I’m not denying the need for empowerment amongst Arab women in northern Israel. However, it was difficult for me to classify these women as poor and then to visit their materially wealthy homes. Yes, because of cultural traditions of patriarchy these women are less educated and less inclined to stand up for their rights and needs within their communities. On the other hand, these women can move freely, have access to Israeli healthcare, are well fed, and live in nice homes. I understand need is relative, but it was extremely hard to travel back and forth from Jericho where I’d encounter women who not only lacked empowerment, but also suffered from poverty, little access to good healthcare, and the inability to move freely amongst their own people and villages. As a result, I began to view empowerment workshops as somewhat of a luxury.
Moving regularly between the West Bank and Israel became extremely traumatizing for me. Articulating this is difficult. In Jericho, my emotions were heightened. Not only from being with someone I love, but seeing and living his and his neighbors struggles every day. In Haifa, I felt the need to guard my emotions. People aren’t warm and welcoming, in fact they are often cold and aggressive. I also wasn’t surrounded by willing friends, caring family and homemade food.
I tried to like Haifa, I really did. But I felt alienated by my inability to speak Hebrew, and I felt defensive about my sensitivities toward the West Bank and my Arab friends. While Haifa is mixed, I soon came to realize that just because Israeli’s can name a token Arab friend, doesn’t mean they politically accept Arab rights to any of their land. Speaking to Israelis in Haifa, I experienced a lot of contradiction. People who believed they were open-minded and indiscriminate, in fact subconsciously bought into the political propaganda that had been so deeply planted most likely in their military years. I have some wonderful Israeli friends in Haifa, but I felt the need to avoid politics whenever in their presence.