Leslie Guttman met a
visiting Palestinian guest in her San Francisco synagogue. Ahmed was
there from Ramallah to listen to others and to tell his story -- doing whatever
one person can do to make a difference.
His presence affected Leslie, and she wrote about Ahmed in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, Sunday, July 15, 2001.
This face-to-face contact, on a much larger scale, is real "power" in the hands of citizens wherever we live.
We thought this would interest you. -- L&L
One man's mission for peace in the Middle East
Leslie R. Guttman, Chronicle Staff Writer
I HAVE met the enemy, and he is . . . pretty nice. No stones in his hands, only an olive branch.
Ahmed came to my synagogue, a young Palestinian from Ramallah visiting the Bay Area. He came to our services on a one-man peace mission. He wanted to meet American Jews to try and figure out a way to end the Mideast violence.
He is tired of seeing funeral processions for people he knows during his walk to work at a software company in the center of town. The faces of the dead stare down from posters plastered around the city.
Ahmed, 27, around 5-foot-10, wire glasses, sits in the front row during our service, listening to the prayers of people he has been schooled to hate. He feels shy and a little weird, but he likes the singing. Inside, he is anxious. "They look like nice people," he thinks, "but maybe they think all Palestinians should go to hell."
His friends, family and work colleagues told him he was crazy to come: All Jews hate us, they want to kill us. Israel wants to butcher us. They'll act nice in front of you, but you can't trust them. He decided he'd see for himself.
"Everyone is saying 'I wish peace would happen, I hope it will happen,' but nobody's doing anything," he says. "It might be 10 generations before the problem is solved, but somebody has to start."
He tells my congregation after services that he doesn't have any answers, only questions -ones he has had since he was little. To his friends and family: "What's wrong with talking to Jews, and why can't we listen to them?" To Jews: "If you guys hate us so much, how come you hate us?" To both sides: "Why are we stuck in history pointing fingers?"
Since last year, the mood in Ramallah, about 100,000 people, he said, has gone from hopeful to hopeless. Through the Oslo accords, Camp David talks and other peace negotiations, a reluctant vision of co-existence had built up among the Palestinians he knows. Now, it's gone.
As a West Bank resident, Ahmed has to show a special I.D. to enter Israel proper. The security checks can last up to three hours. Sometimes, the soldiers are nice, sometimes, they aren't. "But I understand the frustration, the hatred that's been built up," he says, "I'm a security threat.
"Still, it's not a life to live. You feel like you don't belong, barred from places where your family has lived for ages. Special I.D.s mean you're not a citizen. You happen to live in the land Israel took over in 1967. We're stuck in the middle."
He slips past the checkpoints to go to Jerusalem. He loves the city the way you love a person. He spends the day walking through the Jewish, Muslim and Armenian quarters. He climbs to the top of Mount Olive at night and looks down on the town below and thinks about the thousands of people through time who stood in the same place.
Back at my congregation, he is getting ready to leave. He's writing down phone numbers of Jewish contacts in America and Israel, groups and individuals that may be able to help redraw a map for peace. People are shaking his hand and staying to talk more. He is surprised.
Ahmed says when he gets back home in a couple of weeks he is going to keep talking -at work, at dinner, in cafes -about building ties with Jews. He is pushing everyone's buttons, but he doesn't care. Some of them might say Ahmed is idealistic because he's young, that the cynicism will come in time. Or that he's a Pollyanna. So was Nelson Mandela. I just think Ahmed is one of those people who can see in the dark.
Leslie Guttman is an editor on the San Francisco Chronicle's national desk.
The article is on the Web at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2001/07/15/ED40890.DTL.