This evening, with incredible humility, I set out once again to guide the story of the battles of San Simon and Katamon to a mixed group of Israeli and Palestinian teens. I have to admit that of all the guiding I do this is the most complicated guiding of all, one that always leaves me feeling unfulfilled, for there is no way to succeed at guiding people who feel so emotionally connected to these conflicting stories without failing.
A few years back, I guided a mixed group like this in the old city. MK Ahmed Tibi; who was one of the participants, came to me after the tour to congratulate me.
“You think it went well?״ I asked him. I, for one, was not feeling so good about the guiding I had just done.
“Yes”, he replied. Then, as if he could read my thoughts continued
— “Had you only upset one side — I would have said you failed. But as you succeeded at making everyone angry… that is a success.”
I took the half compliment, realizing that when guiding Nakba/Independent to Israelis and Palestinians together — one must fail to succeed.
Tonight though, I was even more fearful — Guiding adults is one thing, but I have to admit that guiding impressionable minds, especially on this topic scares the bejesus out of me. I feel an incredible responsibility to both empower each teen in their identity, and at the same time, stay truthful and honest about these complicated truths. I found myself in deep thought throughout the evening, carefully picking my words and terms. Slowly building up the stories so that they might have multiple perspectives, all while wondering when I should even out a narrative with an opposite view and when the disparity in ‘narrative’ is a truth in itself, painful as it may be. At times I felt I was defaulting to my religious Zionist narrative and other times that I was overcompensating on a Palestinian narrative.
I chose to focus on a very complex story, breaking away from the duel narrative to a multi-narrative mosaic of stories; a sure way to confuse even the most intelligent of audiences. I figured it was crucial, less they walk away with more intellectual ammunition that will see them held up in their bastions of self-righteousness and finger-pointing. But — I reasoned, If I could share some of my humility on the issue, That would be a form of success.
So we walked through the battles; Kastel, Dir Yasin, Sheikh Jarach (Hadassa caravan), Katamon and the old city. At each site, we recognized how the courageous battlefield of one side was often seen by the other as a massacre or genocide. Nashshibi and Husseini, Ben Gurion and Menachem Begin — Abed Kader el Husseini and Abu Dyah — Yitzchak Rabin and Yosef Tabenkin — The High Arab council and the Peoples committee.
We sit down in a park to try and unpack some of what we just heard — we are short on time, so I ask each one to leave us with one question or comment.
“Why do the Israelis feel it’s ok to kick us out of our homes in Katamon?” One Palestinian girl wonders
“I feel that Israelis can self-critique while the Palestinians can only critique Israel” An Israeli girl shares.
“What next?” A Palestinian boy leaves lingering in the air.
I don’t respond — this is for their staff to follow up. Instead, I leave them with questions of my own. Are the stories we told tonight important? Why? What role do and will they play in our societies — What role should they play in this group — will it/how is it going to affect the relationships in this group?
I walk away feeling uncertain. One Palestinian teen comes up just before he leaves to go home — “I can’t believe that Yitzchak Rabin was 25 years old when he commanded the Har’el Brigade — that is sooo young!!”
He says in excitement. “How old was Tabenkin?” — he wonders of the Jewish hero of the bloody battle. I don’t know, I reply — but promise to get back to him later about it. I smile at his enthusiasm — not precisely the detail I had hoped for him to remember of the other’s narrative — but I guess we all have to start somewhere.