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Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.

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Yoa'ad Shbita

Yoa'ad Shbita has been involved in coexistence dialogue since she was in eighth grade. At the time of the interview she was living in a communal house doing community service in Jaffa with six other teenagers, Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. Yoa'ad is a counselor and facilitator at Building Bridges for Peace, a program for Israeli and Palestinian teenage girls, and a participant in the dialogue program Re'ut-Sadaka.

  • How does your family see things regarding where you will live and a solution to the conflict?

    I myself never wanted to live in a uni-national1 state even if a Palestinian state were established. I don't really care where I live, but I do want to stay here. Wherever Tira is I'm going with it. I'm not deciding where to live. If I stay here it'll be great, obviously not the way things are now though. Obviously I'm not happy about my situation as a Palestinian who lives in the State of Israel.

    • 1The term uni-national refers to the would-be nationalities of the citizens in a one-state solution, that is, Jews, Muslims, and Christians would all have equal citizenship rights and equal protection under the law as the citizens of one state on the territory of Israel-Palestine.

  • Where are you from, and how did you come to do what you're doing now?

    Well, of course, I was born in Tira. My family on my father's side is from a village that was uprooted in 1948, from a small village, Miske, near Tira. I think it all began from that. That is, I couldn't have known from the age of one that my family was uprooted, but while I was growing up I began to understand. My family also got involved because of this. I'm also the daughter of two pretty involved activists. My mother is very, very active. My mother is active in a movement called WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) and Bridges For Peace. WILPF is an international movement that works in areas of conflict around the world. It is a women's movement, Palestinians and Israelis, but there are others active all around the world. Bridges For Peace is another Palestinian-Israeli movement. I don't know what they do now but I know that she was active with them. She is also a member of the Communist Party. She was a candidate for the Knesset with the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. I began to get involved during elementary school. It was stupid, Jewish schools hosting meetings between two schools, Arab and Jewish schools, but it was really silly.

  • Why were the first Arab Jewish school exchanges you participated in silly?

    Because I don't believe in this type of encounter. I know we were really young, but these meetings would result in invitations to visit, to eat together. Back then they managed to trick us, but it stopped working because I don't think it was a solution to anything. If anything, it may have even increased both sides' hatred. I started being active when I was in the eighth grade. I come from a communist family so I used to be active in the Communist Alliance Movement. In the eighth grade I started to go to meetings at Re'ut-Sadaka.

  • And what about your friends from home, what do they think about what you're doing here?

    My close friends support me but people who aren't close, lots of people are like, "Why are you doing it? Why aren't you working to save up for school next year? Why not put more effort into studying for the college entry exams so you can get a good grade and study whatever you want?" That's what most people are thinking! I used to think that too, "Why on earth did I do this? Why didn't I decide to stay at home and work? While I'm here I can't save up a dime..." Lots of times I think, no, what I'm doing is important. It's hard for people to understand because it doesn't seem natural to them, and for me it is. And one day they will understand what I'm doing. I do understand why they think that. I understand why I need to work, get good grades and study. It's our only option. And somehow I could change that option. If I didn't work so hard every day, I'd lose the possibility of school next year too. But they will understand it one day, although there are some that don't know me well and don't know what I'm doing, and after I tell them they say, "Nice." Someone I told decided he wanted to help us and I told him that we change volunteers, every year there is a new group. I asked him if he wants to join us and he said, "No, I can't give up a whole year." It's true!

  • What is Re'ut-Sadaka?

    Re'ut-Sadaka is an Arab-Jewish movement that believes in co-existence through dialogue. It's actually where I'm volunteering now. What they do is dialogue groups. For example, the Tira/Kfar Saba group meets regularly once a week because the movement believes that one or two meetings aren't useful. There is an Arab counselor and a Jewish counselor, and throughout the year the group discusses most issues; of course it's impossible to discuss all the issues! We mostly work with high school kids. I joined when I was very young, in the eighth grade. Maybe because I come from the family I do, maybe I came because I wanted to. I kept coming to meetings until I was in grade twelve.

  • Can you tell me about the hardest part, or something that surprised you from the first dialogue groups you were in?

    I can't remember anything from my first years. I remember that I was supposed to be meeting with really right-wing people; this group actually had people who were not so left-wing, but sometimes someone who I agreed with on everything. Suddenly when we got to talking about the truly serious issues, things exploded and we couldn't continue.

  • Why do you think previous peace processes failed?

    I don't know which side it came from, but one or both sides didn't really want it, or didn't really work at it. I'm not very good at history. I can't remember dates, but I do remember the Road Map. I tried on my own, I wanted to learn it. I wanted to read and learn the proposal and follow up on what happened. I read it and didn't agree with lots of things. If I were the Palestinian leader I wouldn't have agreed to the Map; it ignores the refugees, the issue of Jerusalem. Those are the things we argue most about. In the end the Palestinian side agreed and the Israeli side didn't. I don't know whether this is what happened to every proposal. Now I know the Palestinian side didn't really want it, but there was no choice, because they had enough and wanted a solution at any cost. Even though now Arafat is back to saying, "No way we're giving up on the issue of refugees." I think it's bigger than Sharon or Barak and Arafat meeting. Arafat doesn't represent anybody now. Of course he's a symbol of a leader for me, and a person I respect for all that he's done all these years. Anyone who hears me talking about Arafat always says, "Who, that corrupted person who steals all the money for himself and his wife Suha or takes it off to France?!" Fine! He transfers the money! So he's corrupt! It's really not great that he does that, but I think he can represent the Palestinian people, he's been through a lot, he's a smart person I think. And he can do things, or sometime will be able to represent the Palestinian people. He's still a major symbol for many Palestinians, maybe for all the Palestinian people. He's stayed a symbol, just like the Queen of England, that's what he is now. That's why I think that any agreement between him and an Israeli leader is worthless. Even if it's between any current Palestinian Prime Minister-- he isn't anything-- because even now, nobody understands that the Palestinian people aren't a state. They've suffered, still are suffering, and if this suffering isn't stopped, nothing can happen here. Everything will stay the way it is. Then you'll need to take all the people to Oslo or to Washington to decide what they want! Because in the current situation, nobody can decide for them. I think that's the most obvious reason for the agreements' failure.

  • Which are the truly serious issues that come up in dialogue?

    For example, if we're talking about the refugees, the mess we have here now. Or when we talk about the military-- even now that I'm living with Jews in a different environment, I can't understand someone who tells me, "I'm enlisting," now, in this situation. The issues of the refugees and the military are what I'm very passionate about. Maybe I'm so passionate about the refugee thing because I have relatives who are refugees, and it's something that's never been solved. I remember that during the first and second meetings I sat on the sidelines and observed. I noticed that everybody was grown up and at the beginning I wondered, what can I say? I'll probably say something silly. All those grownups-- high school kids-- and I'm nothing but a little girl. But in the meantime I'll come, observe, listen. And then, after, I saw that I was getting involved. I had to; I couldn't sit it out any longer. That was it, the first step. My mother pushed me to do it; she wanted me to go there. In the end, in high school when I had too much homework and things to give up, going there was my highest priority. I was willing to give up a lot of things that may have been more important but... I decided to give them up and not the meetings, especially after I saw the differences in some people between the beginning and the end of the year. I can't really remember what exactly, but in my first or second year there were people who had certain views at the beginning of the year and by the end they had changed a lot. Since then I believe in it, that it really can change things.

  • What about you? Do you recall anything that changed about you during the dialogue process?

    About myself, that's something I'm often asked about. I don't know. Of course I've changed a lot! But I don't feel it exactly. I really can't remember myself as an eighth grader, if I was radical... I remember that once only one Jewish girl came to a meeting and we were five or six Arabs, and they asked us to draw up the map and divide it however we wanted to. This was a project that went according to nationality, naturally! The Jewish girl sat by herself and drew her version and we argued amongst ourselves. Then the group decided to make it all a Palestinian state and I couldn't agree to that. I put my foot down, and I and two or three others said, "Okay, we're doing it alone." What we did do wasn't really smart! We divided it into two parts: a northern part, and a southern part. We put the Jews in the southern part and the Palestinians in the northern part. I went home and told my mother. I always used to tell her what we were doing at the meetings, and she was like, "What? Why?" We started talking about it. "Why should we want to live separately, each in a different place? If anything this place should belong to one people and that'll be that." And I was convinced. I think I was in the tenth grade, I still wasn't completely sure about my views. So she convinced me, and the first thing I said at the next meeting was, "I want to say something, about the last meeting, I changed my mind and now I think like so." I wanted to say it in front of the group.

  • What was your solution during that high school dialogue session about how to divide up the map?

    My solution then was-- I wasn't exactly drawing maps. I wasn't thinking about borders, but I must have believed in the '67 borders, which I still do. Anyone who dreams about the distant future dreams about one state for the two nations. Of course it's a dream, that in order for it to come true... it's impossible the way I see the current situation. I think my solution was the '67 borders. If I had been alive in 1948 I would have been for keeping this a Palestinian state and finding another solution for the Jews. But since I don't see a solution now and I don't want to kick them out like they did to us, I think that even if this solution is not realistic, it would be best that we both live together in the same place. If we had a choice between having a Palestinian State and an Israeli State or one state for two nations, I would choose one state for two nations. But because it is unrealistic, I take the second best solution, which is two states for two people.

  • Can you tell me a little more about how you feel as a Palestinian who lives in Israel?

    As a Palestinian who lives in this country I really don't feel my citizenship here. I don't feel that the state gives me the citizenship I deserve. At the beginning, when I lived at home [with my family in Tira], I talked about it but never really felt deprived. I had a few very bad experiences when I did sense it; now that I live in Tel Aviv [Jaffa is next to Tel Aviv] I experience it everyday. Everyday I understand that being an Arab or being Palestinian in this country... Can you give an example? I have an example from before I moved here to Jaffa. During the summer of 22, the first time I went to the US, to summer camp, me and my family took a trip with some friends, four or five other families, we went to the beach. This was a trip we hadn't done for many years, I think probably because of security reasons, because nobody had the energy to, nobody was in the mood to go on trips. But then we decided we were going to the beach; we barbecued and whatever. We sat around for a long time. I was the eldest of the children. It was a lot of fun. Around eleven p.m. this group of teenagers came around, maybe fifteen or twenty guys. We were sitting on the grass and there were very, very young children with us- one, one and a half year olds. One of the guys asked, "What are you, Arabs?" And my mother said, "Yes. Do you have a problem with that?" Then they attacked us. It was in Givat-Olga.1 It's not the first time this happened there. The consequences were terrible. When they saw we were reacting, the group took off in the end. But a man who was with us had his hand broken; he had a cast for about four months. My father was stabbed in the stomach and by some miracle it wasn't anything serious, except the trauma caused to the young children who were with us. This happens... because of the political situation people just... It happens. My question is, where are the police? They didn't do anything with this. It's something that had happened already before it happened to us, and happened twice again after in the same spot, and probably with the same gang, and the police didn't do anything. Because my family has connections, it reached the media a little. And if it had happened to a Jewish family? Would it go over so quietly? I think not. Even though we have lawyers working with us-- the people who were involved in this with us really got involved. The lawyers really pushed for something to be done about this. It wasn't only us. It's something that's happening here. Up until now nothing happened. The police called us in a few times to look at some pictures and whatever, but I believe that if the police really wanted to find them they could have a long time ago. That's one example that I always remember. I myself was traumatized pretty badly. Whenever I talk about this I always remember this case. I would never remember things that happened three or four years ago, exactly what happened. But this, I really remember it well. [Follow-up in November 24: The case has now been closed without resolution.] Anyway, like I told you, I come from an uprooted family, and I go visit the village we were expelled from occasionally. The fact is I see that this village is completely ruined but nothing was done there, they only took it away and chased away the people from there for no reason. For no reason except to take over a few groves of trees and that's it. It makes me very angry. When my family arrived in Tira, you know how we live, people have lands and they build on them and that's how life goes. Now my brothers need somewhere to build their houses. It's not like renting an apartment in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My whole family has a serious problem. That's not the only reason I'm angry. I'm there at the village, looking at the place - it's ruined. And the people come, I hear my Grandma saying, "I lived here. This is where my house used to be." It's terribly sad. There was the Nakba in '48 and now I can see that in some places it wasn't for anything. If a refugee from Jaffa who used to live where our Jewish neighbor now lives, I would never tell the Hebrew neighbor, "Get out," and return the refugee to his place, because I don't want to do nakba [disaster] to [our Jewish neighbor] now. But the destroyed villages, there are four-hundred and some villages, and most of them are in the same condition. They expelled the people from the places, and for what? Goddammit! Why did you do it? What did you want from it? What, for no reason, to expel, to kill people? To do Nakba for no reason at all? Things that influence me the most, I think, are the personal things. When I got here I started to understand life in a harder way. At first I only saw these things in theory. Now I suffer them in practice.

    • 1A beach location at Hadera, a coastal town in Israel between Tel-Aviv and Haifa.

  • Do you talk about these things—the issue of refugees—in the dialogue groups?

    Yes, but not when I'm the counselor. When I'm in the group - of course.

  • What does it do for you to talk about these things like the issue of refugees?

    It depends. In a lot of groups, the problem is that people who come to these meetings already have an awareness. This year in the Building Bridges for Peace camp it was a little different. When I talked about it I felt like I was really telling them something. Two religious [Jewish] girls came to us- they didn't know anything! They come from Yavneh,1 from somewhere where they don't know about anything except for the most radical things they are told. At some point they started crying and said, "We want to go home, we can't take this anymore. We're hearing too many things. From the Palestinian girls who live in the State of Israel, from the Palestinian girls from the Territories-- things we never heard before! We don't know what to do! It's as though we're being attacked." And I did understand them then. I do know where it all comes from; it's not their fault, that's how it's represented by the media in their environment. But it wasn't easy for me to say to them, "It's okay and I won't tell you any more," or, "I don't want you to listen to any more." To me it's important to get to these people especially. It's really sad that they and I live two hours apart- that's nothing- and they don't know where I live, don't know anything about the way I live. In Jaffa, in general, they never saw how people were living here before they started coming, or why people have been living here this way. Why the neighborhood where we live now looks the way it does. It is a very neglected neighborhood. Sometimes [thinking about our dialogue group] makes me feel really good... When I remember things it makes me sad, but now if I go over things it makes me feel really good that these girls have been exposed to these things. One of them is also going to stay with us and go to camp, and they both came to meetings all year even though their parents didn't want them to. They had problems with their parents at first but they realized that they couldn't stay in the bubble they were put in. They have to. There is a different reality. Unfortunately one of the decisions that one of them made was to enlist when she finishes high school. She's religious, so she doesn't have to enlist, and she didn't consider it before. Now she thinks she wants to enlist. What's it got to do with it? I never could understand it because it's a very touchy subject for me. I never start talking to people about this military thing and end up happy. I hope [the dialog groups] change her mind afterwards.

    • 1Refers to a town in the west of Israel near the coast.

  • Tell me a bit about summer camp. What will you do with them this summer?

    I started going to summer camp in 22. I came because of my Jewish friend who was also active in Re'ut-Sadaka. She was in the group. At the beginning what I understood was that there were going to be girls in the United States: Palestinian girls, Palestinian-Israeli girls and Israeli girls. It sounded cool, it was in the States, it was something like what I had already been doing. The camp started. The difficulties started. In my first year there were tons of technical problems, like the budget, money, and so the Jewish girls were mostly girls who had been there for the second or third time. And my delegation, the Palestinians from the State of Israel, we were mostly first-timers, and so was the Palestinian delegation, most of it except for two. At first of course they try to make it fun, playing and getting to know each other, and then you get into the very difficult things. I remember that the hardest thing was that there were, with me in my group, very radical girls, and in the Jewish group there weren't. There were girls who weren't exactly left wing, whose views I didn't exactly agree with, but they weren't very radical. It was really hard! I'm supposed to bond with this group, [the Palestinian group], the group that I share beliefs with. I'm from this delegation and I refuse to give up on it. I won't give up how I define myself either. Suddenly I see that I'm agreeing with a lot of the things the Jewish group is saying! There are a few girls from the Palestinian group... I can't empathize with the things they say even though I understand everything they talk about. I understand everything that a girl from Jenin, why she says things, why she tells them what she does, why she says, "When I'm older I'm going to blow myself up on a bus." It was very hard for me to hear it, but I really can understand.

  • Which things do you remember having agreed on with the Jewish group at Building Bridges for Peace?

    I can't remember specific things, I usually don't know why I don't remember the things I didn't agree on with them! Things I didn't agree on with them-- again, the issue of the military that came up a lot because there were girls who were about to be drafted during that summer or the next. Again the argument about the refugees... We never argued about the State existing within the '67 borders. The people who come necessarily agree on that, they don't have a problem with it. But when you scratch beneath the surface, these things, what do you want to see happen inside the '67 borders? Do you want to keep living life like now? Or do you want to improve the quality of life for all the people who live here already, make people feel like they're human beings here. Beyond '67, the Palestinian State, who will establish it? Do you think that even if the Army was to leave all the territories the people there could establish a state!? I haven't been there for a very long time; it's been many years since I've visited the territories. But at least I know; I have friends who live there, I see things on television. I see how things are there and I don't believe that a state will ever be established there if nobody helps them. And people say to you, "Listen, why don't they have elections and replace their Prime Minister, their leader?" Goddamn! Why is everything that's happening there their leader's fault? What kind of bull is that! Their leader has been held captive for the past two months in his offices, what do you want him to do? When you get to the name Arafat, things explode! People start discussing it as though it's only Arafat and Sharon! As though they were asking Arafat to come up with a solution right now. "Come on, we're going to find a solution right now. We want Arafat and Sharon to sit down together; it has nothing to do with the army, nothing to do with people whose families were killed, whose houses were demolished, nothing to do with people's feelings. Arafat sends people to blow themselves up, it's his own fault, and he should put a stop to it." This is what people say to me and it drives me crazy. These are things that were always coming up in my first year at summer camp. Things that, like, what the hell do you want from me? What are you talking about? And you have live examples of girls who came from there and girls who live with it everyday, and someone who comes and tells you, "This is my hope, to be older and blow myself up"-- What do you want her to do? All these things kept coming up. Even though sometimes I feel that... During summer camp I felt like I belonged in different places. I always feel part of the Palestinian group, but there were things the Jewish group said that I understood, while the Palestinian group would never be able to understand because it was their second encounter with Jews, and their first one was with the army! How can I expect them to feel?

  • How does it feel to belong to both the Palestinian and Israeli groups?

    It feels like the group of Palestinians living in the State of Israel doesn't exist, as though we don't have our own problems, as though our lives are fine: we're the Palestinians who live the good life. Refugees don't have good lives, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza don't have good lives, but we do! But in my everyday life I don't feel that really. It's not true! We also have our problems; maybe they're not as obvious. True, our houses aren't being demolished every day. It happens, it's not that it doesn't happen. But it really isn't the same situation as in, say, Rafah. But I always understood where they came from and why I've always felt I belong to the Palestinian group, even though theoretically I don't live with them. Joint living situations? I live with the Jewish girls and maybe it's in my better interest to belong to their group more because I live with them! If anyone can help me it's them. But I never thought of it that way, or that I would want to be that way. I never thought that I'd want to go according to interest. It's very hard to relate to what they say and not to what the Palestinian girls say, things they experience, things that I also experience, just in a different way, or just a little bit. What always happens is that we merge, the Palestinian group and the group of Palestinian-Israeli girls. We stick together, or at least most of the group does. And the Jewish group already feels guiltier or like they're being discriminated against. Maybe that's why, except for the two years I spent there, that there was always an American group. I think it mainly made it easier on the Jewish girls because surely there were girls with other views and not ours. People who watch what happens through CNN, through the media... which I think doesn't show things right. That's why I think that group is there, and only during those two years they weren't there. During my second year it was a bit different. We had girls that related a little better to the Israeli group. I was a Leader in Training already so I had to help the counselors and it was pretty hard for me. It was my second time at summer camp, me and the girl from Jenin who said she'd blow herself up, who was going to be a counselor that year at camp; so many things I heard repeated themselves. The same things I heard the previous year from different people. There was one really tough thing that happened. Every year there were three excursions; each group went on a different excursion. Obviously the Israeli group [including the Palestinian's who live in Israel] was taken to the Holocaust Museum, we did this in our first year too.This year one of the Palestinian girls, D., wrote, "All Jews should die" in Arabic. There's a guest book at the end of the museum, and she wrote in it, "All Jews should die, I don't care, what I do care about is that lots of the pictures that I see here I see in my life, things that repeat themselves from fifty, sixty years ago." Then this Jewish girl who understood Arabic read it. By the time we found out she read it she had told everybody about it, "Listen, that girl wrote so-and-so and we can't ignore it." The summer camp was in New Jersey and we were in Washington so it took a while until it came up. When we got back it was very late, the Jewish girl who'd read it was religious and had these terribly strange views, so strange that I can't understand them to this day. She decided she was going to talk to the girl who wrote it. At the beginning the other girl was like, I won't react; then she said, "Listen, this is what I feel and I want to say it even though you're here with us." Somehow it turned into a discussion and we all sat together. It was very late, we got back around five and it was one a.m or two by the time we finished. Our counselors and the rest of the staff stayed out of it, and we sat and talked. At first there were just a couple of girls talking and then we realized it had to do with us all. I didn't write that but I did have things I wanted to say. Because we were so many girls we needed someone to lead the discussion, so Joline1 did. At first just the two girls argued, "Why did you write that?" As if she wrote it specifically about her, and she said, "I'm very upset." At some point I got very annoyed and said, "Listen, I know why you're upset, and I understand... I couldn't say something like that but I know that D. has something to say about it. And I know D. has lots of personal stories she never tells, and something must have made her say it." Before that everybody was crying, they couldn't take it, so I said, "Let her express herself because she hasn't said anything all this time, never said anything about her own personal experiences even though I know she has lots to say. Let's try to understand why she did that, and then maybe we'll be able to understand where it came from." So then she started telling her own story; that a month ago a soldier shot her uncle, and he died. After that the discussion really changed its direction. People stopped taking things so personally and really started talking about things seriously. They had a very hard time continuing with D.. Even girls like O., who trained with her and was with us during the summer camp. O. had a really hard time with her, even though O.'s really easy to get along with, she usually understands things. She's very open and even she had a hard time with that girl. Only after two days the counselors saw it was impossible to continue the way things were. So Melodye [Feldman], the director of the camp, told us very bluntly, "Listen, we can't go on this way. You aren't talking enough about the things you need to talk about. We give you all that free time so you'll solve problems and talk them through, not to play! You're only here for two weeks, some of you won't be coming back, so take advantage of it!" She gave us two hours: it was the longest free time in my life. "I want to see you using this time. I'm not dividing you into groups, not telling you what to do but I'm telling you the staff can't work this way. You aren't being honest, you're not opening up to new ideas, this is really not what you came here for." What happened then was that we each hooked up with someone we wanted to talk to. It was beautiful. We all found partners or joined groups without being assigned by anyone. It was a special night; I don't think I'll be able to forget it. I think it would have happened sooner or later, if it hadn't, girls would have gone home without doing what they came for, to really talk honestly. After that the Palestinian girl didn't come back to the meetings all year. I talked to her a few times and suddenly she came back and it was so strange, I don't know if it was that she changed her mind or that she thought it over and decided she was making a mistake. She also signed up to be a Leader in Training this year. She wasn't accepted, but it was a very important step. Do you remember something in particular that someone said that night? I remember that D. kept talking in riddles [not saying much], but that night we were able to get her to open up and start talking about everything. She talked about what got her to this point to write a sentence like that, she told us about what had happened with her uncle. I don't remember the details but she said that he was killed by the Israeli army a couple of months before she came to camp. Her attitude before was that those are my enemies [the Israelis] and I hate them, I won't talk to them. But that night we pushed her to talk to them because I know and she knows how she feels but they don't know anything and we need them to get it. After she opened up, I believe it was easier for the group to understand why this person was acting in that manner. She was in the same group with O. and they constantly had problems together, but after that night things became better, even she felt more comfortable. Now after two years I believe that something inside her has changed but I think that she is to afraid to get it out.

    • 1Councelor/facilitator at Building Bridges for Peace camp at the time of the incident.

  • To someone who isn't familiar with the situation, how would you explain why dialogue is so important? Why do you do this?

    I'm doing this because I want to, for myself and for my people, because I think that someday it will make things better, do something. I believe that if I just sit at home and study, get my degree and even become a professor and work in my field and do not do anything, it won't change things. This is why if I had an exam and there was a demonstration I would think it over ten times. "Should I go to the demonstration or study?" Even though my mother always told me, "This is what will help you in life: get your high school diploma, do your job according to your education." Now I can understand this, now I know what she was talking about. But then it was hard to take it in-- during the massacre in Jenin, "Listen, the people are going to demonstrate and you want me to prepare for exams? What kind of atmosphere is there for studying for exams?" Now I do understand. I do regret things even though my grades are pretty good. I think what I'm doing now, I'm... doing it for myself, because I can see that there are people who don't care about how things are here, or don't care about changing them, they're sick of things, like most people here in Jaffa. We've been working with them for three or four years, we're here and people barely know us here. Our neighbors here barely know us.

  • What do you do with people in the neighborhood in Jaffa?

    In general most of our work isn't here in Jaffa. We volunteer in all sorts of projects. We try to do community services in the frameworks that exist, there aren't so many of them. Now we're planning a work-camp for volunteers like we had a few years ago in Jaffa. Last year we did it in an unrecognized [Bedouin] village in the Negev, and this year we decided to have it here, right in our neighborhood, because it's a neighborhood that's in pretty bad condition and because we want to retain the continuity. Two weeks of work can't fix everything, but we do want to feel like we belong here... the work camp always takes place at the end of the year. I come from Tira, which isn't in great condition itself, and I come to Jaffa and see that things are a million times worse here and that here I am, here to help them! It's very funny! I come from a place that's in bad shape. I'm here to help them?! I understand it if someone Jewish comes to do this work. But why is it that a student like one of the others who lives with me, is willing to give up classes to do the things we do here, it's awfully strange. He comes from Manda village,1 a village that has a red line highlighting it, the State regards it as a place where people who are involved in terrorism and... It's a village that's under fire like most of the Arab villages and cities here.

    • 1Kfar Manda is a town in Northern Israel East of Haifa in the Western Galilee region.

  • So why did you decide to live here in this Jewish Palestinian communal living situation?

    Because we go through these things we think we need to do this. We live through this and we want to change things! It might sound strange. Why don't I try to make things better in Tira instead of coming here? I don't know what I can fix in Tira, I don't have this sort of program there.

  • Tell me about what it's like to live in the Re'ut-Sadaka house together.

    We live in a communal house that belongs to Re'ut-Sadaka. We live together, seven volunteers, mostly people who've finished high school. The Jews who enlist usually put their military draft off for a year, or some don't enlist. That's true for all the Jews we've got here now. [Follow-up November 24: They all refused to serve in the army; some kept delaying joining the army but eventually refused to serve.] It's a year people give and work for things they believe in. We're four Arabs and three Jews. It's a very hard life. For me it's very difficult, I give the same year as someone Jewish does, but it's harder for me because I know I want to go to school next year, and the Jews here don't think about it. It's not something that bothers them because they can live without... they do want to study later, go to school. But they don't care when, why should they care? It's more important to them to do what they believe in and go on with their lives, laid back. I can't.

  • What's the difference in how you and your Jewish friends experience a year of community service?

    The difference is that I, as a minority, as a Palestinian in this country, can't get ahead without getting an education. It's hard getting accepted to university, the university... it's a long story... and it's very important to me. The State doesn't care about educating me, doesn't really want me to study, and I do want to. I want this change. I think that if I keep doing volunteer work for my whole life, or even paid work, I won't get educated and won't become anybody. I think anybody in my situation would think the same. You need the tools and then you can change things. There are things that I've started to understand this year, before this I never did. That's why I'm here still, even when I need to improve my grades because I want to study something I want and it's very hard for me get into University because of the obstacles, studying for the college entry exams-- that's our biggest problem-- and it's things only I do, life is hard only on me now-- my roommate doesn't worry about these things. I'm worried about, "What will I study? Won't I study next year? Where will I be accepted?" What will happen to me? I'll be very sad if I'm not accepted for next year. My roommate doesn't have all that. She's thinking, "I want to work this year, next year, and the year after go to art school!" I once considered studying music because I play the violin, for eight years now. But honestly, what can I do with music? I'm limited anyhow in what I can do so now I have to go and do things that can push me ahead. Things that can really get me ahead are the things that are very hard to get accepted to. I already have things that limit me. It's very sad, and it stresses me out. More than anything it makes me angry. Can't I can't choose what I want, how I want to live my life, can't I choose what to do? It's sad and annoying and I don't know what to do because I'm in this situation of, "I will get in, won't get in, will study, won't study." My parents, on the one hand, are really pressuring me to study next year, and on the other hand, I also want to start, and I have to combine the two.

  • What were you thinking of studying?

    I really want to study Architecture but I don't know whether I'll get to do that or not. Recently I applied for a scholarship in England through the Olive Tree Trust, a scholarship at City University. They give ten scholarships to Palestinians and ten to Israelis. It's a very interesting scholarship, and up until now I never knew if I was interested in studying abroad. Yesterday they sent me an e-mail telling me I passed the first stage, that they're going to interview me. I applied for fields that really interest me. I applied for Engineering, I didn't apply to that here because I'm sure I'll never get in. I'm really into numbers, and less into studying words. I don't like that. My mother wanted me to try for Law but I put it as my third preference. If I passed the first stage with my grades then maybe I will be accepted... but I really don't know if I want to study abroad.

  • How come you are not sure you would want to study abroad?

    On the one hand I think it'll be easy to leave this situation and I'll even be happy to, especially since I know I'll be back. Getting away from all this for a few years... and on the other it'll be very hard to leave all this behind. I don't know how it'll be. I know someone, very close to me, who went off to study abroad and it wasn't right for him and he came back. That made me scared of it. Also the fact that my mother always says, "None of you is going abroad for their B.A." She and my father decided that we'll all get our B.A. here-- my brothers and I-- Masters and Doctoral studies, "Do them however you want, wherever you decide." But she was the one who told me about the scholarship!

  • What do your parents think about the work your doing at the Re'ut-Sadaka house?

    It was hard for them at the beginning of the year, especially for my father because I'm the youngest and the only girl. It was hard for him that I left the house: "You're going to live outside the house for a year?" It was the only thing that really bothered him and my mother. I don't always talk about it with them but I think they are happy with what I do. It's something they pushed me to do. My mother pushed me to start going to Re'ut-Sadaka in eight grade. She got me into this.

  • What do your friends from Tira think about the ideas of coexistence, Re'ut-Sadaka, the summer camp?

    I think in general they take it in a very regular way. They accept it-- though it's not easy for them-- they don't particularly like hearing about it, especially people who aren't aware enough of the sad reality and that it needs to be changed. In their opinion, they think, "I work with Jews, I do have run-ins and things that I can't deal with, but hey! I work with Jews, I can get used to the situation." These are difficult things for me to hear, they don't agree with the things I say, the things I feel and know. I know this, I understand it. The vast majority here doesn't understand it. After the October 2 occurrences, Banki [the Communist Youth Alliance] used to organize demonstrations, street gatherings. It's sad that not all 24, people from Tira were in the streets. It's something that concerns me and them, and maybe it concerns them more, some of them. But it's all a matter of awareness, all a matter of what the government and the State tells them, what the media broadcasts. The State worked pretty hard to make people afraid to go out and speak their mind. It really wanted to achieve this. It's very sad for me to hear people talking this way but... I'm working on it now. Haifa? I'm the Haifa group's counselor, [a city] where there are supposedly Arabs and Jews living side by side. At the beginning of the year I wanted them to tell me, "What do you think about your life here?" Most of the Arabs said, "We live in coexistence in Haifa... Everything's great here... We have the best lives, the best lives in the country." And later they started to discover that things are different. We even got down to the smallest details, the signs, the languages, the condition of the Arabic language here. So I asked them, "Say guys, at the beginning of the year you said you had it good here. Let's count just how many signs in Arabic there are here in Haifa, supposedly the mixed city..." They really started thinking about it, where these things happen, where they stand. I think I must have an awareness; maybe I brought my awareness from home, maybe it's from the things I'm going through now. It's very important to understand and pass on to people.

  • What is the most important thing for you to achieve for yourself, for posterity?

    The most important thing for me is to change the premises of our lives. To get the rights we've been deprived of ever since this country's existence... to stop what's going on here! Things keep getting more and more complicated, even though after fifty-six years1 you'd think people would learn from the past. And that doesn't happen! It never does. The government never learned, the citizens never learn from what they do and from what's going on here. The situation is getting worse and worse and nobody can stop it. The world's mother, the United States, is also going down the drain and dragging everything else down too. The situation in the world is very influential because as I see it the United States rules the world, the US rules her spoiled daughter, Israel. The US is terrorizing the whole world. They started in Afghanistan, in Iraq, soon the rest of the world. If there were anyone capable of stopping Israel it would be the US. The country and the government don't want to, which means that this situation, we don't know how long it'll last. It's getting worse, can't ever stay static. It's hard for me to say these things because what I do is to try and change things. On the one hand I work very hard at that, and on the other I ask myself whether it can really make a difference.

    • 1Referring to the fifty-six years since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

  • What will it take for things to get better?

    I really don't know. I used to be able to say that it's a matter of time, but it's not. If it were a matter of time enough years have passed, enough things happened that could have taught something, and it's not a matter of time. It's not true. It's a matter of people, "wake up!" The fact that after everything that happened here Sharon was elected as Prime Minister... it's the people's vote, and the majority's vote. I don't know what I can expect from these people! They know what Sharon is. Sharon isn't someone who popped up and became prime minister and only later did we discover who he is and what he does. We know about what he did in Sabra and Shatila and all the other massacres he's responsible for; it's hard for me to call him a person. And after all that the majority decides that he should be in power after all these years. We need to learn from history. Not only from the history of the State, but from the people's history: the Jewish people went through too much. They experienced history! Why are they trying to put another people through it? You suffered so much, and so do I, it's very hard listening to talk about the Holocaust. But it's also very hard for me to hear someone who tells me, "I enlisted," and comes telling me about the Holocaust. What do you want from me! You're doing the same thing in the end! Do you really think you're better than a Nazi soldier was then? "Me, I have to." That's the answer I get. Do you think a Nazi soldier wasn't forced to do the things he did? But you don't have a Hitler that kills you if you don't enlist.It's very difficult for me to relate to lots of stuff here. Why it's happening... I haven't got a clue how we can get to something better, or to a situation that I'm hoping for. I do know that I want things to get better. That's why I'm not sitting at home or working and studying for the college entry exams. I want things to change. I'm only nineteen, my grandmother is eighty and she went through the whole Nakba. And she's still willing to accept the things that I'm doing. Maybe not that we live together with boys and that I live away from home, but the fact that we're working on this, that there are Jews who come to our family's house, that we go to demonstrations; she's eighty and was expelled from her village and she can accept it! "Do it," she says! She even had [Jewish] friends from '48 and she's friends with them still; that family helped my family and the village a lot before 1948, and we're still in touch. On the other hand I work at McDonald's because I have no choice.That's another thing, in Tel Aviv there's supposed to be work, job opportunities, and what do I wind up with? McDonald's. I go into McDonald's and there are only Russians and Arabs working there. All the Arabs work at McDonald's! Why? Discrimination? When I go to ask at a shoe store they ask me, "Are you done with military service?" It's not only Tel Aviv, it's all over the country. I do work at McDonald's now. Once this old lady came in and heard two other employees speaking in Arabic, she still didn't realize I was an Arab. She came up to me and said, "Tell me, do they hire Arabs here?" And I said, "Of course." She said, "Shame on you! They're wiping us out and you give them work!" I didn't answer her. Didn't know how to answer her! What to tell her! Should I argue? Fight? I didn't know what I should do! She's an old woman and I'm sure she was alive during the Holocaust. Why? Why do you think this way? You're the ones who should have learned, you went through more than anyone else. It's so sad, as though people never learn anything! My brother goes to Tel Aviv College and a lecturer came in... I don't know how this came up, how in an Electrical Engineering class he got to, "All Palestinians are animals." So my brother took it to the college's president. The president started sorting it out and they talked to the lecturer, and he told my brother, "My parents are Holocaust survivors and I do understand you." That's what he told my brother, and my brother said, "That's exactly why I can't understand how you could say such a thing. Why are you doing this? You should learn from that experience."I don't bring up the Holocaust in every argument. For lots of people it's a very painful subject. Even in the group who I live with, we have weekly meetings, communal meetings, and one day we brought it up - the holocausts the world has been through. We suggested different ideas, about a hundred. The Jewish group did too at first. So then we looked over what we did. One of the most annoying things to me was that they were so upset when another guy from our group, an Arab, and I said that to us the intifada, what's happening now in the Territories, is a kind of holocaust! I do understand them, where they're coming from, but on the other hand... I do think that it's a kind of holocaust. I know there wasn't this kind of resistance in the Holocaust because it was a different situation. I do get that.I know that nothing can be compared to anything; you can't say anything is exactly alike. But for me it's a horrible thing, even worse than the Holocaust, because in the Holocaust I don't think the Germans had a history they should have learned from. But here, you have a people who experienced things and was supposed to learn from it and didn't, so from my perspective it's even worse than what happened then.

  • What does the word peace mean to you?

    It is a word people like using. Nobody knows what it means now. Even [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, the "leader for peace." He isn't really talking about peace. It's a word that people play with. It's very unclear, you can't get its meaning from the dictionary. Personally I'm for changing the word; it's a word that gets played with too much. It's used to represent different things: radical leftists say peace; the radical right says peace. Maybe even Palestinian suicide bombers use the word. For them it's a type of peace. If you ask me it's just a word that people use to say whatever, even though it's supposed to be a positive word. You can do anything with it... even though it is a very pretty word as words go.

  • Where do you find signs of hope?

    In meeting the hundreds of people, some of them are people who I live with, meeting these people, meeting the organizers of demonstrations... last week I went to a demonstration in Rafah. I didn't know that there were really people who cared so much; there were hundreds of Arabs too. If that's hope, and I don't know how big a hope it is, then that's my only one. But also soldiers' refusals [to serve in the Territories or in the army at all] and officers' too, that are coming up. I hope that this is a kind of continuous awakening for some people, and that it will continue. It looks like it's the only hope, my only hope to feel better.

  • How does fear influence the conflict?

    It has a big influence. It influences everyone; it influences me when things happen in the Territories. For example, when Ahmed Yassin was killed I was in the middle of a homeroom class. It's horrifying hearing the children with the stereotypes they have about Arabs. Then I left the class and I was told he was killed and I never wanted to go back to giving those classes at that school again. It was scary riding the bus for a few days, even though I never thought of it that way. The whole time I told myself that if I was going to blow up inside a bus, so be it, I don't care. This is the way it is, I'm not going to tell anybody off about blowing himself up. I am against bombing, against killing civilians, but I have no right telling anyone not to do it. I know where it comes from. Even though I do take the bus, even though I'm against it-- the bombings within the country of course, I'm not talking about in the settlements, or against the army. It's more important for me to try and trace what this person has been through. Most people who do it don't just wind up there just because they see the army's in their city. They get there out of desperation. A person thinks, "I want to die," and brings himself to die, that's not an easy thing. So yes, I am afraid; when people are suspicious on the bus I don't care. If it happens it's because it's supposed to happen, and if it doesn't happen to me it'll be somebody else. Of course I would prefer it didn't happen to me! But not getting on the bus isn't a solution, it never will be. Anyhow, I haven't got the money.What does frighten me is that one day there won't be a single Arab student. That's something that could happen. Especially this year, they've been working hard at it. There was the combination exam, now they canceled it because they saw too many Arabs got into universities because of it. The universities also see it like that, they canceled it. What's the combination exam? Now you get into university according to the college entry exam, you have to have a grade. Last year they made a system to get in using your high school diploma examinations, and it helped us a lot because we have a lot of problems with the college entry exam, especially with the English-- that's not the only reason, but it's mostly the English. So lots of Arabs got accepted to fields we never dreamed of, and the universities saw that. It said in the paper, "Look how many Arabs got in before, and how many now." So they canceled it this year. It really scares me that in a few years I could only be looking at two or three Arab students that can register for university. It frightens me when people study abroad and don't come back. They gave up on it all. That's why I never think of staying on if I study abroad. Even if I get the best job, the best salary. I'm not leaving this place until things really work out. I wish I could have been born in Canada or Sweden and then I could go from country to country every few years. I wish it were like that. But it isn't.