Reflections: One Land One Love

Prof. Steve Davis takes a photo of a Palestinian farmer, Nahed Kayed.

Prof. Steve Davis takes a photo of a Palestinian farmer, Nahed Kayed.

Post by Steve Davis for One Land, One Love

“Which way are we going?”

It was a simple question I posed this summer to Salah Abu-Eisheh, Palestine Country Director in the Nablus office of the Near East Foundation. We were taking a drive in and around Nablus, Salah at the wheel.

I was puzzled. It took him so long to answer, and he appeared to be in such discomfort just thinking about it, he must have misunderstood. Or maybe he wasn’t feeling well?

But then he offered this tentative muse, and it all made sense.

“You mean where are we headed as Palestinians, or as Israelis?” he asked me.

“Oh no,” I answered. “I was just wondering, ‘Which direction are we driving? North? South?’ ”

Indeed, even the simplest question here can be interpreted many ways — revealing all the complexities of life and politics.

But there are simple truths of the kind discovered when Professor Ken Harper and I were joined by six graduate students from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University in a visit to the West Bank this summer for several days.

The students were paired with “everyday Palestinians” to tell their stories. And all of us experienced the same, pure truth: When it comes down to it, no matter where we go and who we meet, we as people are more alike than different.

Palestinian olive farmer Nahed Kayed, 47, pick plums from the trees on his farmland in Sebastia. (Credit: Brittany Wait)

Palestinian olive farmer Nahed Kayed, 47, pick plums from the trees on his farmland in Sebastia. Photo by Brittany Wait. View the story.

 Brittany Wait and Nahed Kayed enjoy ice cream during a break from an interview. Photo by Ken harper.


Brittany Wait and Nahed Kayed enjoy ice cream during a break from an interview. Photo by Ken harper.

In Nablus, Palestinian farmers and entrepreneurs welcomed us, opened up to us and shared their most precious belonging: Their time, and their personal stories. They were simple stories. Unspectacular stories. And that’s what made them beautiful stories.

I’ve never been so accepted so fast by strangers in my life. I felt so free to tell the story my eyes and heart told me to tell. — Brittany Wait

Indeed, in this way there is nothing so special here on terrain that is arguably the most hallowed on earth. Everyone found comfort in the simplicity and power of stories about olive farming and production, soap-making, beekeeping, shop-keeping.

I recall one afternoon when I went on a Nablus walking tour with three students — Hugh Ferguson, Christine Rushton and Lateshia Beachum. We passed a modest storefront and saw a cluster of players around a billiard table. We ducked inside.

Game on.

Sumaia Sawalmeh

Sumaia Sawalmeh is a bee-keeper and entrepreneur in Nablus, West Bank.View the story.

Alexandra Hootnick and Sumaia Sawalmeh.

Alexandra Hootnick and Sumaia Sawalmeh.

 

But it wasn’t billiards. Rather, we were surrounded by a half-dozen young men who insisted each one pose with us for pictures. I didn’t think we’d ever get out of there. Among all that went on during this trip through such historic territory, this one sticks out.

I suppose you could write it off as a typical kind of tourist moment. But it felt different to us — and clearly to them as well.

Photo students on the trip — Brittany Wait, Allie Hootnick and Jennifer Swanson —experienced the same.

Indeed, it’s not just that we are more alike than different. As Salah himself would later observe: In the heart, we are simply the same.

We thank our hosts and the citizens of Nablus for affirming that.

© Cover photo by Alexandra Hootnick.


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