I Spent Yesterday Afternoon in Ramallah – and Lived to Tell!

Seriously, I’m no Brooke Goldstein (no interviews of terrorists!) But yesterday I did travel to Ramallah with Daniel Lubetzky, founder of Peaceworks, a business that brings together individuals from opposing sides of world conflicts, and OneVoice, a movement Lubetzky founded that seeks to promote communication and political change. I’ve written about Mr. Lubetzky for The Daily News, and am at work on a longer piece about his efforts.

Yesterday provided a unique opportunity to meet face to face with Palestinians on their turf. I make no claims to be especially courageous and would not venture into the territories alone. But although Mr. Lubetzky advised me he could not guarantee my safety, I felt it was important to go to Ramallah and meet with a sampling of the Palestinians with whom he works in order to profile him and fairly assess his efforts.

No doubt I met some of the best and brightest people in Ramallah, and I realize they are not necessarily reflective of many who are there in terms of attitudes toward Israelis or the potential for peace in the short term between the two groups of people.

But meeting them face to face–again, on their turf, not mine–did require a leap of faith for which I feel amply rewarded. It was scary, as I had been warned they knew my name in advance, and may have read my blog, which often concerns itself with the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I have often written I am a Zionist and do not mince words about my great love of and support for Israel. (In a subsequent conversation with a member of the OneVoice team, I learned with sadness that many Palestinians, having been exposed to propaganda for decades, misunderstand “Zionist” to be a “racist” term that necessarily excludes them. To me, and to most Jews I know, the term “Zionist” just means a belief in Israel as a secure homeland for the Jewish people, in peace with its Arab neighbors, hopefully in time including a peaceful Palestine).

While the dozen or so Palestinians who met us were, as I mentioned, involved with Lubetzky’s organization OneVoice and presumably progressives, at least one hailed from within the power structure of Palestinian society: Qadora Farris, a close friend, aide and senior advisor to Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is regarded as one of the principal architects of Fatah’s ‘young guard’ movement.

While my time there was not all sweetness and light (I sensed a reserve, and even perhaps some hostility, from one man), at one point, I was talking with this young Palestinian guy, 24 years old, who seemed very sincere and sweet. His English was pretty good and he was telling me how he was so frustrated with the kids in his area not having anything fun to do, that he got some makeup and a wig and clown suit from a friend who came to the Palestinian territories from France. After he and some friends dressed up as clowns for the kids in his neighborhood, they decided, still dressed as clowns, to go to a checkpoint and hand out candy to Israeli soldiers as some kind of impromptu outreach gesture.

He said, “I was happy they laughed and were not afraid to eat the candy!”

Then he said, “I do not like soldiers or checkpoints” as if to insure he would not be perceived as an Israel-lover. And he added, “I am not involved with politics, with Fatah or Hamas” and something about how he just likes to have fun and doesn’t want anyone to think he’s a spy. He and I were sharing some laughs and talking about how humor and “shtick” are universal and very important, the conversation felt very relaxed and so I asked him (with my tape recorder running): “How does someone like you, who cares so much about children, feel about the incitement in the schools? Are you ever frustrated? Are you able to talk to kids about, say, a two state solution?”

At that point, he just looked at me uncomprehendingly and everyone around us got sort of quiet. Then one of Lubetzky’s employees chimed in, saying, “Heather, you are asking him a question he probably doesn’t get. Everyone here went through Palestinian schools and this is normal for them.” Since everyone was staring at me, and I knew I was on their turf (and wanted to get out alive!) I dropped that line of questioning.

He seemed like a genuinely wonderful young man. He gave me his name but I don’t want to print it, for the sake of his safety.

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