Students
Amalia Vesa. The photos in this article were taken before October 7.

Reconciliation between
Israelis and Palestinians

Amalia’s impossible mission

Amalia Vesa. The photos in this article were taken before October 7.
Right after her graduation from the UG, Amalia Vesa went to work in Palestine to help with the reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis. But then came the war. ‘A bomb went off near my house one day, and everyone on the street started screaming.’
20 December om 10:23 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 December 2023
om 10:23 uur.
December 20 at 10:23 AM.
Last modified on December 20, 2023
at 10:23 AM.
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Door Ingrid Ştefan

20 December om 10:23 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 December 2023
om 10:23 uur.
Avatar photo

By Ingrid Ştefan

December 20 at 10:23 AM.
Last modified on December 20, 2023
at 10:23 AM.

Amalia still remembers the moment she realised just how important her mission in Palestine was. She was working with a group of women, both Israelis and Palestinians, to try to bring them together while discussing the subject of power imbalances. 

‘These women, despite how different they are, still managed to get to a consensus on the role of power in oppressing the other’, she says. 

The group created a little scene of a ladder of power, rearranging themselves from the most to least powerful. ‘As I stood there watching them, it hit me just how much of an effort it must be to abandon your privileged status and acknowledge the differences in power, to challenge your narrative and shake up your ideas. And yet they all managed that.’

Interning

Twenty-one-year old Amalia Vesa knows that reconciliation is possible, even amidst the war. But she didn’t always believe that. ‘Initially, it felt odd to think of a way to reconcile an occupier with the occupied. It felt like an impossible task or conversation to have.’ 

Initially, it felt odd to think of a way to reconcile an occupier with the occupied

But since she likes to challenge herself every now and again, she thought there was no better time to try that than right after graduating from the UG’s international law programme. That’s how she ended up in the West Bank,  interning at a non-governmental organisation that teaches, trains and facilitates reconciliation. She doesn’t want the organisation’s name mentioned, for fear of threats, which they’ve had before.

Why Palestine out of all places? Amalia’s been fascinated by the Middle East ever since she read One Thousand and One Nights at the age of thirteen. She has travelled all over the Arab world, but her heart belongs to Palestine. ‘I really admire the strength and resilience of the people. I love the  tastes, the aromas. It’s a challenge for all senses’, she says. 

Violence

Despite the difficulties she faced there, her eyes light up as she narrates her experience. ‘Living there was a very special experience, quite unforgettable.’ Yet the violence she witnessed broke her heart, she says. ‘I was not in Gaza, but on the West Bank, where there’s always been violence, and I’ve been seeing a lot of it, even before the war.’

Amalia lived in Bethlehem, but had to cross security checkpoints every day to get to work in Jerusalem. ‘These checkpoints are in their nature violent. So I’ve seen a lot of people being beaten, among other forms of verbal violence, harassment, and all these kinds of things.’ 

One time, she saw a woman and her child trying to get into Jerusalem to get to school. ‘ Security didn’t let them pass, but the woman kept insisting. So they started yelling at them in Arabic. Then, they pushed them to the back of the crowd and the kid hit a wall.’ She didn’t see how it ended, but what happened still haunts her.

Challenging injustice

Amalia had some uncomfortable interactions there herself, and she would quite often get stranded at a checkpoint for four to five hours on end. Despite that, she didn’t back down from her mission: to restore the relationships between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Violence hasn’t worked for the past 75 years, we should tackle the situation differently

‘What we as an NGO do, is challenge all the injustice that has occurred, like a form of nonviolent co-resistance’, she says. ‘Violence is not working and hasn’t worked for the past seventy-five years, so we should tackle the situation in a different way.  We urge joint efforts to resist violent attitudes, such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as well as interpersonal, group, and structural violence like the occupation.’

Besides workshops and local activities involving both Israelis and Palestinians, Amalia also helped organise desert trips with different demographic groups, such as women or children.  ‘It’s really interesting to see that these people never had a dialogue, they know nothing about each other. Yet when given the chance, both sides are willing to engage in a dialogue’, she says. 

The desert trip provides a neutral space where participants become very close to each other because of the harsh environment, and they learn to listen to one another for the first time. ‘The purpose of such discussions is not to compare, but to understand the other side’s pain. This is where the division between “us” and “them”, the circle of dehumanisation, perceived victimisation and demonisation start to fade, and true change begins.’

Air raid sirens

On October 7, however, everything fell apart when Hamas killed an estimated 1200 people during several attacks, and took 250 hostages. Amalia vividly recalls that morning. She was preparing for a trip with the organisation to the Dead Sea, when she suddenly heard the air raid sirens. ‘We were urged in the work group chat to stay indoors and stay away from windows or walls facing the southwest. Everyone was extremely anxious, yet they stayed strong. Nobody knew what to expect, we heard sirens everywhere and people were hurrying to contact their loved ones in or near Gaza and southern Israel. We stayed inside for days.’

If you understand the other side’s pain, true change begins

The organisation continued to work from home, as the situation had gotten too dangerous to go to the office. ‘The surveillance was, and still is, intense, and the anxiety levels were high. But I do believe our work is needed now more than ever’, Amalia says. 

She insisted on remaining in the West Bank as long as she could, despite growing concerns among her family members and increased shortages of food, gas, and especially water. ‘I felt really connected to Palestine. I’ve been to many countries around the world, but I don’t think I’ve ever connected to a place that much. Each day was some sort of rollercoaster of highs and lows. Life was simple, tense, yet incredibly beautiful.’

But then something happened that made her realise she had to go. ‘A bomb went off near my house, and everyone on the street started screaming. I think that it happened a kilometre away, or really close by anyway. Also, the soldiers were on the street every day, and everything closed down, so we didn’t have any social element anymore.’ 

Amalia was one of the last foreigners to leave at the end of October. She plans to go back as soon as she can, though, to continue her mission. ‘For me, this kind of work means hope, possibility, dignity and humanity. I might be physically in Groningen now, but I’m really still in Palestine.’

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