HER STORY #11 - irit
I was born in 1949, just one year after the war in 1948. I remember that there were always wars, and if not wars, then always conflicts and incidents of some sort.
I grew up in the Galilee, very close to the Syrian border. The Syrians would fire light bombs that lit up the entire sky. Many of these bombs fell into fields and the fields would burst into flames. My family actually had a chicken coop, and once, such a bomb fell on the roof of the coop. Luckily, my father had installed the roof in such a way that it contained water on top in order to keep the structure cool, and ultimately the bomb was unable to start a fire.
But, I grew up with the fact that Arabs wanted to kill me.
"Respect and Suspect"
The word “Palestinian” was non-existent for us back then. Instead, they were Arabs: there were Arabs in Syria, in Jordan, in Egypt, in Lebanon and in Israel. There were Arabs who worked with us. There were Arabs who visited our house, and they were all very nice people.
But the Arabs in Wadi Ara (the area between Hadera and the Galilee) were a different story. We never drove through that area after the sun went down, because when it was dark they would throw stones at Israeli cars.
So we knew that there were good Arabs and bad Arabs, and most Israelis, including my family and myself, related to the Arabs in Israel with both respect and suspicion at the same time. It actually comes from an old saying in Hebrew, “To respect and suspect.”
1967 Turning Point
After the war in 1967, Israel gained the territories of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, and that was actually the first time that I heard the term “Palestinian”. The Arabs would now call themselves “Palestinians” and no longer would they be called “Arabs”.
Israel was in euphoria, and I remember how we spoke about the political situation back in high school. I was one of the only students who said that we needed to give back the territories—because it couldn’t continue like this.
The war itself was very difficult for me. My boyfriend, who would eventually become my husband, was in the army, and some of my friends from school had been killed. I didn’t feel like we needed another war.
On the other hand, the Golan in the north had been captured, which relieved me slightly. Although I had moved away from the north, I felt that at least those living there would no longer have to suffer from those light bombs and burning fields.
Need For Peace
My desire for peace came through, before I even knew it, when I wanted the territories to be returned.
I am not sure why I thought differently than so many others, because I wasn’t raised with these sentiments at home. My parents had been in the Haganah [“The Defense” during the time of the British Mandate] in 1948 and in 1949, and I clearly recall my mother being happy about Israel having conquered the Kotel [the Western Wall] in Jerusalem.
In 1985, I joined the political movement, Peace Now, because I felt that we needed to do something. We couldn’t go from one war to another. I was in the movement for a couple of years, but I left at one point because I felt as if nothing was coming out of it, even if we did join demonstrations and other movements.
After some time, I came back to the peace organizations. I joined the iPeace website, where I became involved in a substantial amount of online discussions, and which enabled me to meet a lot of people. I also became involved with MePeace. Later on, I became a contributor to IPCRI [Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information], and I joined all of their sessions with Palestinians and Israelis. I became very active and even visited Palestine a couple of times.
For every IPCRI session there were different themes, and we listened to the Palestinians, and they listened to us. It was all relatively respectful and calm. We were able to learn about what bothered them, and vice versa, and we discovered each other. We heard about things—things that you can’t read in the newspaper or even hear from so many organizations.
When I heard about the organization, Combatants for Peace, it seemed more appropriate for me—it was more active, and I felt as if this was my place. Their goals are: 1) to be non-violent, 2) to end the occupation, and 3) to emphasize understanding and communication.
I’ve been through quite a bit of trauma, which were direct results from the times when we had to run to shelters from the Syrian light bombs, the Gulf War, and the 90s’ suicide bombing attacks.
During the 90s, I was so scared. I was scared of coming to Tel Aviv, and I stopped going to Jerusalem. I remember once how I was on the bus from Rishon Lezion to Tel Aviv, and there was a man sitting near me with a briefcase. He kept opening and closing it, and every time it did “click-clack” I was convinced that he was about to commit a suicide bombing attack.
Once, I went with Combatants for Peace to the West Bank, and we drove in two cars. The people from the first car called to tell us that they had had stones thrown at their car after the checkpoint. We, in the second car, stopped and got out the car and to think about what we should do. In the end we went through the checkpoint, and on the other side our Palestinian friends had came to pick us up in a Palestinian mini-bus. However, this was actually the only time that I was ever scared of going to the West Bank.
Looking back at everything I have experienced in relation to Arabs, I could have ended up hating Arabs, but I never connected these events to what I think of them today.
On another occasion, settlers in the West Bank began beating people in my group, and the soldiers next to us didn’t help. This was traumatic for me as well.
For many years I was active in women’s organizations, especially the international women’s organization, “Women For A Change”, which is now called “A Safe World for Women”. For this organization, I am currently their Israeli correspondent.
Today in Combatants for Peace we want to create a group of women. In my division, which covers a couple of villages in the Nablus area, women don’t join because they come from more traditional backgrounds and don’t get involved with men’s activities. In Combatants for Peace we try to create a women’s circle, because women are the ones who educate children and influence the adolescents. We find it very important to hear their voices.
Israeli women have a lot in common with Palestinian women. I think that women, in juxtaposition to men, are more interested in peace and collaboration. Generally, men think first, and foremost, about war. They think that solutions, like conquering territories, will come out of war. Women, on the other hand, think differently.
I recall how one of the things that used to always bother me was that Palestinian women would send their sons to be “shahids” in Israel; however, in the meetings I learned that it is not so clear-cut. They had to do this, because they were, in a way, forced. One woman in particular asked me: “You really think that I want to send my son to this?” She told me that although it was against Islam, it had to be done. I do believe her. I know she told the truth.
Why am I still in Israel? I’m doing everything I can for this country because I love it and I want it to be better. I do things out of empathy for the Palestinians, but above all I feel that I’m doing it for me