Today’s blog post was written by Pnina (Pearl) von Herder, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9 months in Lod, Israel.
Wadi Ara is a region I had heard primarily about as somewhere people don’t go. People pass it a lot on their way north or south on route 6, but apart from the people that actually live there, it is rarely visited. Those that do live there are mainly Arab. It is very close to the Green Line, and a trip to Palestine is just a matter of driving to a certain part of town. The actual border is, as usual, about 3 km further east than the actual Green Line, which is the 1967 designated border between Israel and the possible state of Palestine.
My general impression of Wadi Ara was that when talked about outside of the area, the response is of, oh that dump. The people we met in the course of the day were of the social change ilk, and had a suitably different attitude. We met with a set of people and institutions, the day spent being driven to and fro in the mostly pouring rain that cascaded down the streets. I am inclined to be grumpy about rain, and grumpier still about the cold, but for this country, which is dry most of the year, it is a blessing. So we sploshed through the blessing, to our first stop, an art gallery. It still being early, we were greeted with coffee and fruit, which we gulped down gladly, and settled down to listen to our guide, a man called Udi, who really rather made my day. His enthusiasm for what he spoke of was not only tangible, but sincerely touching. He gave us the basic facts about the Arab minority in Israel, which is what the day was dedicated to in general terms. At first I was surprised to find that the person informing us on the life of Arabs in Israel was not Arab. And that probably would be more fitting, yet Udi made it difficult to be disgruntled with the choice in guide. He spoke of the displacement of the Arab population in 1948, of the numbers - 20 or so percent currently in Israel - and a little about the history pre 1948, of farmers under the rule of various empires, most recently the Ottoman. He told us that depending on whether there was direct conflict in a specific area in 1948 or not was evident: if there is no Arab population there now, then there had been conflict in that area; if Arabs still live there then the chances were there was no battle waged there in 1948.
Next up: my favourite place we visited that day. A bilingual school, Arabic and Hebrew, with classes mixed and two teachers per class, one with mother tongue Hebrew, one Arabic, teaching in a kind of tandem. I was in awe - amazing I thought - the perfect way to change the future of society for the better. All of this plastering over things as they explode, fully fledged problems like racism being combated when it is too late, and here, quietly in several places in Israel, you have schools where children grow up as close to citizens of a bicultural, bilingual state as they possibly could under the circumstances. I would like to see how well it functions in reality. The concept is convincing. The attention to detail is, according to an ecstatic Udi at the very least, responsible for the positive results achieved by the school.
We then traipsed to a restaurant owned by a half Palestinian Muslim, half Ashkenazi Jew who grew up in Haifa, and introduced himself as the cherry on top of the cake of Arab-Jewish coexistence. And indeed, his life story proved it.
After a lunch of, yes, hummus, all of the hummus types known to me - with whole chickpeas, with crushed chickpeas, with tahini and with ful (tahini is best hands down), we had several more stops: a visit with a woman-warrior, a Palestinian-Israeli called Amna, head of the women rights group “Awareness 4U,” magnificent story teller and owner of a room that can be entered through a cupboard; a visit in a mosque, which was interesting, yet I would have liked to have a chance to hear more about details of Islam, above the obvious. The sheikhs, for there were two of them, seemed to feel they had to explain that most Muslims are not terrorists.
And finally, in the now truly hammering, sweeping rain, a drive that ended with Udi counting down from ten, “three, two, one, aaaaaaaaaand PALESTINE!” This is of course due to the fact that the border is, as mentioned, 3 km further east from the Green Line, creating a slip of land that is before any checkpoint, accessible by, well foot, bike, skateboard, car or whatever. At this point everyone was tired, the rain seemed to be washing away the pavement, and I snuggled against the window and fell asleep. We arrived back in Lod, our little foul-smelling city of choice, and happily assembled home for drying off and dinner.