‘My best friend was Jewish’: A young East Jerusalemite speaks

I teach writing at a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Several of my students have been gracious enough to share their experiences with +972, albeit anonymously. This is the final installment in the four-part series. 

With the other pieces, I’ve let the student speak first, only adding my comments at the end. But this excerpt points toward a surprising ideological issue that arose between my student and myself, so I feel the need to preface it.

During discussion in class one day, the subject of Israel’s renaming of destroyed Palestinian villages arose. This student felt frustrated with my insistence on using only Arabic place names and she took a position that proved unpopular with her peers: that both the Jews and Palestinians have historical and emotional connections to the land and that, accordingly, both the Hebrew and Arabic names should be used and respected.

Not only was I surprised by her stance, it also challenged me. My student seemed more comfortable and more at peace with Israel than I am. Our in-class discussion, as well as the essay she wrote shortly thereafter, opened many questions, and they’re questions I don’t have answers to.

Has my student, who grew up in East Jerusalem, been brainwashed by attending (Israeli-controlled) public schools? The difficult economic situation and the housing crisis there–both results of the occupation–forced my student and her family to leave East Jerusalem in 2009, two years before Israel took the step of outright censorship of Palestinian textbooks. However, as an employee of the Israeli school system tells me, Palestinian teachers who are openly critical of Israel risk losing their jobs. Hatim Kanaaneh does a nice job of giving a firsthand account of this in his memoir A Doctor in the Galilee. He also describes how those who march in line with Israeli ideology might find themselves rewarded.

So is my student just repeating what she learned in a school system that strips her of her Palestinian identity? Or are her views the result of being a part of the normalizing, “co-existence” program she mentions below? Is she just being pragmatic or is she just navigating the reality she finds on the ground as best she can?

The process of moving from one town to another takes weeks, and they were the toughest weeks in my life… All that was because the work of my father stopped in Jerusalem, because his boss broke the contract to expel my father from work because he wants younger workers who do not have the responsibility of the family, also the homeowner did not want to give my father a chance until things return to normal and he wanted the money on time, and also the problems of paying bills for electricity, water and taxes became a big issue for my father and he was in horrible condition. The only solution was moving to Jericho and live with grandparents. We couldn’t reject or oppose my father’s decision because we coexist with the situation. At the same time it was difficult in terms of leaving  my childhood friends, and going to the school and  spending my last days with them. They tried to cheer me up, but I was completely sad, as no one wants to leave his friends and move to another town especially if the town is in the west bank.

However, on the first day of October 2009 we moved fully to Jericho. I did not think that my life would be in this bad shape, I still curse that day, the fateful day as I called it. The situation was new to me, new lifestyle, when you were born and raised in a society that is completely different from the society where you live now, people have a different way of thinking, especially about the idea of having a peace with  the Jews. When they open a discussion in the class about the relation between Palestinian and Israeli, they were always violent and they don’t want to think about having a peace with them. Since when I was a little kid, I had a lot of Jewish friends and my best friend was Jewish too.

I was a member of Association of  Children of Peace, and I can’t change my thoughts directly to fit with [West Bankers’] thoughts,  plus [the students in Jericho] were saying the “lands of 48” which I called it Israel and the west bank… that was what I learned in the school in Jerusalem and if I say Israel instead of 48, they start a fight with me, and I couldn’t argue with them because I have nothing to say to convince them that not all the Jews are our enemies.

Also, their view of life is also different, and I just came and prioritize on them by expressing my opinion which is different from the way they think of. As no one accepted me in my new school because I am from Jerusalem and they think I’m with the Jews. I was alone all the time and act like I don’t care about their harmful words, all they were doing is criticizing, makes me feel that I’m not one of them. But my family was beside me and support me by reminding me that better days are coming, but I just have to wait and fight. It was difficult for all of us, not only new life, also living in a house with my grandfather and grandmother and two aunts. There was no personal life, if you cry, scream, shout, laugh, dance they want to understand why, you don’t have the right to complain about anything, you have to act normal. Now I got used to it and that doesn’t mean I like to live in Jericho, but sometimes you have to leave things as they are and let it go.

More from this series:
The ‘smaller’ indignities of occupation
‘Land isn’t enough; the army takes olives, too’
‘Dad’s in prison’: A young Palestinian woman speaks