Bara’ah I. is 20 years old and comes from Yafa an-Naseriyye, an Arab town in Israel near Nazareth. The Palestinian with Israeli citizenship moved to Tel Aviv to study sociology, anthropology and communication sciences. She spoke to Ilona Stahl at the Dialogue Seminar for Women* in August 2023 about her experiences at the seminar and how participating changed her.

IS: Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and your motivation for coming to the seminar?

Bara’ah I: My name is Bara’ah. Bara’ah means innocence or innocent. Actually, when I was born my grandpa got arrested by the Israeli Army. He is in jail until know. He was a Taxi-driver. Literally, the same day, that I was born in, he drove a taxi. Two guys got into the car and he drove them to Tel Aviv. He didn’t recognize them, he didn’t know who they were, he just gave them a ride. But the government thought, that he partnered up them, the two guys committed a suicide bombing. They blew themselves up in Tel Aviv, in the central station of Tel Aviv and they killed 23 human beings. And they died and took revenge because of all what happened in 2001 during the Intifada. (…) Actually, my grandpa is until now in jail, because the government doesn’t have any clue whom to held responsible and they wanted to accuse someone, who was involved. And the only one, who was caught in the story, is the taxi driver, which is my grandfather. (…) He is not guilty to be in jail. He spent 20 years now and it will be 12 years more years, in total 32 years. (…) He is only allowed to see his wife once a month, his children and his siblings (Editor’s note: Telephone conversations between Bara’ah and her grandfather are possible, however). (…) Actually, my grandfather insisted to me being here and telling the story. (…)

I personally don’t say, that I am a Palestinian girl in my university, because it will fall back on me in a negative way. (…) It could cause that I cannot continue my studies which will affect me obviously. So, I am really not involved with all the political things in the country, especially as Palestinian people there are not allowed to talk freely, not even about their rights and their history or about the occupation, or even about the people from the other parts of Palestine (…) about the West Bank and Gaza. We don’t live in a good situation in Israel. We don’t dare to speak our language in public, we learn everything about their Jewish history at school and nothing about ours.

And there is a big problem of violence in Arab society. There are many murders and illegal possession of weapons and the police don’t do much about it. So my mother is constantly afraid for me. We live in a trail of blood. Ultimately, I live more safely in the Jewish sector because crime is kept under control there. But when I’m at university in Tel Aviv, my mother is afraid I might be attacked because I speak Arabic. Two months ago, someone came from the West Bank and committed a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv because of all the things that had happened in Jenin. I was very close by and my mother was panicking.

IS: What is your experience here?

BI: We are in Germany and here we can talk about all our experiences that we have never talked about before, about all the problems that we can’t talk about in our country. It is so important that through the seminar we can explain to Israelis how we feel. It is so nice to be part of the Palestinian group here. In our countries we can’t feel like a community. With everything Israel is doing to divide Palestine, we know little about each other. (…) I felt really safe here, a rare feeling.

IS: What do you take from the seminar. What will you remember? In a positive and in a negative way, what will stay?

B: A lot of things. The first thing that came into my mind, is that I will have all the friendships that I made here, with the Palestinian girls and the Israeli girls. And it’s really relieving, it makes me feel better about myself actually, that all the Jewish girls know now that there is the occupation and they are aware that Israel is not how they imagined, and not how they told them it was, especially in the high school, and in the university and in the military service. They were brainwashed. They didn’t decide by themselves on what side they should stand, or what to do, or what to say, or even what to understand. Now they got all the stories from the Palestinian girls and now they can pass them on to someone else. Because their voices are stronger than our voices. Our voices, eventually, we feel that they are lower or we feel that they are not as strong as we think they are. Because they have the power. (…) They have a lot of privilege, which makes it easier to understand the stories told by them to other people. In this way, they can try to make a difference. They can give voice to our messages and stories and make them heard by other people in Israel and around the world. (…) It’s really important for me that these women can be the change I’m striving for. (…)

The negative thing, actually, is that the Palestinian girls in the West Bank, I know that they will return into their horrible reality and hard reality, which they live every single day, where the military enters their country and kills a lot of people there. (…) Children there are dying. (…)  And the girls and the moms that say goodbye to their sons, because their sons go to die as martyrs. (…) It’s really hard for me to understand the idea that they should return to such a world and community, not being save and where the government or the community will judge them (…) Actually, the thought that I know that we might not see each other again because of the occupation and even if we meet in future, it might take a long time and it might be so hard for them to come, is bringing me down. (…) One of the Palestinian girls from the Westbank, she lives in Massafer-Yatta, she told me that: „I don’t want to go home, because I know that when I go home, it won’t be feeling good returning home.“ And to hear that returning home will be a big problem for her, made me nervous and I felt lower than ever. (…) I know that I should return, with all the things that I learned and all the stories that I heard to pass their stories to other people, e.g. during events.(…)

IS: Will you endanger yourself if you tell your fellow students that you have been at this seminar? Will you tell them at all?

BI: I think that eventually I will tell them that I have been here in this seminar. I already told them that I am in an Arab-Hebrew seminar, but not an Israeli and Palestinian seminar to talk about the conflict and all the dilemmas. I told them that we doing this seminar because we want to talk about peace, and we want to talk about a partnership between us. But I didn’t really talk about the conflict between Israel and Palestine and related things, because I know that they wouldn’t accept that. But eventually I think, I will tell them. Because I think that I am more powerful than I thought that I am. I am powerful, I have the power, I have the energy, I have the words actually to tell them where I have been and what I have been talking about. I talked about the Nakba, which happened in 1948. And I talked about the Palestinian people that live in Israel. And I talked about a lot of things. I talked about the language, languages are really important things to talk about. We talked about our narratives, we talked about the people that got killed and hurt, because of the occupation. We talked about a huge topic, that I couldn’t even imagine that I could talk about it here. So, I feel that I am more powerful than I was when I came here. I am not the same person, that I was when I came here. (…) I feel that I became different. Even though it is just two weeks, but I feel it was deeper than two weeks. It feels like a year. Like the start of a new year. Do you know after the year ends, every one of us writes all the things that one wants to do ore how one wants to be in the next year. And that’s what happened here. On our last day, I really thought all the things that I want to do when I return to my life. (…)

I wanna be more real actually. I want to tell the truth. And I want to be more powerful. I feel like my character and my personality has changed here in a positive way. So, I feel that I have a lot of things to tell. I have a lot of things to think about. (…)