Colleagues Across The Divides

 In Blog

To really see this war, I needed to leave it. 

Considering the war I currently find myself in, several months back I decided I should do everything in my power to expand the circles of Palestinian-Israeli partnerships in which I participate. And to learn more about conflict management, because if not now, when?! 

A friend sent me a video of a workshop from an organization she had participated in called CITpax. CITpax, in Madrid, engages in mediation and policy development that help resolve conflicts and increase understanding between opposing parties. They opened a special workshop for women to train the trainers that was supposed to take place on April 15. I was extremely excited that I was accepted because it was a special workshop and once again – if now’s not the time for women to be empowered to make change–then when will it be?

Since this was my first time in Madrid, I decided to fly April 13, so that I could have at least one day to see the sights, and get to know Madrid. At the end of the workshop, I intended to leave immediately for a exam in my Master’s Degree program. The other participants were supposed to arrive on Sunday, April 14th,  in the evening.

A few days before my flight however, Israel was attacked in Syria, which killed senior Iranian officials. We were all nervously waiting for a return attack. No one knew if or when it would happen and there was a thick, palpable tension in the air. I had anxiety in my stomach all week. I tried to return to normal and be excited for my upcoming trip, but I couldn’t shake the negative feelings about what might happen, Because Iran has great military capabilities, what is the extent of the reaction?  And when will all of Israel and the region be under that pressure? It’s an odd feeling. Being paralyzed with anxiety–but also just having to go about your daily life. We all did it, but we all felt it as well. 

On Saturday, April 13, at 6:30 p.m. (IST), I boarded the flight to Madrid, excited to escape the harsh atmosphere of the war; to absorb a few moments of sanity. We landed at 12:30 a.m. Israel time, and were shocked to find out that just 30 minutes after we left, the Israeli airspace and the surrounding areas,  had been closed. We were actually among the last flights to leave, and after that they started taking people off planes and returning them to the terminal. 

I joined a large of group right off the jetway in discussions: What should i do? Should I return to Israel or should I stay? What will happen here? How much damage will there be? How will we know when it’s safe to go back? How will we survive this? Large existential questions looming with fear and uncertainty for me, my friends, my family, my colleagues. How long will this last and will I be able to return home? A feeling of panic and helplessness.

I arrived at the hotel and caught up on the news.  Unable to sleep, I propped myself up in front of my computer on the hotel room desk, until I fell asleep in the chair round 4 a.m.  

I woke up around 8 a.m. to the news that the attack ended with almost no physical damage – except for one Bedouin girl hit by a missile fragment in an unknown village because they have no protection. By and large, we got through it safely, but considering we do a lot of work with the Bedouin community – this news struck particularly hard. 

But oh yes, a reminder, I was in Madrid for this crucial workshop. Many participants, and their parent organizations, had to cancel flights for the coming week for fear of escalation, and they couldn’t come to the workshop. 

I’m the only one in Madrid.

I said to myself, on the one hand, God loves me, and I am thankful the CITpax team wasn’t in Israel like originally planned, and I would be worried about everyone’s safety. On the other hand, I was extremely disappointed that it was canceled.

On the Monday the workshop was supposed to start, I met with the organizers. They were lovely and took care of everything for me. They made me feel safe and at peace, even if they saw the look of terror and worry in my eyes. It was also a reflection back onto them. It was the first time many of them had met someone like me – someone who’s been stuck in a war since October 7, 2023. It was powerful for both of us. 

We, as a society, have started to normalize the abnormal experience of just “surviving” as a meaningful and productive existence.  The look in their eyes and their desire to help me emphasized how bad off things really are. It broke me, I hurt for all of us.  I stayed in the room all day and just cried. How much more can anyone endure? When will it end? When will we all learn to live in peace? It was starting to feel impossible. 

I finished my trip in Madrid without further incident. Sad that I didn’t get to participate in the workshop, but also appreciative of the human lessons I had learned. There will be other formal workshops and trainings I’ll be able to attend in the future, but for my spring 2024 trip? I learned that we are all in this together regardless of geography, political differences, religious ideology, or background. We all need to do whatever we can in our own little corners of the world to help stop the fighting and start emulating peace.