Interview: Osama Suliman
For this blog, I simply wanted to allow the inspiring, generous, and courageous students of The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, located on Kibbutz Ketura in Southern Israel, to speak for themselves. In a region torn by conflict, the Arava Institute brings together Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and international students to learn about the Earth–and each other. The Expedition team spent several days with them, conducting interviews, eating at the dining hall together, and doing late-night karaoke more than once. Here are just a few of their stories:
Osama Suliman Amman, Jordan:
In Arabic we have a saying, “The sword has two blades: either you can use it for good, or you can cut yourself with it.” It’s the same with water: you can use it for peace or it can be a source of conflict.
Where I come from, Amman, we get water delivered only one day a week, which forces people to minimize their water use. My mom does the washing and the cleaning only that one day a week, and we shower as little as we can. It’s hard, but we know that it’s important.
I heard about the Arava Institute from a friend. My friend was at University with me, and then suddenly he disappeared for four months. When he got back, I said, “Where have you been?”
He said, “I’ve been to this amazing environmental studies program. It’s abroad.”
I said, “Where is it?”
He said, “It’s in Israel.”
My first reaction was, “You’re crazy! You went to Israel? They’re the enemy!” As with any Jordanian originally from Palestine, you think of Israel as the enemy on the other side of the border. We’re at war with them. To hear a different perspective from a friend of mine was a shocking thing. But because he was my friend, I was willing to listen.
So I said, “Tell me more.” After a while, I was really interested in coming here and meeting the Other. I thought I would come only one semester just to try, and I would probably stay on only one or two weeks. But I ended up staying for four years!
When I came here, it was really a transformational point in my life. It changed me 180 degrees. I realized that on the other side of border, we all share things. I put the conflict aside. The other side is not the enemy anymore. There’s Arik, there’s David—they’re Jewish and they’re close friends of mind. I can’t talk about ‘the enemy’ anymore. So maybe this is a bridge we can build between us. If we can discuss water, the environment, it will open channels.
The thing is, it’s not about being here at Arava. The work is not here. The work is when you get back home. Can you resist the flow of hatred and conflict that’s in the whole region? Can you maintain? When you’re here, it’s great—it’s a peace oasis. But can the real work happen outside of here? I’m always questioning myself on this.
Gavriel Vinegrad Golan Heights, Israel:
My parents are English. They came to Israel in 1967, after the war, to live on a kibbutz. We live in the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in ‘67, conquered from Syria. I don’t really understand why my parents, who taught me to be peace loving, settled there in occupied territories, but that was there choice.
As soon as I heard about the Arava Institute, I understood that it’s an amazing place. We study in English, with Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians all together. I share my room with a Jordanian. Up until 1994, Israel was at war with Jordan.
Our slogan is “Nature knows no borders.” With the environment, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. We have to collaborate, taking care of nature together, sharing our water resources. Just because there’s a fence between Jordan and Israel doesn’t mean that we manage this bit and you that bit. There are Bedouins who cross borders, and water that crosses borders. You go up and down the Jordan River, and you see animals crossing, streams crossing. All that there is, is all that there is of nature—not what’s within our borders. That’s why we’ve got to learn to share knowledge like we do here at Arava. I’d like to see more places like this in the world. Here we have Israelis and Palestinians living together, and there’s no signed declared peace. This is a seed. It’s happening here.
I wish that there would be no more borders. I believe in the future humans will evolve to that level, where we don’t need to live according to this illusion that there’s “us” and “them” and we need to be separated, because there’s only one earth.
Yousre Odeh Nablus, West Bank:
I’m from Nablus village in Palestine. My family is all from there. My mother and father were born there. We are a big family: I have five brothers and five sisters. My father is a retired school manager, my mother a retired teacher.
Some of the people from my village think it’s bad to live with Israeli people. But I am doing what I believe in. I think it’s a good program. I’m getting so much information and knowledge about the environment and water scarcity. So I think I can help people in my society when I come back.
It was hard for me to come here because I had to be cleared by Israeli security. My permission didn’t arrive until only one week before the beginning of the program. I was really wondering if I would get the permission or not.
I’ve been here for two months, and I haven’t been able to visit my family. One reason is that if I want to go there, there are so many checkpoints. The one in Jerusalem is the hardest one, and the one in my village. My village is between two checkpoints, so I’m always worried about that. I could spend a lot of time waiting for my turn to cross the checkpoint. So for that reason I don’t go home.
In class, we had a discussion about war in Gaza. We had an exercise where we would hold sticks to indicate we are angry, and dry leaves of trees to mean we feel sadness. First I took the leaves. I couldn’t control myself. I was really sad when I started to talk about the war in Gaza: the people killed in that war, the people still in jail, the people who are still refugees who haven’t been able to come back to Palestine and see their villages. After that I moved to the sticks and I said, “I am angry because I can do nothing to stop this war.” After that I looked around and saw most of the audience was crying and they were feeling with me, even the Israelis. It was good and I felt proud of myself for making them feel with me for the people who live in Gaza.
When I come back to my country, I know my friends and my family and I will try to affect my society by educating them about water and the scarcity of water. Maybe now we have enough water so that we don’t feel water will be scarce. But in future, it will be, if we don’t take care of it at this time. I want to do that.