Since arriving in Israel six months ago, and spending time both working and living in the mixed city of Jaffa, my views on the Israel- Palestinian conflict and Israeli policy have changed. Daily, my viewpoints sway both leftwards and rightwards – often at the same time, but regardless of politics, my understanding of Israel as home to so many different people deepens with every person I encounter. It is impossible to look at the conflict here, let alone any conflict, as a struggle between political players, but rather I’ve come to see it as something incredibly human in that it shapes individuals’ daily lives. I see the conflict play out on this level: in the issues that influence the lives of the Yaffanese (my neighbors).
Just this past week, housing issues came to a head with multiple protests and demonstrations up and down the main streets of Jaffa. On Wednesday, a group of about 20 right-wing Jewish protesters marched from the Jaffa port until they reached the end of our street, demanding in the name of zionism that Jaffa is meant to be a Jewish city, and only a Jewish city. Although this is contradictory to the ultimate truth that Jaffa is home to 17,000 Arabs, it was nevertheless difficult to witness, respond to, and all the more so to turn into teaching moments for the hundreds of students we collectively work with.
But amidst the hatred this week, were also moments of coexistence and community – one of which I was proud to be a part of. In addition to the counter protests that followed the right-wing demonstration, I attended a pre-demonstration the Tuesday evening prior, calling for an end to the government’s removal of low-income housing tenants from both south Tel Aviv and Jaffa. This protest also took place a few blocks from our apartments, but was instead filled with camaraderie and hope for future, as both Arab and Jewish residents shouted impassioned stories of shared struggle and the desire to keep all families, both Jewish and Arab, in their homes. As one man yelled, “Jaffa has always been both Jewish and Arab and will forever be both Jewish and Arab!” Women, children, old people and young people, councilmen and teachers rose to speak as the megaphone was passed around. As I looked at the crowd I had trouble deciphering who was Arab and who was Jewish, which even in Jaffa is a rare occurrence. Although the mixed population co-habitates in a very small area, it is unique to find an issue that binds the Jewish and Arab plights so closely.
Conflict is around and among us in Israel and Jaffa, however, the human moments of hope and true coexistence help us to get through the more challenging of days. Continuing to see the stories of people, both Arab and Jewish, as human stories, not those of conflict, makes our work and life here all the more meaningful.