Under the shadow of the jasmine tree**

My name is Ahmed* (name changed), I am 26 years old and I am currently doing my internship as a physician in a Palestinian hospital. My life so far has been full of blind radicalism, far from any humanity, a life like that of every Palestinian adolescent, marked by death and destruction as a result of the occupation. When I thought about taking part in the ‚Vacation from War‘, I couldn’t help thinking: „How can I allow myself to sit together with the eternal enemy of my people, to discuss with them and listen to them? How am I supposed to live, eat and drink with them? They killed my best friend, put many of my relatives in prison, destroyed and stormed our house with heavy artillery. They keep me at checkpoints every day!“ Then I thought that maybe it would be a very good opportunity to express my anger and hatred to the enemy, to fight a bloodless battle of words with them, where I am as strong as they are. We will meet our enemies at eye level. Until now, I only knew faces of Israelis expressing the power of the occupiers.

When the young Israelis in Frankfurt Airport were only a few metres away, I wondered whether I should greet them. It was an inner struggle between my human side and my suffering everyday life that forced me to express my anger on my face. I reached out my hand and greeted them with a smile. It was the beginning of my inner journey. The atmosphere on the bus was tense. Everyone was watching each other. Suddenly, one of the women said „Hi“ to me. It was the first time an Israeli spoke to me nicely without me having to show my ID. I gathered all my courage and returned her greeting. We talked about the long journey, about our lives, studies and work. I felt that we were living in different worlds. Then we were really surprised to be neighbours. I am from Tulkarem and she is from Shar Afraim, which is only a few kilometres away, but in reality, those are two sealed-off worlds.

When we arrived at our destination, no one wanted to rest. In the lobby, I met a group that set off together to a small lake nearby. During the walk, Eitan, an Israeli, approached me. He had heard them call me ‚doctor‘. He is also studying medicine and told me about his life there. He also said that he works as a volunteer in an organisation that provides medical care to Palestinians in remote villages. The conversation was hesitant at first, but soon a friendship imperceptibly developed between two human beings.

I felt something change inside me. When Roy asked me if we wanted to go back to the guest house together, I gladly agreed. I felt that I wanted to get to know this person better. He is a young man who is striving for change. Our conversation made me forget all the differences between us. We talked all the time, laughed and told each other personal stories. We had been walking for almost an hour and finally realised our situation: A Palestinian and an Israeli got lost in the German forest! An irony of fate, we are both in the same boat, we have the same problem. It was really an unforgettable experience. What a special day in my life! I went to my room and tried to sleep. Without success, after this day full of contradictions. The day, when I came closer to these people, I remembered my friend who was killed by them and our house which was attacked by them. I felt torn between these experiences and feelings. The ice-breaking games on the first day eased tensions and brought us closer as human beings. But everyone waited impatiently for the next day. We woke up excited: Today we will start talking about ourselves. We will show pictures of our everyday life to the other side. We will shout everything in the face of our occupiers without fear of being arrested. Our words are our weapons, as is our past, which is full of wounds. Here in Germany we are all equal.

In the seminar room, we were first supposed to talk about our expectations and fears. But we Palestinians wanted to talk right away about our suffering under the occupation and about our fear of not being able to change the situation. On that day and the following ones, we talked about our past and present, about the occupation, about our personal experiences, about ourselves, about everything that moves us. Fida cried when she spoke about her father being killed, Samah cried when she spoke about her eye and her brother being killed, we cried, the Israelis cried, we all cried. Not only about the dead, we all cried because we wished for a better life.

Sometimes we argued, sometimes we laughed, we got upset and calmed down again. In the beginning we thought we were fighting a war, after several sessions we realised that there can be neither winners nor losers in this war. After more sessions, I felt that we were walking a common path without knowing where it was leading us. A strong human relationship imperceptibly developed between us. It was a relationship of mutual respect. During our trips together to Cologne and Belgium, we were all the same. There was no difference between us.

Day after day I felt something inside me that I had to break. Something came closer and closer that I had been looking for in myself all my life, my feeling that I am a human being. This peace project made it possible for me to rediscover my humanity. In the final round, both sides spoke openly about the past and about their present and future fears. Neither religion nor nationality separated us in this conversation; we overcame all obstacles. We now face each other, look into each other’s eyes, gaze at each other for a long time, so that we remember each other forever and live our newly won humanity. Hedva, an Israeli, described how she will raise her son after her return, and our Israeli coordinator Shulti told about his son who refuses military service in Israel.

I spoke about my love for everyone present and my gratitude to the people who made this meeting possible for us. I told my group that they have given me something I have been looking for for 25 years: the feeling of being human. I said that not so long ago I had seriously thought about blowing up the checkpoint at the entrance to our town out of anger, so that I could finally move freely. „Now I want to completely tear down this obstacle that prevents me from reaching you,“ I said, „You are my friends, I want to meet you and hug Hedva’s son like I hug my friends‘ children.“

We promised each other that we all would make a change when we returned, and that we would preserve what we had achieved here in Germany and pass it on to our fellow human beings. We felt strong on a path that united us for a noble, high goal: change, so that we could all live in peace without war and occupation. What a unique experience! I am now a different person, a free person, free from radicalism, free from nationalism and religion and full of joy. When we said goodbye, we showed each other the victory sign, not to be victorious over the others, but to be victorious on the path of change. A few months after my return, I heard a shocking news: four Israelis were killed in Hebron, including a pregnant woman. Although I hate the occupation, I felt a deep sadness.

Where is the guilt of an unborn child? The Israelis were able to identify the perpetrator and were looking for him. I knew this man. Why did he do this? Did he not think of his life? Of his wife? Of his little child? I felt torn inside. What should I do now? Should I forget all the changes in me? After a month of brooding, I received the news that this friend had been killed. The news shocked me and my whole life, and I was very sad about the loss of someone close to me. When I lost my first friend, my immense anger almost led me to do something against the occupation. This time my anger was different. I was deeply saddened by the death of this friend, as I had been saddened when he had committed that assassination. I was surprised at this change in my feelings. Today I grieve for every person killed from both sides.

Now I am convinced that meeting the „enemy“ is not a betrayal of those who had been killed and of my people. This is the only way to prevent more deaths, more destruction and displacement. For war entails war, killing entails killing: for living together in peace and justice, liberation from religious fanaticism and nationalism is the only way that will enable us, as well as all people in this world, to live in freedom and dignity.

**) The upheavals in Tunisia at the beginning of 2011 are also called Jasmine Revolution.