NPR recently aired a segment on two bloggers from Gaza and Israel. The Israeli calls himself Hope Man, the Palestinian calls himself Peace Man, and together they write the blog Life must go on in Gaza and Sderot.
Hope Man, a.k.a. Eric Yellin, lives in Sderot, a city that has faced ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza. Peace Man, who writes anonymously out of fear for his safety, lives in Sajaiya, a densely populated Gazan neighborhood with militant activity. In spite of the opposition (and danger, in Peace Man's case) they face from their own communities, the two have, over time, become steadfast friends. Says Hope Man (from the transcript):
HOPE MAN: ... as soon as I started meeting people, it created a real connection and understanding that on the other side of the border, there are people exactly like us who are suffering. We are suffering, too, through this conflict. But the only way to end this was through some kind of connection and dialogue.
NPR: And is that, do you think, the experience of Peace Man in Gaza?
HOPE MAN: Well, absolutely. I think — Peace Man has told me this so many times that, first of all, for him it was the first time ever to meet Israelis. And for him, they were always the enemy, always the oppressor. It took a while to create trust even between the two of us. And I think that over time, we have really become friends. And I think there is full and complete trust. I'd trust him with my life, and I think vice versa.
The two bloggers say that the media coverage of the conflict is "extremely biased" on both sides. They call for an immediate end to the violence and a return to dialogue. Says Peace Man:
We have said from the beginning that violence will bring more violence. I hope the world will understand that’s there people want to live safe with dignity and peace. I hope I will have the chance to write you again.
Hope Man, who is involved with the grassroots peace group Other Voice, says dialogue could have brought about a workable solution to the crisis during the five previous months of ceasefire if leaders on both sides had made a real effort rather than just blaming one another. But if the politicians won't act, he says, he and other residents of Sderot and Gaza will.
What me and others are doing is continuing the dialog with friends in Gaza. We are working to widen and deepen this dialog with more people on both sides. The day after the war we want to start finding ways to work together and create a normality. We are only several kilometers apart and that will never change. It is extremely important to widen our dialog and create trust between those that are willing to talk. To share our stories, fears and hopes.
The day after the war we need a new beginning. Let's start planting seeds of humanity and trust now.
It seems that Hope Man and Peace Man are following Gandhi's advice to "be the change you wish to see in the world." It's easy to be cynical and think that individuals are powerless to alter the decisions from up top. But in the long run, in the grand scheme, leaders react to the social forces surrounding them. Every personal connection across borders makes war less likely. Every instance of Hope and Peace is another trumpet sounding against the walls that separate us.