It’s probably only appropriate that at the graduation ceremony for Bar Ilan University’s Conflict Management and Negotiation program, I witnessed my first Israeli-Arab walkout.
I studied in the program the same years as a secularish Arab girl from around Uhm Al Fahm. She’s probably around my age, with an assertive nature and a big, warn smile – the kind that involves her eyes. She participated in class, she joked with the rest of us.
It was nice to see her at the ceremony. We nodded hellos and I noticed her family was present to support her – her religious-looking parents, her secular sisters and her little nephews. With one of her nephews, hanging around where I stood in the back of the room, I played peekaboo. He’s probably a few months older than Koala and just as charming.
As it always goes at the end of an Israeli ceremony, the musicians got ready to play Hatikva, and everyone stood. The Uhm Al Fahm clan stood… and politely, inconspicuously, walked out. As my classmate walked past, I looked up at her and matched her sigh-resembling smile.
Who am I? What do I believe? A degree in conflict management taught me a lot, but living in Israel taught me, perhaps, too much. Even if I left this country tomorrow, I could never go back to who I was before I lived here. I don’t know if it’s living next to the green line. Or that it’s become normal to occasionally shop alongside Israeli-Arabs, stand on line with Israeli-Arabs. I don’t know if it’s being exposed to a class of people who look just like me, only… only…
She chose to attend Bar Ilan, an openly religiously oriented and Zionist institution. She chose to do this degree, and she chose to participate in whatever she had to get to today. But she also chose not to go too far, not to stay for the national anthem. I suppose that’s conflict management after all: peace is a sleepy dream; conflict management is making choices.
Well, my term in Bar Ilan couldn’t have ended on a more appropriate note.