In late January, I found myself walking through the Mission District in San Francisco with Salwa, a Palestinian woman. We had met just the day before, yet I felt myself deeply connected to her. My heart was opening. Hers had broken.
Salwa's daughter, Abir, was killed one year ago by an Israeli rubber bullet on her way home from school. As Salwa and I walked outside, her husband, Bassam, was speaking about his work with Combatants for Peace. He presented that night alongside Elik, a former Israeli combatant. Both had suffered significant losses to the conflict that had once pitted them against one another. Now, as the co-founders of Combatants for Peace, they and other fighters, stand together, demonstrating the "unofficial" peace accord that already exists between some Israelis and Palestinians. Their organization is now building a safe play space for the children at Abir's school.
My conversation with Salwa had a resonance that can be hard to find in everyday life. Her story, and my attempts to provide her some comfort, gave a sense of purpose to all my travels in the Middle East, and my studies of the Arabic language. All those long nights of study--all those times lost in Cairo without a map--were worth it, to be able to offer her some small comfort in her native tongue. Ahlan wa Sahlan, Salwa. "[Welcome.]"
With recent increases in violence, more families are suffering pain like Salwa's. Recently 8 Israelis lost their lives in a tragic event at a Seminary in Jerusalem. In the recent invasion in Gaza, 100 Palestinians died, including children, with many more Israelis and Palestinians injured. When I hear this news, I hold fast to Elik and Bassam's commitment to not respond with violence, no matter what is happening around them. I find strength in their commitment to talk together and to build together rather than to fight. I focus my thoughts on all of the Palestinians and Israelis I have met over the last 9 years who also bravely stand beside each other even now! Brought face to face, they have found a human connection deeper than any political division. I wish that I could walk with Salwa now in Al-Quds (Jerusalem). I feel the grief of all those who have lost loved ones in this conflict, and especially of the other mothers like Salwa.
Though I am sitting safely in front of my computer in California, my heart and my thoughts fly to Jerusalem and Gaza and Siderot, to Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, and over the whole region. And I am proud to join Salwa, Bassam, Elik and so many others in building a safer, more peaceful world. There is hope to overcome grief, knowing that there are already so many Palestinians and Israelis who refuse to see each other as enemies.
It has been a dark week in the Middle East, marred by loss and hatred. Yet, I cling to the love I have seen between the two sides, to the forgiveness and to the opportunities that reveal the common interests shared by supposed enemies, as we build hope and lay a foundation for peace. I know it exists. I see it. Our work continues.
If you would like to learn more about the building efforts of Combatants for Peace, which are supported by the Rebuilding Alliance, please visit http://www.rebuildingalliance