The illuminating screen reflected the fear that captured her face. She froze in time and allowed her eyes to be occupied with nothing other than the subjects she watched on the television. Her chest heaved and her hands trembled. Her eyes spilled tears and her skin fumed red. She held back no pain as she pivoted her body to meet my eyes through a thick glare. She stared at me, and as each second passed, I shrank beneath her hatred. Together in a hotel room in Spain, we were watching an Arab news station when a video of an innocent Palestinean man being beaten and then shot at by an Israeli soldier came on to the television. And as we watched scuh terror, and as we watched such brutality, Sarah Alsana opened her mouth to accusations and conflicts. She opened her mouth and she spoke the soft words that send young men and women to war. She spoke the soft words that strap bombs to young martyr’s chests. She spoke the soft words that feed the division so prevalent in such a holy land. “Do you see? Do you see what your people do? I have the most hatred in my heart and I hate all Jews.”
I was alone in her words.
I was alone in her terrifying brutal words. My face took on a red color and my eyes a slight dampness. My hands fidgeted, yet my body stayed miraculously still. The weight of Israel and the Jewish people had been placed into my hands in a matter of seconds. Sarah Alsana continued staring at me. I simply looked back.
Sarah Alsana and I, among forty other Arab Muslims, Israeli Jews, and American Jews, traveled together for three weeks through San Diego, Spain, and Israel. The Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute (JITLI) brought us all together with a mission to find peace and live in coexistence. JITLI placed us into situations and discussions that forced us to step out of our comfort zone and to fully analyze ourselves an the world around us. For Sarah, it was mainly a trip to the United States and Spain, yet when she opened her mouth to tell me of the predetermined hatred she had for me, she became just as involved in the peace process as the rest of the thirty-nine participants. The moment she opened her mouth to hatred, she opened the door to discussion and opportunity. After spending two hours cooped up in a hotel room in Spain well past two in the morning, Sarah Alsana and I began a friendship filled with love and trust that the world begs us to neglect. After three short weeks, Sarah Alsana, an Arab Muslim, and I, a Jewish American, became sisters.
To understand who Sarah Alsana is, you must travel to her Muslim Bedouin village of Lakiya in Israel and gaze across the white spacious houses and dirt roads. You must look beyond her head covering and modest clothing that appears so alien at first sight. You must travel to the small farm beyond her house and stroke the collection of Palestinean flags she keeps behind her dresser. To understand who Sarah Alsana is, you must sit and cry with her, you must listen to her, because I soon realized she only wanted to be heard.
When she spoke the offensive words I did not retaliate nor did I argue. I listened to her stories, her past, her family’s histories, her personal experiences, as well as her struggles and outcries. You see, in Sarah’s hatred I found something else. I found an immense amount of love that was yearning to be exposed. After a heavy two hours, Sarah Alsana handed me the greatest gift I could possibly have received in my short seventeen year life span. She haned me her trust.
Sarah changed my life in just as many ways as I changed hers. She taught me the importance of listening. She taught me that behind every person’s outward hatred is a human being. Sarah grabbed my hand one night as we were walking down the rows and rows of Arab markets in the old city of Jerusalem. She pulled me aside an elevated her lips to my ears. “Will you take me to the Western Wall?” The Western Wall. The holiest sight for all Jews around the world. Where the stones stretch upwards over eyes, awakening history and life into Jewish bodies. Where such comfort and support can only come from touching a wall from within a golden city. I have traveled to the wall many times, usually at the hand of my mother. Yet walking hand in hand with Sarah through the security checkpoints and down to the Wall provoked a new sense of pride within me.
We felt the unusual eyes directed towards us. We heard the suspicious whispers and felt the secretive glances. We heard the overwhelming murmurings and felt the men running and staring ahead. As we got to the Wall, I began praying and I began crying. She stood next to me for a few moments before walking back. As I stepped backwards, further and further from the large rugged stones, Sarah walked directly towards me. Exchanging no words, we embraced. She held me tighter than anyone has ever held me. My chest was gasping for air as my tears dampened her shirt. I held onto her head covering, I clung to her shoulders, I squeezed her back. Such an embrace left everyone silent, staring. We did not even notice. Such an embrace lead Sarah to murmur the words that will one day change the world. The world that we, together, will one day change.
“Muslims and Jews. We are all the same. Muslims and Jews. We are all human beings, I finally understand.”