Stuck for an hour in the elevator on my way to my last day of interning with Americans for Peace Now, I found myself explaining to the young lady who was stuck with me, and who recognized my Palestinian-flag lapel pin, why a Palestinian student would choose to work at a pro-Israel organization in Washington.
I have to say, when I started my internship here this summer – part of a joint internship project that APN and the American Task Force on Palestine have run for the past four years – I asked myself the same question.
When I first visited the APN office, I was overwhelmed by the Hebrew words, blue-and-white colored flags, maps of Israel, and pictures of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Do I really want to be surrounded by all this for over a month?” I asked myself.
In the elevator, I had a chance to ponder again why I, a young Palestinian woman from the west bank city of Ramallah, chose to intern with a pro-Israel organization, and what I had learned from this experience.
My parents are political activists who worked for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Born in Palestine, they spent most of their lives in exile, allowed to return only after the PLO signed an agreement with Israel and returned to the west bank and Gaza in 1994.
My parents, siblings, and I are proud to live in our homeland. But under Israeli occupation, the west bank can be very confining. My parents encouraged me to see the world and broaden my horizons. In high school, I became an exchange student, and later a peace activist. Now I am here in Washington as part of an Israeli-Palestinian young leadership program.
I interned with a pro-Israel organization not out of love for Israel, but because I love Palestine. I love it more than I could hate anything or anyone in this world. I love the olive trees, the bustling streets, the smell of coffee, the sound of the muezzin’s call to prayers, and seeing familiar faces when I walk down the street. What I want more than anything is to go back home, back to Ramallah, to help build the future independent Palestinian state.
I came to understand that Palestine can enjoy independence only if it makes peace with Israel, and I know that Israeli-Palestinian peace requires strong backing here in the United States. That’s why it has been so important for me to work with APN. That’s why I was so gratified that while I was interning with APN, a young Israeli man, Natan Odenheimer, from West Jerusalem, was interning with ATFP, a pro-Palestinian organization. Together, we found common ground in America’s capital, working for like-minded organizations that represent the “other side.”
APN represents Americans, most of them Jewish, who realize that Palestinians, like Israelis, deserve to prosper, to live in peace and security and to be independent. APN believes that statehood for the Palestinians is necessary for Palestinians and Israelis alike, and that likewise a secure, stable Israel is in the interest of Palestinians. APN champions the notion that peace between Israelis and Palestinians, based on dividing the land that each side claims as its own, is the only way to secure the future of both peoples and to advance America’s goals in the Middle East.
My experience at Americans for Peace Now has allowed me to immerse myself in the perspective of the “other side.” I know that what I have learned will make me a better steward for the cause of my people when I return to Ramallah.
I encourage everyone to do what I have done this summer, in some way: Talk to those you consider the “other.” Learn about them or – even better – come and visit the “other side.”
If you come to Ramallah, I’ll be happy to show you around.