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For One Palestinian Woman, There Will Not Be Peace


From a distance, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians never seems to change. Up close, it changes a lot. And that includes changes in the minds of the participants. NPR's Emily Harris has been talking with people who've changed their views, and they include a Palestinian woman who lives on the West Bank.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Abla Masrujeh's hometown is the ancient city of Nablus. By the late 1980s, it had become a hotbed of Palestinian resistance to Israeli rule. As a young pharmacist there, Masrujeh joined that resistance. She helped Palestinians injured in clashes with Israeli soldiers. She closed up the pharmacy when Israeli tax collectors came around - like the rest of the town, refusing to pay.

It seemed this pattern might go on forever until 1993, when news broke of a secret peace deal. Masrujeh was 20 years old and as shocked as anyone. For the first time, she imagined a life without conflict.

ABLA MASRUJEH: Why not? I said, why not? We don't have an army. We don't have weapons. I said yes, talks and negotiations is something very encouraging, and felt that there is hope.


HARRIS: Enough hope to stick her neck out and sit down with the enemy. One of Masrujeh's friends met an Israeli woman. Both invited more friends to come together.

MASRUJEH: This was in 1996. It was the first meeting that I saw Israeli face-to-face and that close.

HARRIS: It's less than an hour's drive from Nablus to, say, Tel Aviv, but few Israelis and Palestinians had contact with each other at that time. At the meeting Masrujeh went to, the group laid plans to bring even more people together to begin the process of living side by side as equals and maybe, just maybe, as friends.

MASRUJEH: Bringing a bus of 50 Israeli people to make a tour, organize a concert - music concert. Or, for instance, having a connective dinner to let these people go back to their workplaces, families and talk about what do they see.

HARRIS: Israelis and Palestinians disagree on who should take the first steps toward peace. Masrujeh saw Israel as having the upper hand, so wanted to invest her time and reputation in trying to win Israelis over.

MASRUJEH: Because Israel has the power and they are the conquering people. So the secret is in their hands. It's not in the Palestinian hands.

HARRIS: Joint projects continued. In Israel, the group put together a show of things made by women from both sides. That exhibit went great. A second was scheduled. But by the late 1990s, the peace process had stalled. The occupation continued. On both sides, political leaders fanned growing frustrations.

MASRUJEH: Then the second intifada started in September 2000, and then everything collapsed.

HARRIS: The second Palestinian intifada was the deadliest fighting in decades. Palestinian suicide bombers attacked buses and cafes in Israel. Israeli troops invaded Palestinian towns across the West Bank.


HARRIS: For five days in April 2002, Israeli soldiers and snipers battled Palestinian militants in the narrow stone streets of Nablus's old city. Even then, Masrujeh stayed in touch with her new Israeli friends.

MASRUJEH: One of them, she lives in Tel Aviv. And she was talking to me on the phone, and we had no electricity at that time. We had no water. Everything was damaged.

HARRIS: Israeli soldiers entered Masrujeh's building while the women were talking on the phone.

MASRUJEH: And I told her that they are knocking the door and I'm not sure what will happen.

HARRIS: Her Israeli friend had visited Masrujeh many times, stayed in that home where the soldiers were knocking. But as Masrujeh remembers it now, her friend couldn't quite comprehend what was happening.

MASRUJEH: She was freaked out. And she said, your house - is it possible that in your house there are Israeli soldiers? And I said yes. Not only my house; it's in every house.

HARRIS: Masrujeh expected her Israeli friends to stand up and stop the invasion, not express shock at what the soldiers were doing. Conversations with another Israeli friend were worse. He would call after Palestinian attacks in Israel.

MASRUJEH: He calls me and say, you know what? My son was very close to that attack in Tel Aviv. My cousin was very close to the bus explosion.

HARRIS: Those words stung. She felt like he was suggesting that she was partly responsible.

MASRUJEH: I was really upset. I thought that the peace front or the peace Israeli groups would do any action to stop their government, to stop their army, but they did not. And I lost hope at that time.


HARRIS: Since then, peace talks have stalled and both Israelis and Palestinians have felt wronged by the other side. Palestinians now have a derisive label for the kind of cross-cultural projects Masrujeh used to do - normalization, like pretending everything's normal even while Israeli soldiers control the West Bank. Masrujeh now sees her earlier efforts as naive. She blames her former Israeli friends for her change of mind.

MASRUJEH: They made me change my attitude and my beliefs that it might be peace in the future. But I'm sure there will not be ever because we tried it.

HARRIS: Now Masrujeh supports Palestinian efforts to isolate Israel internationally. She won't go to Israel herself, not even to visit relatives who live there. Emily Harris, NPR News, Nablus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.