Crossing Qalandiya: letters between two women
May 09, 2014
You have no idea how strange I feel lately - almost as if I've started seeing things differently -- through your eyes. Maybe this is normal, because we know each other relatively well now, and of course this has an effect. I keep finding myself explaining 'your side' to people. And, frankly, I am shocked at some of the reactions I get.
There are many people here who are completely blind to the way things look from your point-of-view, and to what your people are going through. I am sure this is also true for some of the people on your side. But suddenly it has become clear to me that so many of the problems are the result of miscommunication and misunderstandings... so the only solution is dialogue.
That's from one of Daniela Norris' letters to Shireen Anabtawi, as collected in Crossing Qalandiya: Exchanges Across the Israeli/Palestinian Divide, published by Reportage Press in 2010. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The book begins with a letter from Daniela, and here are her first words:
Dear Shireen, I hope you are well, and that you remember me. We met in Geneva last month, at a cocktail party, at Michelle's house. I admit that I was taken aback when you said you were from Palestine. I was convinced you were Italian or Greek -- something Mediterranean, anyway -- but I didn't imagine you were Palestinian.
It is strange, but despite the few kilometres that set us apart, I have never really gotten to know a Palestinian woman. Certainly not one as charming as you. What can I say? I am embarrassed to admit that the image I had of Palestinians was somewhat different...
I have a confession: I hesitated before I went to meet you the next morning. After all, you are supposed to be "The Enemy," and who knows what The Enemy has in store for them? But we said we'd bring our kids along, and when I arrived with my two little boys and saw you waiting at the café with your two beautiful children, I was ashamed of my previous thoughts... Ever since I met you, I read and listen to the news from our region differently, with more compassion for the other side -- your side.
Shireen, in turn, writes back:
Dear Daniela... I appreciate your frankness. I must admit that the only Israelis I've met over the past years have been the soldiers at road-blocks, and I, too, found it strange to meet an Israeli woman with whom I was able to connect so easily....
You ask about my daily life in Ramallah. I hope that one day you'll be able to visit me here. Ramallah is beautiful. When I was in Europe and said I was from Ramallah, people asked me whether we had roads, shops, food. I was surprised to hear these questions. It's so sad that this is the image we have in the eyes of the world.
...All in all, my life here is pretty good, but I must admit that it is difficult to come back to Ramallah after spending time in Europe. When we travelled, we drove from country to country and were rarely asked to show a passport. Here, if I want to visit my family in Nablus, I have to show documentation and permits; not only that, but I have to wait long hours at road-blocks, in the heat or in the rain...
Daniela and Shireen met by chance at a party in Geneva. Daniela had worked for the Israeli Foreign Service for seven years, and later was an advisor to the Permanent Mission of Israel at the UN in Geneva. Shireen is a former director of Public Relations at the Palestinian Investment Agency in Ramallah, and later worked for the Palestinian Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva. As the book's introduction explains, the two women met many times in Geneva over several months, with and without family members, and their friendship bloomed. Neither speaks the other's language, so their communication was in English, the language which they shared.
Once they returned home again, despite the geographical proximity of their homes, they were worlds apart. So this correspondence began. Each wrote in her native language, and then translated it into English before sending. The end result is this book, which I bought at the Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem last month and have only now finished reading.
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