My name is Gili Meisler, I am formerly a Jerusalemite but have lived in Givatayim for many years. I am married with two kids, and I manage a small studio that produces and edits films.
I joined the Parallel Narrative Experience about 5 years ago. The common theme in my cohort was that we all came from bereaved families. My brother Giora was killed in the Yom Kippur War. He was missing in action for almost two years until he was found and buried. A few years ago I made the film “Fireflies” which tells the story of the mystery of him going missing as well as my own story about what happened to me years later in the Far East. The two stories are intertwined with one another.
The joint meetings were etched into all of us, on both sides, especially the first meeting. For a whole weekend, we all stayed at a simple hotel in Beit Jala (next to Har Gilo in Jerusalem). We participated in intense meetings alongside meals and other joint activities, as we began to get to know the other participants.
All of us, certainly on the Israeli side, were especially touched and impressed by the person who was the most recently bereaved. 40-year-old Jihad had lost his son right before his eyes, when he was hit by a bullet in the entrance to their house, three months prior during Operation Projective Edge. Perhaps because his grief was so fresh, it was amazing to meet such an optimistic person, who believes in co-existence and aspires for reconciliation. Jihad got nervous every time it was his turn to speak, but nonetheless he was able to get his point across calmly and with great strength. He told us about his pain and frustration, a little bit about his wife, who cries continuously and rarely leaves the house since the disaster, about his attempts to raise his other children, and about how much the loss impacted his own closest brother, until his brother died suddenly from a heart attack after a month and a half. We learnt that since his tragedy, he hasn’t worked. This is both because it is incredibly difficult for him to return to a regular routine, but mainly because the Israeli security forces put those who have lost family members in the conflict into the category “security forces unauthorized,” meaning someone who has the potential to turn into a terrorist and is therefore not allowed to enter Israeli territory. Until Operation Protective Edge Jihad made his living as a home renovator in the Jewish settlements in the area and in Israel. Since losing his son, he cannot obtain an Israeli entry permit, and is also subjected to other restrictions on his movement. He also told us about his dream, as a devout Muslim who prays daily, to return to the Mosque of Omar to which he has been only once, many years ago.
This dream of his reminded me of the dramatic political change that I went through. During the Yom Kippur War I was 12-years-old, and during the two years that my brother Giora was missing I became filled with hatred and a desire for revenge against all Arabs. During those years I started a right wing youth group, and I joined the activities of the Temple Mount Faithful movement, especially the demonstrations demanding that Jews be allowed to enter and pray on the Temple Mount. Over the years leading up to my enlistment in the army, I underwent a drastic change in my political beliefs when I understood that nothing would bring my brother back to me, when I realized that it doesn’t make sense for me to hate people just because of their ethnic origin, and when I began to look at the conflict from the other side’s point of view as well.
With this loaded part of my own personal history, I could recognize in Jihad’s dream to pray once more at the Mosque of Omar, the personal element which is not political or oppositional, but is rather between him and God. And despite being an atheist and a non-believer, I found myself praying along with him that his dream would come true.
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