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 Joline 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.