"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.  I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. July 15, 1944."

          -- Anne Frank (19291945)  --  Dutch Jewish diarist; born in Germany

      Israelis and Palestinians have been doing the opposite of what's needed, by causing one another "confusion, misery, and death."
     At the same time, a solid foundation for a new Middle East community consisting of familiarity, dependability, generosity, and courage is being modeled by increasing numbers of both Jews and Arabs. 
     The "good at heart" are stepping forward.
     Below is one more example, added to the hundreds we've described to you at http://traubman.igc.org/messages.htm .

    Thanks to The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) that provides news beyond traditional sources, and the most leading edge, creative op-eds, features, and analysis by local and international experts on a broad range of Middle East issues.
     We highly recommended their e-mail list, by simply writing to subscribe-cgnews@sfcg.org .
     You can read CGNews's current and archived articles at http://www.commongroundnews.org/ .

     We've said before, crisis can lead to opportunity -- http://traubman.igc.org/respond.htm -- if we will respond to one another, for one another.
     Just look at Israelis Yossi and Inbal Gross, and Palestinians Sally and Sami Khoury.
     And match their acts and spirit in your own neighborhood.
     Start a new wave.
                        -- L&L

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)  --  14 January 2005

Israeli and Palestinian tsunami survivors
reunite in Jerusalem to give thanks and support

Lauren Gelfond Feldinger*

     Yossi Gross waited a year and a half for his dream honeymoon to Thailand, and now he predicts thats about how long it may take to recover from the ordeal of surviving the East Asian tsunami.
     When his mother died two months before his May 2003 wedding, he spent a year in mourning, before contemplating a big celebratory trip. Then halfway through their honeymoon, they got caught in the largest natural disaster in recent history. But it wasnt all bleak.
     Though still processing the tragedy, two weeks after making it back to their Kiryat Gat home in central Israel, Gross, 30, and his wife Inbal, 23, geared up for a night out in east Jerusalem.  They wanted to thank and catch up with Sami and Sally Khoury, the Palestinian couple whom they credit with their safe trip back to Israel.
    Its not just that they were a light they were life savers, Gross told the Common Ground News Service. Our money, passports and tickets were in a safety box in our hotel lobby, which was totally destroyed.
     The Palestinian couple from east Jerusalem, whom the Grosss met by chance after fleeing the Thai beach in Phuket for their hotels rooftop, paid for the Israeli couples food and lodgings while waiting for a plane home and gave them $300 in cash--half of what they had in their pocket.
     We gave them money and the four of us really stuck together from the rooftop to Bangkok [before flying home], but we didnt feel we really did so much, said Sami Khoury, an event planner for the Palestinian Trade Center, now back in his east Jerusalem home. What we did, we would have done for anyone.
     It was really mutual psychological support to help each other get out of there, he added.
     On the morning of the tidal wave, the Grosss were walking on the beach and took a bathroom break at their hotel, two minutes away, while the Khourys, just finished with breakfast, followed a crowd down to the beach to see what was the curiosity. Both couples suddenly saw a giant wave heading toward the beach and fled up to the hotel roof.
     There were four giant waves in four hours, remembers Gross. We stayed on the roof, and starting talking to the others there. Absolutely by chance we met a Palestinian couple from east Jerusalem.
     Khoury and his wife Sally overheard Gross talking on his cell phone in Hebrew, trying to reach the Israeli embassy, and the two couples started exchanging information.  Israel would later inform the Palestinians that the Khourys were safe, thanks to the information Gross passed on from his rooftop calls.
     We decided to stay together because we would both try to get back to the same place, said Gross. In a situation like this you are people to people in the same danger. It wasnt like Oh, we are Israeli and they are Palestinian. We were just people with the shared goal to return home in peace; it doesnt matter if its to east Jerusalem or to Kiryat Gat.
     When they saw that the waves kept coming, the two couples decided to flee together to higher ground in the nearby hills. Running through town, between giant waves, the four jumped in the back of a truck heading north, and later continued to the airport.
     When the airport turned out to be closed, Gross used his cell phone to reach Intel, the high-tech company where he and his wife work in Israel. Company officials appraised him of flight times to Bangkok and arranged a hotel room for the night. Still, they went to a different hotel, which the Khourys paid for. We had a free room but didnt take it because we did not want to be separated--we didnt know if we were out of danger yet, said Gross.
     It turned out the worst was behind them, though their story didnt end there. Last week, two weeks after the tsunami, on a cool weekend night in east Jerusalem, the two couples warmly embraced.
     For three hours they sat in the American Colony Hotel lounge talking in English about everything from the disaster to family to the Palestinian elections.
     I was sure we were going to meet each other again. First, I owed them money! Now I still owe them a hafla [a party or festive celebration, in Arabic], says Gross, laughing. Anyway, Im sure we are going to stay good friends.
     It would be the same if they were Palestinian, Danish or Australian, he added. I never had a Palestinian friend or really knew Palestinians, but I always knew there were extremists on both sides and good people on both sides. And in difficult times, you can know people more deeply and see what kind of people they really are.
     Gross, who left after the weekend reunion for reserve duty in the Israeli army at an undisclosed location, says he spoke at length to Khoury  about his experiences in the army and the reserves. We both agreed that the problems are because of a small group of extremists.
     But even now in his army uniform, as he speaks on his cell phone from reserve duty, and as the public around him debates the dramatic changes happening in the Israeli and Palestinian governments, Thailand is still very much on his mind.
     Thailand was amazing; so fun. The beaches were like heaven on earth. Now its hard to believe, he says. My wife has been badly traumatized. We will wait a while until she feels better and we forget the ordeal, but next year maybe we will travel again. We talked to Sami and Sally about it and they feel the same way.
     The Khourys are now trying to locate other Palestinian individuals or organizations to encourage a Palestinian-led relief effort for tsunami survivors. Sally Khoury  is donating her December salary from her job at the Academy for Educational Development, a US-based non-profit organization.
     Staying in touch with the Israeli couple also helps them to deal better with the tragedy, said Sami Khoury : It was good to see them, you can even say healthy. We have talked to so many people about what happened, but they were the only ones who could really understand.  Thats one of the good things to come out of all this. Well definitely see them a lot.

*Lauren Gelfond Feldinger ( LGelfond@zahav.net.il ) is a regular feature writer for the Jerusalem Post. She is a Common Ground Award-winning journalist.  A newlywed herself, Lauren is expecting her first child.