One of our first weeks here, someone told us: the key to success in peace negotiations is to stay low key.
We translated it to something we tend to do well. We like making friends. Temporary friends. And with a large family, making friends is easy. Arabs will embrace you for having an Arab sized family, Haredim will not distrust you and Traditional Catholics will love you.
The large family catapulted us straight to the middle of this society.
I have this little game that I play with our middle child. I will ask her: what’s the best part of a sandwich? And she will shout out: The middle part! What’s the best part of a party? The middle part! And on and on it goes.
When it comes to living here, we are in the middle of things. And it is the best. We are neither Jewish nor Arab, neither Christian nor secular, neither left wing nor right wing. Or so I tell myself.
But then again.
We make friends on both sides. Or better said, on all sides. We have friends that belong to the Catholic somewhat sectarian Opus Dei, but also friends in a Protestant Christian community. Palestinian friends on the West Bank and Arab Israeli friends in green line Israel. We have Jewish friends among left wing critical side, secular side and conservative side. Our babysitter is Christian Arab and of course, there’s Sara my ultra orthodox friend. We have friends in the expat community but also among Lifers who come from abroad but are here for the rest of their lives.
All from different places and although in Israel, all further apart than this country stretches.
I sometimes think this year is actually about people, more than anything else. In a place so drenched in disputes, it is the people that make the country glow, flourish, or slowly die.
And it makes me want to tell you about all those people. It makes me want to get under their skin and understand them, to blurt it all out soon after.
It feels as if I am betraying my friends.
I want to write about the young guy who recently joined Opus Dei, about his pledge of celibacy and the way he first offered to babysit our kids and then suddenly withdrew his offer.
I want to write about the two Rami’s in our life: one an Arab “fresh juice guy” who is the biggest fan of our youngest daughter and the other Rami, Sara’s husband. Two men that will pass each other in the streets on a daily basis, but never without an undertone of hatred and fear.
Now, I will tell you about our next door neighbors who made us chocolate cake yesterday, because they mistakenly thought it was our special day when we celebrate Sinterklaas. It’s a young family and they are lovely. Their oldest son plays with our youngest son and their baby makes me want to have another one.
When I wanted to go to their place yesterday evening, I first had to change my shirt. My newly bought sweater from Jericho has a proud print I can not read. In green Arabic it says: “Palestine”.
It would have been rude to enter their house with that shirt. And it is actually considered dangerous to walk through the streets of Jewish West Jerusalem with a print like that.
I feel absurd for changing my shirt when I walk through my own neighborhood. I tell myself I do it for the kids. When Jewish friends would see my shirt they might treat my kids differently, because their mom wears a shirt with the name of a neighboring country on it.
Anyway. I changed my shirt and we knocked their door. The oldest three kids and I sang traditional Sinterklaas songs for the neighbors and we all chatted away happily.
The subject changed to our departure. They were shocked to hear we will most probably go back to the Netherlands half January. And the next step is always to become each other’s friends on Facebook.
The key to success is to stay low key.
I had not been so low key on Facebook lately. And if I add up all the things I posted, I might not have been in the middle of the political spectrum, either.
How could I have been so naive to befriend our neighbor on Facebook? Aren’t real life friends close enough?
That night, I leafed through my new Facebook friend’s statuses a little. I had to translate some of his texts, although the photos made his opinions pretty clear. He was all but low key.
That night, I learned a whole new side to the story. A side I can not stomach yet, nor agree on. But a side I did have to see.
That night, the middle was not the best part at all.