeli soldiers saw his credentials and that he had a permit to travel to West Jerusalem, but wanted to make sure his permit wasn't fake. So they locked him in a small room while they checked his permit. He was banging on the door as he was frightened. What are these soldiers going to do to him now? He went on to say how humiliating it was for him to be locked up. What did he do to deserve this treatment? If they thought the permit was fake and wanted to check, they could have told him "Wait a minute, sir, while we check it" and have him stand off to the side but they didn't have to lock him up. He was obviously very shaken up about this ordeal.

I shared that many older Palestinians fondly recall pre-1948 close friendships with Jews. And they often recall those stories to their children and grandchildren. And this gives the younger generations hope that this actually can still happen. While I was sharing this, I saw the Palestinians at the meeting shake their heads up and down because their fathers/grandfathers had told them the very same thing of course.

And I thought Dr. Nabil's plea to be treated like a regular human being and not a terrorist was well taken - and was glad that the first-timers who had never spoken with Palestinians before had heard his story. Because it shows we are not always right.

Elana shared about her current Noam/Peace X Peace project in which Palestinian and Israeli women learn and practice martial arts together - not so much for what strength it can bring to you physically, but also for the strength it can bring to you emotionally - "so that when you hear people around the table talking racist talk about Arabs, you will have the strength to confront them and say 'hey, wait a minute, I know differently'"

There were other Palestinians there; one was an actress with a bubbly personality. I just wanted to jump into a cab with her and go dancing. She told me of all the people she knew including Shimon Peres because she's active in the Peres Center for Peace and told me about the time she was talking to him. I forgot the content of that particular story as I was probably having one too many senior moments, but she told him "and I don't mean to drop a bomb on you..." So I laughed, telling her, "don't ever tell Israelis, especially an important one, about dropping bombs on them." We both laughed loudly at this, and I'm sure by the end of our conversation together she also wanted to jump into a cab with me to go dancing, but her time was up, her permit about to expire, and like a Palestinian Cinderella, had to get back to her home before the permit does expire and who knows what could happen.

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