This commentary is produced as part of the Gaza-based We Are Not Numbers project.
After the 2014 war in Gaza–in which the Israeli military targeted and killed my oldest brother, the person I most admired–I wrote about the impact of his death on my parents and myself. To Israel, he was a militant, but to me, he was my best friend and I can still see him when I close my eyes.
And yet, nearly six years later, I am partnering with an Israeli journalist to share my story and the first-person narratives of other young Palestinians in Gaza in Hebrew, the language of my oppressors. I co-manage the site, “We Beyond the Fence,” with Yuval Abraham, who works for Israel Social TV, a nonprofit, independent media organization promoting social change, including a more equal society. We launched on December 20, 2019.
Although he is working for change within Israel and I have grown to trust him, I know many see our partnership as unnatural. Yuval found me through We Are Not Numbers, an organization founded by Pam Bailey that publishes perspectives on life in Gaza. The contributors range in age, but most are under 25 and have lived through three wars. Yuval reached out to Pam with a request to interview me six months ago for a story on the Israeli elections. I agreed, although I initially had hesitations.
Most of the Palestinians I know in Gaza are understandably wary of talking to Israelis, much less Israeli journalists. We live in what is virtually an open-air prison, and the Israelis are our wardens. This is the only real exposure we have to Israelis, and it is not a pleasant one.
That began to change for me, however, in the fall of 2014. Just months after the murder of my brother, I was fortunate enough to meet Pam and help her establish We Are Not Numbers—a project for which I later became Gaza manager. It exposed me to many other points of view, as well as journalists from around the world. Those interactions cracked open the prison walls for me. We Are Not Numbers showed me the value of talking and sharing with everyone willing to listen—including those from the country that is our occupier.
I know most Israelis will not be willing to listen to Palestinians from Gaza. In 2014, a poll from the Israel Democracy Institute found that 95 percent of Jewish Israelis supported the war, with nearly 60 percent saying the degree of deadly force was justified. (Israeli forces killed 2,251 Palestinians in that assault, of whom 1,462 were civilians and 551 were children. In contrast, 67 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians in Israel were killed.)
My interview with Yuval about the Israeli elections lasted less than 15 minutes. It quickly transitioned into a discussion about what ordinary people can do to bring about change and end the conflict that divides us.
Yuval and I share a belief in one state that guarantees equal rights for everyone. Through my conversations with Yuval, I come to realize that while the number of open-minded Israelis seems small, the potential is larger. Translating the stories published by We Are Not Numbers into Hebrew offers unfiltered content straight from Gaza to all Israelis willing to try to understand.
To get the project underway, Yuval asked for volunteer translators on Facebook. In less than a day, more than a hundred Israelis asked to join our team. We introduced them to our mission and guidelines to ensure the original writers’ voices and intent remained intact.
Pushback followed in the form of online attacks from Israelis opposed to our project. Even so, I was surprised at the volume and strength of supporters and at the positive news coverage. My optimism in a future with equal coexistence deepened. It was a turning point for me.
Some Palestinians believe any involvement with an Israeli is a form of collaboration and thus a betrayal of our people. Others have warned me that I could be perceived as a security risk because of my work with Yuval. There is a fear in Gaza that the Israeli intelligence agency, known as the Shabak, could exploit such interactions to recruit collaborators or gather harmful information. Last year, Israeli undercover agents were exposed in Gaza posing as humanitarian workers, leading to a deadly shoot-out. Distrust runs high. However, I am willing to take this risk because I now know we have allies who are trying to change Israel from within, and we must work together if we want a more humane future.
Palestinians have suffered over the last 70 years and there are no signs of improvement. The international community has failed Palestinians (and Israelis). Numerous United Nations resolutions and an international court ruling have not resulted in any progress toward ending the occupation or ensuring the rights of Palestinians inside Israel. Violent resistance also has failed: Gazans have endured three major wars and we are still where we started. According to the UN, 2020 is the year when our home will become “unliveable.”
I believe it is time to take risks. This project is what I can do, what Yuval and his fellow volunteers can do, what Gazan and Israeli youth can do, to accelerate the day when we will achieve a just peace.
As 2020 opens, I have hope in my heart.