“We have on this land, that which makes life worth living,” wrote the late Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish. These words, in English translation, adorn the walls of the Masafer Yatta home of Palestinian activist Basel Adraa whom I visited last month as a 2023 Naomi Chazan Global Activism Fellow of the New Israel Fund (NIF).
Adraa’s village in the southern West Bank, at-Tuwani, faces impending home demolitions and forced evacuations. My 2023 NIF cohort, from the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia, met with Adraa in Masafer Yatta as a show of solidarity with Palestinian victims of Israeli occupation. We insisted that “not in our name,” the name of the Jewish people, would his people suffer.
The above Darwish quote, in the original Arabic, similarly adorns the walls of downtown Amman, where I recently lived for six months as a student of the Arabic language. During my time in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, before I began my Arab Studies degree at Georgetown University, I befriended exiled Palestinians with keys to their ancestral homes from Jerusalem to Jaffa. As part of the 2023 NIF Global Activism Fellowship, I visited Palestinians who remain in these and other cities, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, to further the mission of Arab-Jewish partnership.
As part of this mission, my cohort met with the co-directors of NIF grantee Standing Together (עומדים ביחד نقف معًا), Jewish Israeli Alon-Lee Green and Palestinian citizen of Israel Rula Daood. When Rula and Alon-Lee invited us to participate in their post-Shabbat demonstration at Habima Square in central Tel Aviv, I was elated. We proudly joined more than 30,000 Jews and Arabs that night, including a Knesset champion for Arab-Jewish unity Ayman Odeh, holding signs in Arabic and Hebrew to demand justice, equality, and peace for all those living between the river and the sea. The sign that I brought home to Washington from the rally, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” will inform my continued advocacy in the American diplomatic capital.
I have also brought home with me the knowledge I gained from our binational “Yaffa to Yafo to Jaffa” tour, from touring the Arab-Jewish cities of Ramle and Lod, and from the tour by NIF grantee, Breaking the Silence of the Hebron “ghost town” under Israeli occupation.
In Jaffa, we saw an Arab-Jewish theatre facing Israeli government censorship, in Ramle and Lod we saw the aftermath of the Arab-Jewish violence in May 2021, and in Hebron we saw the affront to Arab-Jewish partnership that perpetual occupation poses. At the entrance to the Old City of Hebron, Israeli murderer Baruch Goldstein is memorialized and his disciple, the new Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, lives in an illegal settlement downtown.
“Make Hebron Great Again” hats, Ben-Gvir posters in East Jerusalem, bulldozers, checkpoints, roadblocks, and walls did not deter NIF fellows from discovering ‘on this land that which makes life worth living:’ meaningful Arab-Jewish partnership for a shared future. Under a tent in the Negev, a Palestinian Bedouin sang to us about the “fire in his heart” that prevents him, and indeed all of us, from giving up on this future. The 2023 NIF Naomi Chazan Global Activism Fellows have now returned home—to DC, New York, Toronto, Sydney—and have not given up. Together, we are determined to support Israeli and Palestinian civil society in forging a shared Arab-Jewish future.