Reflections from a visit to the Abu Khdeir family’s home in Shuafat (July Story Journal)

Guest writer: Liana Rothman.*

It’s hard to explain the way things have been feeling in this area lately. The way people’s eyes seem just a little more suspicious and dubious these days. The way I feel nervous when a car slows down next to me, and then quickly guilty for feeling nervous with the thought that it could be an Arab in a car hoping to kidnap me, and realizing it’s mostly irrational and also so deeply embedded in the rhetoric of hate and fear buried into our souls in this land. The way Jewish religious women are staring down Arab religious women on the light rail on my way to Project Harmony, a “Peace Camp” which brings together Arab and Jewish youth in a normal, summer camp atmosphere. The way normal means anything but that in this place. This place, Jerusalem, the holy of holies, where today a large organized group of people, mostly Jews, piled on buses and went to Shuafat, to experience communal mourning and offer condolences to the family of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. It felt powerful, and calm. It felt correct and nice. It also felt deeply strange, and somehow wrong. Walking down the assembly like line of Muhammad’s family members, shaking hands with each was in fact powerful. So powerful, that in a way I forgot that we were there for them, and not the other way around.

It felt strangely calm, with the spectators from around the neighborhood looking on at these strange people visiting the mourning tent, finding seats and waiting for speakers to begin, no chants, no cheers… calm. Not what I was expecting for all that I have been hearing about that area over the past week. It felt correct and nice – being there, being in an immersed community, even if just for a moment. It felt strange – where were the chants and the shouts? Where were the stone throwings and riots I had been hearing all about? Where were the tears and angry cries? It felt good and bad, right and wrong. These things, which are so opposite, are actually so in touch in this region. So deeply related and interlaced that they almost cannot be separated. The speakers were varied and mostly nice. The first man used the time to talk about the horror of the settlements and likened the Prime Minister to Satan. The Rabbi talked about The Garden of Eden and peace, and so on. Few actual mentions of Muhammad, and no mention of the three Israeli Jewish boys who were killed last week as well. It’s a shame that in a place such as this, it’s nearly impossible to stay focused on the fact that four boys under the age of twenty were killed in the last week [it is important to note, as pointed out by Jeremy Milgrom in the comments below, that in addition to the four kids who were kidnapped and killed, at least four more Palestinian kids under 20 were killed by the Israeli army between the time in which the three Israeli kids went missing and when their bodies were found, and even more have been killed in Gaza over the last few days -MRZ], killed in this game that seems to be occurring between Jews and Arabs, where lives are game pieces, exchangeable and not so significant after all.

What I went into hoping would be a communal, organized gathering of Jews and Arabs to mourn the loss of youth, together, on a basis of understanding and solidarity, ended up as a more political, formal event. I am glad I went, and I am glad I shook the hands of the family of Muhammad, and I am glad his Uncle said ‘God bless you.’ I am also glad that there was a huge turnout, and that many people care. I am glad that the intense corruption of politics in this country is being spoken about. I am eager to go to more actions, demonstrations. I want to expand my activist knowledge, to understand better both sides of this crazy, jumbled up picture that is Israel/Palestine. I want to send my prayers of hope and healing to the families of Gilad, Muhammad, Naftali, and Eyal. And upon writing these last words – sirens just went off in Jerusalem. So real and yet so surreal. Onwards and upwards in this sometimes great often screwed up always interesting place that so many of us call home.

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*Liana is a writer and student at Tel Aviv University. She is also my younger sister.