It all started about 13 years ago when a dear woman named Tzvia invited a Palestinian family to a private family event. At the end of the event, the Palestinian father asked how far the sea was, and she replied that it wasn’t far and could be seen.
And so it was, the family that never saw the sea, the children who did not know what a sea was, went crazy for joy and happiness. In a brief moment and without much effort, a dream came true, a dream that Israelis take for granted every day. All along the country, not far away, there is always a beach that you can visit to enjoy the sunset, to relax in the summer, to surf the waves even in the winter days. It is always an amazing experience and is an integral part of life of the Israeli people.
On that day, Tzvia realized that it was not similarly accessible to residents of the West Bank. Although the sea is not too far away from them, it is unreachable. There are borders and barriers and crossing is not permitted.
This was the starting point for a women’s project- “Min El Bahar” – “Women of the sea”. Tzvia and several of her friends, Rachel, Riki and Amira, believed it should be possible for Palestinians to access the sea, and together they founded the “Min El Bahar” Association, which overcomes governmental barriers and hosts as many families as possible from the West Bank, especially women and children. They work very hard to get the necessary permits for a fun day at the Tel-Aviv beaches during summer vacation. After a lot of logistical work, buses fill up with women and children, every time one bus from a different village. For most of them, it’s the first time they see the sea. Thirteen years during each summer, hundreds of families have hosted. The day started with a fun morning at the beach, lunch together, children’s activities, and women’s discussion groups
The human connection is formed immediately, usually without knowing the other’s language. No more is needed than reaching out a hand and smiling. For a moment we all forget that the meeting is between neighbors without neighborly relations, a meeting against the backdrop of decades of conflict managed by politicians who do not bring solutions and sometimes the opposite, increasing the gap and distance. For many years, on both sides, the residents have been divided by systems that strengthen the enmity and hatred, and yet, at the moment of the encounter, magic is created and hardened hearts soften.
The shared experience at sea allows the participants to bridge the gaps, rejoice in singing together, dance and play, and hear the stories of the other side, to learn and know the other and to hope. They make new connections and friendships, get a hug, and give a hand.
The women of the sea group, with the help of many volunteers who take part in the activity and enable it over the years, manage to maintain a new world, a parallel world, a world of giving, joy, and hope. Managing seeds of hope for the future of our child, experiencing moments of sanity and understanding that can truly be otherwise, live and let live.
I have volunteered for two years to support this important activity and at the end of each day I see how the hosted families take a piece of the dream home. Perhaps for them it will never be possible to come back. I see them taking selfies with the sea, or collecting small seashells, or writing prayers in the sand…
When I go home, I am always excited, with a big smile that lingers for hours. I am already waiting for the next trip to the sea with more potential friends. Yet at the same time I feel my heart ache. I know that our lives as Israelis and Palestinians could be different if only we could all see each other not as enemies but as humans with complex backgrounds and needs, yet ones who ultimately wish for peace and friendship.