On Wednesday 9 July, there were only 13 miles between me and someone I love very much and was hoping to see.
I’ve never actually met her in person. Just hours and hours of Skype and Google+ conversations.
Marah and I met via Dorm Room Diplomacy, a program bringing together undergraduates through videoconferencing to discuss culture and politics. DRD is meant to show people around the world the faces and personalities behind reductionist stereotypes displayed by the media and mainstream political discourse. And it works – because Marah and I have become incredibly close friends through our conversations, and have kept in touch long after the formal sessions were over.
I flew into Tel Aviv on Friday. I went to Jerusalem to see friends for a few days. Wa’ad, another friend met through Marah and Dorm Room Diplomacy, came into the Old City to tour around with us. And then I was going to go into Ramallah to meet Marah, and travel with her to Nablus, where her mother lives. We were going to celebrate iftar, the feast that marks the end of the fasting day during Ramadan. I was going to see the gorgeous mountains surrounding her home.
But 13 miles.
13 miles between West Jerusalem where I was staying and Ramallah where Marah was waiting for me.
In the United States, 13 miles means a twenty-minute drive. In the United Kingdom, 13 miles means a five-pound train ride.
In Israel and Palestine, that 13 miles means a checkpoint and multiple neighbourhoods in conflict with each other. It means going outside when you heard rockets and sirens twelve hours ago. It means potential harassment by IDF soldiers asking your business and Arabs assuming you’re Jewish. It means worrying your friends and your family while you’re on the road and out of touch.
I didn’t meet Marah that week. I had a younger American friend with me who wasn’t comfortable, and I cared too much for her safety and sanity to go. But I cried that day. I cried with frustration that I couldn’t see Marah. I cried for the fact that her sweet Mama, who was looking forward to guests and preparing an even greater feast than usual, wouldn’t get to host those guests.
Most of all, I cried for the people for whom this isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Those 13 miles interfered with my plans once. And it ticked me off. But those – and other – 13 miles do much worse to many others.
I cried for the mothers whose children are across barriers they can’t easily reach.
I cried for the lovers who suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of a wall, with no guarantees about the next time they’ll be able to hold each other.
I cried for the girls who can no longer go to school safely every day.
13 miles. So innocuous, at first glance. And yet so devastating.
Marah, I’ll be back soon. And next time, inshallah, those 13 miles won’t mean anything more than 13 miles means anywhere else.
Becca Farnum is an environmental peacebuilding researcher and educator. She works at the intersections of environmental activism, conflict resolution, and capacity-building with a particular passion for justice and equity, leveraging academia for public service and policy impact. Her work has included contributing to United Nations and International Law Commission policy on environmental peacebuilding; engaging underrepresented students in university learning through Widening Participation initiatives; and a stint with Michelle Obama’s Correspondence Team at The White House. Becca was part of the 2013 AMENDS class and currently serves as the AMENDS Global Fellows Director of Administration.