My favorite part of the trip so far was dinner last night with Susan at her home in Bethlehem. Five of us ate, talked and became friends. I was very much looking forward to getting to have dinner tonight with another Palestinian family.
Unlike last night, Hiba and Muhammad are Palestinian Muslims. Muhammad picked up the four of us and took us to his home. He and Hiba live in a very nice east Jerusalem neighborhood in a beautiful home. As we drove there, Muhammad pointed out the difference in the roads for the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Israeli’s get wider roads that are better maintained. When we stopped at one specific light, he told us about an Al Jazeera feature on that light. It was a heavily congested intersection. Two of the lanes went to and from an Israeli neighborhood. The other two went to and from an East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood. The timing on the light was set to be much longer on the Israeli roads and Al Jazeera actually recorded it for their feature.
Both Hiba and Muhammad have good jobs (I won’t specify them on purpose). Both are highly educated with graduate degrees. As we discussed the challenges of living in East Jerusalem, Muhammad shared with us a recent UN study about building permits in Jerusalem from 2006-2018. During that time there were 16,000 permits issued in East Jerusalem. In West Jerusalem there were 160,000. It’s easy to see why they question the fairness of the government.
We got to their home and Hiba welcomed us in. Their adorable 11-month-old son went right to Muhammad and the joy of an 11-month-old child filled their home. Hiba told us to sit as dinner was ready. She served us a beautiful and delicious dinner (I didn’t take pictures tonight, sorry.) And just like a Jewish mother, she not only served us but wanted us to eat more!
During dinner we began to talk about the conflict and the issues. Both Hiba and Muhammad have deep and strong educational backgrounds and it was a rich and meaningful one. I asked why they wouldn’t want to grow their own political party and was sad to hear them say that Fatah would just squash them. As people living in East Jerusalem they don’t want to live in the territories nor do they want to live in a Palestinian state unless it includes East Jerusalem.
We talked about applying for Israeli citizenship and the costs of doing so. What they have to give up and could they live with giving all that up. The pros and cons. I got a good lesson in the difficulties they face in making that choice. With rumors that sometime in the near future the Palestinians in East Jerusalem will be forced to choose between Israeli citizenship or moving to the West Bank, they are afraid of waiting but aren’t sure they want to do it either. I don’t envy their situation.
Hiba’s work is supposed to take her to Gaza but she hasn’t been yet due to visa problems. Muhammad goes monthly and we asked what it’s really like. He talked of the lack of sewers and the smell as a result. How it truly felt like a jail and how it’s been 13 years since they were able to leave. The overcrowding and how awful it is. Most importantly, he talked about the lack of hope and the inability of parents to provide hope for their children. I’m not sure how we can every solve the Gaza challenge and both he and Hiba were concerned it may just go on and on and on as a result.
We talked about the PA and how getting a position requires a decade or more in prison. The cronyism and corruption. The hopelessness of change or elections until Abbas (Abu Mazen as we called him) dies and maybe not even then. They shared with us that in order to work for the PA you may not have finished high school. They are looking for followers, not leaders. The uneducated who won’t ask questions rather than the educated who will.
We moved from the dinner table to the couch to continue our conversation and asked questions I never imagined. How can they reconcile that in 1947 there was going to be a Palestinian and Jewish state. In 1948 there was a Jewish state with different borders but instead of the Palestinian state in the remaining land, Egypt and Jordan grabbed it? We asked about the perception that the Palestinians aren’t ready to govern themselves and build a nation and got a lecture on how they have done that in other Muslim countries that they were forced to move to. We talked about hopes and dreams and I wish we could have stayed and talked longer. My final question was if they wanted 1 state or 2 states. Once again, they preferred one state. They want to be able to go anywhere in the country without limits. Because of their status and jobs, they currently can and in a 2-state solution they wouldn’t have the same ability.
As we backed out of the driveway, Muhammad asked me about Bibi and if I thought he would go to jail. He was impressed that Israel actually arrests leaders who break the law and will send them to prison. It gave me hope that if we act ethically and morally, keeping safety and security in mind, we can find a pathway to peace. As we got out of the car at the hotel, I told him that I hoped we would see each other again. He told me how to get his contact information and I gave him mine. I feel like I made two new friends today and look forward to staying in touch with them. I have many friends in Israel – often times too many to visit when I come. Now I have a new set of friends in East Jerusalem to see next time. I look forward to watching their son grow up and hope he has a bright future.