Here in the Middle East we do indeed have a sad situation, with grievances on both sides. I and many—if not a good majority of us in Israel—have very sympathetic feelings for our brother and sister Palestinians, even though most of Israel is Jewish. I am a Quaker and have been living in Israel since 1969, when I came with my Jewish husband and four children from the United States. We came with the hope of peace and to bring our children to a more down-to-earth lifestyle living on a communal farm.
I consider myself an active Friend and truly believe there is the same Light within each and every person. I have no Quaker meeting to attend here in Israel; I am afraid to go to Ramallah by bus. I meet here instead with people of kindred spirit. We do not identify or define ourselves in terms of religion, but in a common belief in the Inner Light.
There are two sides to every story. I will try to give you a view from the Israeli civilian side, what we feel and suffer.
In 1946 the United Nations split Palestine into two separate states: an Israeli sector and a Palestinian sector. Israel agreed to the small borders, and a ceasefire was declared. Israel hoped then to bridge a peace, but it wasn’t easy. The part of Jerusalem that was declared Israeli was separated from the mainland by a small road. There was shooting from the Arabs at our buses. The people in Jerusalem were almost cut off. The Arab people were very hostile; life was very insecure. Finally, in 1948, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon declared war on Israel. After independence was won by Israel, there were announcements on loudspeakers in all major cities of Israel that "the Arab people living in Israel should not flee," no harm would come to them, they should remain in their homes. Unfortunately, many did not listen and left. Others, fortunately, stayed. There are now many large, prosperous Arab villages in Israel, where citizens have passports. The states of Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria did very little to help integrate their fellow Arabs who fled Israel, and kept them in refugee camps, not allowing them passports in those countries.
Over the past 50 years, the surrounding Arab countries declared war three more times on Israel. There was no choice but to fight. Each time, Israel won and controlled more land. Finally, a peace was declared with Egypt, and we gave back the vast area of the Sinai Peninsula. Then a few years ago, peace was declared with Jordan. Despite these efforts towards peace, throughout all the years, there were terrorist attacks.
People from other countries cannot know what it is to constantly fear attacks on innocent people: children riding on school buses, people in cafés, and young people in discothèques. Now, again, [Palestinians] are shooting and throwing stones at civilians driving cars.
Perhaps Israel has retaliated too hard sometimes. I would compare the situation to a person who is being repeatedly bitten by a fly constantly biting little bites. That person brushes the fly away until, swack, they can’t take any more.
We are afraid. There has been no assurance from Arafat that he can control the country of Palestine or wants to control these acts of violence. Past terrorists are not kept in prison. We have tried to give back land, to encourage them to make a country for their refugees. Yet daily we watch on T.V. while they hold parades, burn our flag, and that of the U.S. or England. Many of them reject any peace, and Israel as a state at all.
I feel that Friends Journal, and people all over the world, should help both sides to see that Israelis and Arabs are not so different. We have similar needs. We need help to inspire understanding, hope, and love. We need a bridge where we can start peace from person to person. My husband and I have treated every Arab or Palestinian with whom we have come into contact with care, love, and respect. Perhaps American Friends Service Committee can help build this bridge. I used to work on their field projects and would be willing to help now. Let’s build this bridge!
Mary Sernoff Frohlich
Tel Aviv, Israel