I must admit that when I sat down to talk to Nayar Maraji, I expected to get a torrential downpour of criticisms about Israeli policy toward Palestinians. “I just want peace,” she told me while casually playing with an empty pack of cigarettes on the table. We are sitting outside a café at Rothberg International School at Hebrew University. Nayar is an old classmate of mine” she is studying at Hebrew University in Mechina, a program created to introduce students to the main university.
She was born in Jerusalem, and now, at age 18, she still lives in there without citizenship. She admits to being “undeniably Palestinian” and recalls being “teased about being Palestinian” when she was younger. Her ID card, a few inches smaller than a passport, actually works like a passport. In the spot marked “citizenship,” there is a disconcerting emptiness. Forced to live a dualistic lifestyle, she lives in a cluttered amalgamation of angst, hope and echoes of history. If Nayar became Palestinian, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to travel between Israel and Palestine in order to visit family and friends. However, Nayar’s lack of citizenship does not stop her from receiving a first-class education in Israel universities and health coverage, among many other perks of living in Israel. According to Nayar, she could become Israeli, but the restrictions imposed upon her would be too much of a sacrifice. Nayar explained that Israel would force her to stop speaking Arabic, relocate her to a non-Arab neighborhood, and would check on her to make sure she was not cavorting with the “enemy.” However, Nayar understandable perplexity and frustration toward Israeli bureaucracy ended there. She is pro-peace, and to her that means coexisting with Israel. Matching her unknown citizenship, Nayar refuses to side with partisan politics. She proclaimed indifference to Israeli-Palestinian religious and political bouts.
After speaking to her for a few minutes, Nayar introduced me to a classmate, Marianna. Her English was perfected in San Diego after her family escaped Bethlehem at the onset of the first Intifada. Bethlehem, not just Gaza and the West Bank, was an extremely dangerous place to be. A strict curfew was imposed as soon as Israel invaded the city Ã¢â‚¬” it was lifted for a scant three hours, allowing enough time for Marianna and her family to rush past an unprepared soldier. Claiming to have left their documents in a hotel in Jerusalem, they instead rushed into Jordan and soon thereafter immigrated to the United States. She returned just two years ago. “I am here for good now,” she says. “There is something special about Israel. It is so important to so many people, very culturally rich.
I pressed Nayar for some extra details when she explained her belief that most Palestinians wanted peace and do not care about living around Israelis. The problem she articulated was one of Israeli settlements, a problem the Obama administration has expressed to Israel. Traditional Zionists believe in a plot of land belonging to the Jewish people that only they should live on. Nayar told me about families kicked out of their homes, left with no place to go. She resents this, not just because of the obvious injustice, but because it is an impediment to peace.
There are extremists in both camps that have too much sway. Hamas violently controls Gaza, while factional religious orthodoxy in the Knesset is given great power disproportionate to its constituency.
Among all the complexities, misunderstandings and petty bickering, it is easy to lose sight of what matters most: permanent peace and coexistence. But Nayar made me a believer: I had not known political views like these existed. Of course, Jerusalem is a special place. Most importantly, it offers a chance at coexistence. Israelis and Palestinians are not incompatible neighbors, but it will take moderates on both sides of the conflict to rise to the occasion and make their voices heard. When I asked Nayar to summarize her views, she replied, “Peace at any cost.” That is the only kind of extremism that should be brought to the table.