Israeli and Palestinian Roommates Find Common Ground — Far From Home

Interns Talk Nice While Violence Rages in Holy Land

nathan guttman

By Nathan Guttman

Published July 10, 2014, issue of July 25, 2014.
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News of the mounting crisis in Israel caught two young interns, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, far away from home.

At their host family’s house in northwest Washington, both tried to keep up to date. Yehonatan Toker, 28, rushed to the Internet to catch up on news and to read emails from his Israeli friends, emails that conveyed the sense of anger and frustration many shared following the events.

Hamze Awawdeh, 24, watched news reports showing the burnt car used by the Jewish teens’ kidnappers and immediately recognized the surroundings. The car was found outside his hometown of Dura, south of Hebron. He later heard from his mother that Israeli soldiers conducting searches for the missing teens killed her cousin’s son.

But still, they sat down, an Israeli reserve officer and a Palestinian nationalist from a well-known political family, and discussed the events.

“And guess what? We had a decent conversation, and we both got to see that there’s humanity in the other side,” Toker said. “What we are doing now is exactly how we will try to prevent the next murder.”

“I really felt bad,” Awawdeh said, sitting next to Toker in a downtown coffee shop, trying to escape the capital’s sweltering heat. “Even though I disagree with the settlers, I don’t disagree with their right to live. It’s my responsibility and their responsibility to prevent the violence.”

Toker and Awawdeh met in Washington, where they are participating in a unique internship program sponsored by New Story Leadership, an organization that brings emerging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to America’s capital.

Each works for a group representing the interests of the other side: Awawdeh spends his days at the offices of Americans for Peace Now, a pro-Israel group committed to promoting a two-state solution, while Toker heads to the American Task Force on Palestine, a pro-Palestinian organization that shares the same goal. After work they ride the metro to the home of Molly Holt, their host, and share stories over dinner.

“It’s like a family dinner anywhere,” Holt said. “My mission is to create a safe place to exchange ideas.” She has hosted Israelis and Palestinians before, but never at the same time.


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