Lisa Nessan is an activist from the San Francisco Bay Area where she is involved with A Jewish Voice for Peace. In July 2001 she led an Interfaith Peacebuilders Delegation to Israel and Palestine through the Fellowship of Reconciliation. She is currently visiting the Middle East as part of the International Solidarity Movement. Her cousin Gonen got married on the same day as the first suicide bombing in Israel for six weeks.
Thursday 19 September 2002
Tel Aviv. Laying around the house, seemingly forgetting the world outside. We sit around, drink coffee, tea, eating sunflower seeds from Afula (in the North). We watch National Geographic specials on the Jordan River, or the Maccabi Tel Aviv versus Manchester ‘futbol’ game. A friend visiting a neighbour knocks on the door to use the phone. She noticed our relative calm and nonchalantly informs us of the bus bombing on Allenby Street. She makes a couple of calls to ensure the safety of her husband, brother, son, mother. The radio gets turned on; the TV channel changed to the news – images of chaos, shock, desperation, ambulances, soldiers, blood… nervous voices from the site of the bombing. The phone starts ringing – to see if everyone is OK, to say that they are OK. Others are calling about the wedding, ‘What will we do if it rains?’ ‘What time do we have to arrive for photos?’ Within the half-hour, life returns to normal. My imagination takes me to the reality of the nightmares in the West Bank cities, villages and refugee camps and the normalised nature of curfew. It was bad before the bombing in a time of ‘relative peace’ (for Israelis) – what will happen next? I get frustrated in my head and can’t believe there isn’t more outrage from Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The wedding was festive and beautiful. Everyone and everything was perfect. I am still feeling a bit thrown about where I am. Such amazing contrasts of life, so very near to each other. I struggled with keeping quiet about my whereabouts and intentions of my time here. I was told, ‘They say when you are in Rome, do like the Romans—so, you are now in Israel, you say only good things about Israel…’
Nobody really seemed to want to know much about what I am doing, how people are living, or that most of the people I meet with are just like them! Many people wrote me off as crazy (‘You sleep in the homes of the Arabs? Your friends, they are also Arab?’), but others acknowledged that ‘they’ (‘The Arabs’) want to live in peace, to go to work, to go to school, to leave their home… just to live. My experiences of Israeli and Palestinian pain and the relative perceptions of truth are making me more aware of the polarisation of the people, which is part of the orchestrated structure of this conflict. Keeping people separate and isolated from one another helps to build two clearly identified ‘sides’.
I have my own side, which is non-violence. I am speaking and acting on what I believe is truth – non-violence is the form that it takes. Violence is my enemy. I am not on either of the two recognised ‘sides’. There is violence from Palestine and from Israel. Neither have clean hands. The structure under which this violence is occurring is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and people. The occupation is the socially accepted framework (in Israel) that creates the conditions under which the violence is being spawned and recycled. This is a theory that took me time to become accustomed to, and seeing it in practice, it is difficult to fathom anything different.
So tomorrow I leave Tel Aviv and I have yet to decide where to go. My friends Tracie and Jennifer left here on Thursday, Michelle will be leaving in a few days. I hope to connect with some of the Israeli groups, although most of the internationals are in Ramallah. A few others are scattered in Qalqilya, Nablus, and Tulkarem, knowing that while media attention is focused on one place, there is silent permission to forge attacks elsewhere. I am hanging in there. It all seems pretty normal when you’re in the middle of it.