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Standing in a Palestinian’s shoes

Last week, TOI featured my blog about taking Palestinian women and children to enjoy their first time at the sea. What an amazing newspaper, sharing positive news with the world, not just the tragic stuff the media normally find appealing. One of the comments said it was ‘the best’ article they’d ever read in an Israeli newspaper.

But there were also the most astonishing responses, mainly, I’m sorry to say, from American Jews who live in this beautiful country. (They bring shame to the many American Olim working for peace.) For some reason, they seem to think it’s totally acceptable to insult the writer for being young — my views are therefore childish; quite new in Israel — I am therefore naïve; and a peace activist; I am therefore hostile to the State of Israel.

Many missed the point: how wonderful it was to be able to take these Palestinians to the sea, and how sad it is they do not normally get that chance.

Last Shabbat, I sat with a group of Ukrainian refugees, invited to bask in our kibbutz hospitality. I wasn’t the only one who sat sobbing whilst one after another they shared what happened on that fateful Thursday, 24th February, the date reminding us how the war and the destruction it brings has continued for nearly six months. I closed my eyes and listened to the description of the bombs falling, the carnage, the death they ran away from. Some are here without their husbands. They came with barely anything, having had little time to pack. They waited until the very last minute, not believing it was going to happen.

I felt helpless with these traumatised people, unable to give them back their home or their loved ones.

I can’t go to the Ukraine right now. The best I can do is help the refugees here, show them kindness and friendship, and listen to their heart-rending stories.

But I can help the Palestinians. I can spread the simple truth: they are human beings, like you and me, and they deserve our respect, our trust. They deserve equality.

Last week, due to the busyness at the end of the event, I lost my flip flops on the beach. I found another pair. None of the volunteers have claimed them; they must belong to one of the women from the West Bank.

On 11th July, we celebrated the 62nd anniversary of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ where Atticus says:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Sometimes just listening to others’ stories helps us. But what truly helps is to walk around in someone else’s shoes, to experience what they experience. Something those aggressively hostile American readers are not doing – they see from one perspective only, close-minded, lacking compassion for others.

Yesterday, I wore those Palestinian’s shoes and volunteered again to help women and their children enjoy the beach. This time it was with ‘Women Wage Peace’ https://womenwagepeace.org.il/en/ and ‘Women of the Sun’, the Palestinian Women sister movement with whom the Partnership pact was signed on the 25th March, 2022, shown below.

What an incredible day it was, beginning in Jaffa theatre, with breakfast and discussion circles. Everyone got to know each other, and the children were outside making peace kites and a peace quilt. Then we all went to the sea, where I watched again, with sadness, wonder and delight at the first experience, for these women and their children, of being in the sea, braving the wild waves, splashing around with pure childish amazement.

This time I did not cry. My face hurt with smiling. I concentrated on helping to keep them safe, enjoying their joy.

I met incredible women, both Israeli and Palestinian, and in the last hour of the day, I began chatting to a mother of a beautiful big green-eyed boy who had smiled at me all afternoon. She is an artist. We talked about peace, and she shared her and her husband’s simple realisation, he having spent some years in prison. There he met some wonderful Israeli soldiers, and some terrifying ones. ‘There are good and bad people everywhere in the world. Go and find the good ones.’ He told her. And she does. She joined Women of the Sun this year, with over six hundred other Palestinian women who believe in peace. And because her children do not learn about Israel at school, she brings them to events like these.

I will never forget our conversation, standing in the water, the waves every so often interrupting with their powerful music. Her first time in the sea, and there she stood fully clothed, in her rubber ring, happy, sharing her deepest feelings.

I had to rush off to catch our bus, full of Palestinian Israelis from Akko who helped make the day a success. I was still wet and very cold on the way home; one of the women gave me her towel to keep. Sentimental or not, I will always treasure it.

One of my most common questions to the hate comments was: have you ever even met a Palestinian, or been to Palestine? So many people claim to know what they think, when they’ve never even met one, let alone stood in their shoes.

You can only know a people if you spend time with them. And to all those who cite history as a warning to us, let me tell you: we must learn from history, but not be afraid of it. Fear breeds ignorance and hatred.

Finally, for all of you who still don’t understand my message, it is this: peace will come, because, even if it’s deep down, it’s what most Palestinians and Israelis want.

And if you are planning on writing a bigoted reply, please don’t waste your time.

I won’t read it.

I’m too busy out there, making friends, making waves, making a difference.

About the Author
Shoshana Lavan is a published author, high school teacher of English Literature and Language, teacher of English as a foreign language and most importantly, a very proud mother of her gorgeous toddler. She is an aspiring peace activist and a committed vegan. A keen runner, she adores the mountains and glorious sunshine in this wonderful country.
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