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Gershon Baskin
Political and social entrepreneur activist in Israel and Palestine
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Through trauma, conflict, and loss, my Palestinian friend Samer gets it

Israelis can't have real security unless Palestinians have real freedom and dignity, and Palestinians won't get that unless Israelis are truly secure
Samer Sinjilawi, speaking on i24. (Screenshot, via X (formerly Twitter))
Samer Sinjilawi, speaking on i24. (Screenshot, via X (formerly Twitter))

I am often asked how are we ever going to recover from the traumas of this war. On October 7th, more Jews were killed in one place at one time since the Holocaust. Jews in Israel and around the world lost their sense of security and Israel no longer feels like a safe haven. Israelis are still stuck in October 7, reliving it every day. The stories of what happened on that day are repeated and retold. At the same time, Palestinians in Gaza are reliving the Nakba and Palestinians all over feel the pain of the suffering, the 40,000 people killed, the majority of them women, children, elderly, non-combatants. Two million people are now homeless and, like in 1948, are living in tents and experiencing hunger and fear that they may not survive.

Both peoples are living in trauma. We have both added a new horrific chapter to our collective memories and we will not forget what “they” did to us. One day, at some time in the future, we will have to find a way to deal with our traumas and our memories.

That day is probably in the distant future. The South Africa “Truth and Reconciliation” process was possible only after apartheid officially ended. We too will have a time in the future when we will be engaged in a genuine peace process trying to figure out how to share this land that we both claim as our own.

I would like to share the insights of a very good Palestinian friend and colleague. His words often amaze me and most definitely give me hope. His name is Samer Sinjilawi and he is a Palestinian, born and bred in East Jerusalem. Samer is 52 years old, a political activist who spent five years in Israeli prison from the age of 15, for throwing stones at Israelis during the first intifada. He defines himself as part of the leadership of the opposition to Mahmoud Abbas within the Fatah movement.

Samer tells audiences that he has lived his whole life without being the citizen of any country. His lives in the city of his birth, which is the capital of the State of Israel, where there are almost 400,000 Palestinians, about 40 percent of the population of Jerusalem, but the State of Israel does not want him as a citizen. The State of Israel also will not allow him to be a citizen of the State of Palestine, which Israel does not recognize. When Samer was young, he was the general secretary of the Fatah youth and he was deeply engaged in meetings with Israeli Labor youth during the early days of Oslo. Samer is a politician, but has never been able to run for national office.

Following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the subsequent election of Benjamin Netanyahu, Samer organized meetings between Fatah youth and Likud youth. When he speaks to Israeli audiences, he says “I meet with Israelis from all of the political spectrum – from the far left to the far right. I appear in the Israeli media – on all of the channels, including the right-wing channel 14. I speak to all of you, so I can say I know you better than you know yourselves, because I talk to more of you than you talk to each other!” That is very true. I am invited to appear on Channel 14 and I will not appear there on what I believe is a fake news channel that propagates incitement and hatred. But Samer says that he as a Palestinian needs to speak to all Israelis, especially the right wing.

He is very courageous. He says in public that he, as a Muslim, has to recognize the historic rights of the Jewish people to be in this land. There is no way to deny the Jewish connection to this land for thousands of years.

But he adds, yes, the Jews were always here, but they were never alone. There were always others on this land, and we are the others. We were also here. “Perhaps, a long time ago, I was Jewish. Maybe I also was Christian before I became Muslim, because my family has been here for hundreds of years.”

When Samer is asked how he deals with the trauma of this war and of the whole conflict, he responds that when he sees an Israeli Jew who hates Palestinians and even wants to kill them, he understands them. He says, “We did terrible things to the Jews and the Jews did terrible things to us. I used to think that we were the good guys and they were the bad guys. Now I know that the reality is much more complex and we have done terrible things to each other.”

Samer went to visit Kibbutz Kfar Aza after October 7. He was filmed there by a documentary filmmaker and he said that he came because he wanted to see with his own eyes the atrocities committed by Hamas. He said “I have to take responsibility for this because it was done in my name as a Palestinian, by my own people, and we are all responsible.”

He also says that he hopes that Israelis will someday be able to go into Gaza and stand up and say, “I take responsibility as an Israeli because the atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza were done in my name.”

Confronting trauma begins with compassion and taking responsibility. I can say, as someone who has spent his whole adult life working for Israeli-Palestinian people, and as someone who has more than 100 friends and colleagues in Gaza that I have been in contact with since October 7, that I feel the pain and the suffering of people in Gaza.

I receive WhatsApp messages from friends and colleagues describing the horrors that they are living through. A young woman from the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, who has a 1-year-old baby, writes to me, “I am living in the street. My home was bombed. I am hungry.” It breaks my heart. I helped another young woman raise money for her university tuition — she was studying computer programming and doing quite well until the war, when her university was demolished along with all of the universities in Gaza. I have not heard from her in two months. I don’t know if she is alive.

I am sorry and, as an Israeli, I feel responsible for the horrors of what this war has brought on the Palestinian people. Yes, Hamas is primarily responsible for what happened, but I cannot escape responsibility for what our army is doing in Gaza. Our war is with Hamas, not with the Palestinian people, and not all Gazans or all Palestinians are Hamas or share the goals of Hamas.

I want all Israelis to hear the voice of Samer. I hope that Samer will rise to positions of leadership of his people. I would like all Palestinians to hear my voice and understand that there are Israelis who recognize that they have the same right to the same rights that I enjoy.

Samer and I both know that Israelis will never have real security if Palestinians do not have real freedom and dignity and we know that Palestinians will never have real freedom and dignity if Israelis do not have real security.

There are seven million Israeli Jews and seven million Palestinian Arabs living on this land between the river and the sea. And to end with another cliché, we know that from the river to the sea, only real peace will make us free.

About the Author
The writer is the Middle East Director of ICO - International Communities Organization - a UK based NGO working in Conflict zones with failed peace processes. Baskin is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is also a founding member of “Kol Ezraheiha - Kol Muwanteneiha” (All of the Citizens) political party in Israel.
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