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‘I have friends in Palestine’

“I have friends in Palestine.” 

These are the incredibly courageous words of Namma Levy. Naama, a 19-year-old Israeli soldier who was taken hostage on October 7th, can be seen alongside four other teenage girls in a graphic video released by the girls’ families last week. The disturbing footage shows the girls suffering brutal physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Hamas: their faces are beaten up and bloody; their clothes disheveled. “Our brothers died because of you, we will shoot you all,” one of the terrorists can be heard saying, before exclaiming, “Here are the girls we can get pregnant.” Yet despite the horrors seen in the video, the girls are also remarkably brave.

In an attempt to inform the terrorists that she is a peace activist (and, presumably, unworthy of punishment), Naama explains that she has Palestinian friends. She made these connections as a member of Hands of Peace, an organization dedicated to fostering dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth (which has regrettably ceased operations since October 7th). Yet this is why Naama’s story is so tragically ironic; she devoted years to searching for an alternative, peaceful approach to this conflict, only to fall victim to the very violence she fought so hard to avoid. Still, after more than 240 days, she (and 119 others) remain in Hamas captivity. 

Sadly, most people seem to reject Naama’s way of thinking. Too many in this world, including in Israel and Palestine, firmly believe that fighting is the only answer to this conflict. Some supporters of Israel aim for the complete eradication of Hamas, undeterred by the dire consequences for Gaza’s civilian population. And some Pro-Palestinian protesters chant that “there is only one solution: intifada revolution.” (On college campuses, civil conversations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students are so rare, that when a few Dartmouth College professors brought students together for an academic discussion after October 7th, they received national praise and media coverage. As someone who has witnessed the transformative impact of dialogue firsthand, seeing that the Dartmouth case was a newsworthy story was just as shocking as it was disappointing.)

Yet, like Naama, I, too, believe that there is another way. Maybe that’s because I, too, “have friends in Palestine.” Last summer, I participated in Seeds of Peace International Camp, a different organization that brings Israelis and Palestinians together—this time on a lakeside campsite in rural Maine. So, as a Zionist Jew from New York, when I hear the word Palestinian, I not only picture real people, but I think about my close friends I care deeply about. However, when many Israelis hear the word ‘Palestinian,’ they may genuinely think of a terrorist; and when many Palestinians hear the word ‘Israeli,’ they may think of a terrorizing soldier. The truth is, these are often the only contexts during which both peoples hear about the other. And that is precisely the problem. But, it’s a problem that bringing Israelis and Palestinians together can fix. 

So, when terrified Naama was first in Hamas’ hands, she went for a Hail Mary plan: dialogue. Only this time, the conversation was not with other teens; it was with—as crazy as it sounds—a terrorist. Yet, even in that terrifying moment, she reverted to this peaceful approach because she knows it can work. Let’s pray she still does.

In Amanda Gorman’s presidential inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, she teaches that: “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” There is light at the end of the very long tunnel that is Israel and Palestine. But to get there, we must first be “brave enough” to embody Naama’s courage; we must let her teach the world about dialogue. So for Naama, for her family, for peace in the Middle East, and for all of us: bring her home. Now. 

 

About the Author
James Covit is a high school student at the Heschel School in New York City. He is an alumni of Seeds of Peace International Camp and the American Jewish Committee's Leaders for Tomorrow fellowship.