Found in: Peace X Peace’s Voices From the Frontlines: http://www.peacexpeace.org/2011/08/an-encounter-in-jaffa-giving-peacebuilders-a-voice/

 

An Encounter in Jaffa: Giving Peacebuilders a Voice

Earlier today I found myself sitting in the dressing room of the Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa waiting for Adiv Jahshan, the Arab Artistic Director, to sit down with me for an interview. I look around at the bare walls with scattered Hebrew notices posted to them, I hear the distant Hebrew and bits of Arabic spoken outside the doors.

Adiv enters, on a rant in Hebrew which I can mildly understands. He slams the door, sits down, lays his head in his hands and takes a deep sigh. Moments pass before he lifts his head and says with vim, “everything in Hebrew! I ask for one hour of Arabic and always “no, no, no!”

I offer him whatever condolences I can, when internally I am in awe of my situation and how I am in the center now of a world whereby my only connection is my religious identity. Years of pain, frustration, war, struggles and loss emanate in the eyes of this man and throughout the archaic stone building which I sit. I wonder, what is my right to be here? Do I have a place here? Who am I, sitting in this chair in Jaffa with an elderly Arab man. Do I come here as an American? A person of my religion? And how many people are seeking what I am: voices, stories, efforts for peace?

Adiv rests his head back down for a brief second before offering his apologies. We begin the interview with him describing the city of Jaffa, or rather, how the city once was: the beautiful center of Arab culture and arts. Did you know that about Jaffa? He asks me. He describes the bustling streets, the necessity of all Arab artists to first come through Jaffa in order to deem themselves artists and gain recognition. His eyes glow as he describes this life that came before 1948. What I find most astonishing is how he does not accuse or blame to compensate for the city’s changes; rather, he says how it was and how he is working to make it be again. He does not speak, for even a moment, in despair or detest, instead, he speaks of the past and the present and how people are working together to rebuild the culture of Jaffa.

I leave the interview, which was my fifth in two days. I had been running around Israel, throughout Jaffa, Tel-Aviv, and Jerusalem, in the blazing sun with multiple directions to the same location, time alterations, and numerous frustrations, and had been in a state of doubt as to what the worth is of my work. I came to Israel to discover what no one else could show me: that there are peaceful initiatives here. That there are kind people, whom make up the majority, who want peace, who are brave and courageous and will sit down with the “other side” and say that they are not enemies. I wanted to uncover organizations that are working tirelessly to promote cross cultural awareness and create dialogue. I want to show my opinionated friends and colleagues that there is more out there if they only allow themselves to see.

I realize after my time spent with Adiv that the underlying purpose to my video project takes a much personal route. Perhaps the purpose of my work is solely reflected on the person with whom I interview. I may be one very small individual with an even smaller pocket camera, but what I am doing is giving people a platform to speak. Adiv gives actors a stage to perform, but where is his voice? How is it heard? The woman I interviewed yesterday at All For Peace Radio gives both Israelis and Arabs the freedom to speak across the nation, yet where is her story of frustration? Where is her hope heard? The founder of Interfaith Encounters brings people together to talk openly about their experiences, but where is his chair to sit in and say “to me, I don’t see another side. I see people with feelings”?

All of these individuals speak to me willingly because they want their voice to be heard, they want the world outside of their walls to know that the ‘other side’ can be a friend and a comrade. They want to tell someone that politics cannot solve emotional pain. They want people to know that in a room sits Palestinians and Jews who are hearing each other’s stories. And the man, who has been working for peace for over 30 years with all of the top officials, who says “there has to be compassion and there is always hope,” will continue to say this over and over again so long as someone is listening to him.

I continue with my video-project hearing Adiv’s closing words regarding the Arab-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa: “Let the other side feel that you are right [just], you speak from your inside, your soul, from your heart, that you really want to live in peace with him.”