Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stories of women crossing boundaries

When Nina Mayorek's sister died a few months ago, the gathering of people for her funeral created a moment when some sharp boundaries were crossed.

Mayorek is a Jewish Israeli virologist, a professor -- and an activist. She is part of Machsom Watch, a group of Israeli women who oppose the occupation of Palestine and who monitor activities at the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank.

She joined our group for dinner along with her colleague from Machsom Watch, Ivonne Mausbach Kleinfeld, and Dalia Landau, whose story of coming to Israel as a very young child with her family after World War II and her unusual and often strained friendship over 40 years with a Palestinian activist was told in the book The Lemon Tree.

As Nina's colleagues gathered to share in the mourning of the death of her sister, one was a woman who is an Israeli settler, an person of deep religious conviction. She does not dress as a religious Jew, Nina noted, and her work as a virologist provided a common bond, even as they differed on the politics of settlements.

Another visitor was a Palestinian virologist whose appearance also gave no immediate clues to her heritage. She dresses in contemporary, stylish clothes.

So both of these women who are just short of turning 40 began talking amid the other mourners. They talked about their work in virology. And then the Jewish settler learned that her new acquaintance was a Palestinian working at a Palestinian university.
At first, she was surprised to learn that there was a Palestinian university. Then she was surprised to learn that they had laboratories. With microscopes. With two microscopes more powerful than the ones she used in her Israeli lab.

For her friend, Nina said. it was "a real discovery. Those people are not only terrorists. They have microscopes, they have labs.

But the surprises went both ways. The Palestinian woman was also stunned, said Nina, saying, "It cannot be! How can she be such a nice person when she is a religious settler?"
What Nina witnessed she called "a process of discovery - you are a human being."

But there are so few opportunities for such encounters.
Much of Dalia's work has been to bring Palestinian and Israeli children together so they can get to know each other, to shatter the stereotypes that exist.

It is not easy to cross either the physical or psychological boundaries that allow these two peoples who share land and history to get past the deeply held suspicions of each other.
"All the time there are fewer opportunities because of the checkpoints and the travel restrictions," said Ivonne .

And even if they could cross the lines to meet the Palestinians, "the fear among Israelis is unbelievable," Nina added.

She told the story of the same Palestinian colleague who came to Nina's sister's funeral. When the colleague's mother died, her Israeli colleagues told her they would like to visit her, to console here, but they were afraid to come into Palestinian areas. Nina quoted her friend's reaction; "My mom died. I cannot deal with your fears about security."

Dalia noted that the fear is very real nevertheless.
"Why should they not be afraid to go?" she asked. "They've never been there."

So one of the critical questions for Israel and Palestine is how to overcome the fear on both sides that drives so much of the hostility.

For Nina and Ivonne, it is standing by the Palestinians as they deal with the daily indignities of the checkpoints.

For Dalia, it is finding ways to create places where Israelis and Palestinians can get to know one another.

To bring peace, Dalia says, both sides must be willing to make sacrifices. "How can you make a sacrifice if the good will toward the other is not there?" she asks.

No comments:

Post a Comment