I first went on a desert trip with Musalaha 10 years ago. I was just 21. It actually wasn't very fun. I had wanted to go, but that very week I wasn't in the mood to meet with Israelis.
I had just had a hard time at the checkpoint; they hadn't treated me well as a Palestinian. I was going to Ramallah with my friend and a colleague in the car, and one of the soldiers humiliated me. He was so rude, and made me get out of the car and asked "Who is that chick next to you?" I was annoyed, as she was my colleague and he was not talking about her in a nice way.
Then he saw that I wasn't happy with the way he talked to me, so he said "Read that number plate over there." I felt like he was insulting me. I argued with him, "Why do you want me to read it?"
I'm not a man who likes to fight, but he was being very rude to me.
My friend was telling me just to read it, but I didn't want to. I started to read it very slowly, and then he dropped his pen. He said, "Pick it up." And I thought, "I've had enough." When I refused, he put his gun against my head and said, "You will." I said, "Do whatever you want. I will not pick it up." After that, he didn't make me pick it up, but we had to wait three hours at the checkpoint without our ID.
I wasn't feeling like going on a trip to meet with Israelis would be good, but I'm a person who likes to face the situation. If I have fear, I want to face it. If I have a problem, I want to confront it because it will get out of control.
I thought to myself, "Okay, I will deal with the Israelis as foreigners as I am meeting them abroad in Jordan, not as soldiers in their uniforms." On the first day it was okay, but in the evening it got hard. We had to get into paris, each Palestinian with an Israeli, and tell one another three things about each other.
I wasn't luck. The guy who I was with was an Israeli officer in the army. I told him that I was from Bethlehem. And I told him my story. Then it was his turn. He looked like a tough man and he told me that he knew Bethlehem well as he had been there during the second intifada. He was in my city in a tank and I thought, "Now I am sitting with him!"
After that, I don't remember anything else about what he talked about. I just saw black. I put him in the place of each soldier I had met that week. It was hard. I felt that I didn't like him at all.
Late that same night, I told myself that I didn't want to leave it like that with him. I wanted to talk with him. He is the one who gave me this feeling so I have to talk to him. So I went to him and asked to talk. He's my age. I told him how it made me feel and that I found it hard that he was in the army. He looked at me and said, "Zaire, listen. I am sorry for what my people do. I am sorry for the things that have happened to you. But also understand that people like me, I have to do things that I don't want to do. The army forces me to do things. So imagine how difficult it is in my heart."
I felt his pain too. I realized that not all soldiers are bad; they are doing their jobs.
We prayed together, and on the last day, I shared my story. I was happy that I could influence people.
I've been away with Musalaha often since then. It has helped me so much as we learn the history of the other side, about their government and their political system, too. They don't know about our system either, so it is really good. We learn to think and talk about the on-going political situation.
Because of Musalaha, I don't forget about reconciliation. However long the conflict continues, we need to carry on meeting with each other. We need to influence the next generation.
I now have the Israeli friends who are very kind to me. We call each other up and see how we are both doing. It was very hard last summer as my Israeli friend was fighting in Gaza. We kept in conflict throughout the violence.
We need to be kind to each other. It takes time, but I believe in it. We are in one family. We believe in one God. It is important to sit together as one family. Musalaha brings us together. If I was to go on my own, I would be scared, but when there are more of us, it's much easier.
*Zaire's name has been changed for confidentiality reasons.