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