We Just Want To Live Here
A Palestinian Teenager, An Israeli Teenager – An Unlikely Friendship
Amal Rifa'i and Odelia Ainbinder with Sylke Tempel
St. Martin Griffin
US ed. 2003, 153 pages
I Am Khan
2010 Bollywood Movie
With English Subtitle
I picked up the book loaned to me by a good friend thinking I could finish it in one setting but I was wrong and I ended up reading the same in installments. The thin book can actually be read in installment without losing one's way considering it is a moderated exchange of letters. A topic is given and the girls exchange their thoughts on matters such as Talking About Myself, Thinking About the other, Intifada, Travel, Jerusalem, School, The army, and How I become what I am.
Along the way, the exchange between the girls becomes an invitation to review the Middle East conflict and to peep to the wishes and dreams of common people who lived their lives caught up in conflicts. Yes, the title sums up everything: We just want to live here.
I believe that the violence and discrimination happening right now anywhere in the world in the guise of national policy may be stopped when national leaders consider how the common people simply wanted to walk peacefully in their streets, go to school, get a job and have a family. Whether one is a Jew or Muslim, one can find commonness in this simple dream.
I watched the Indian movie I Am Khan, and it was a story of an autistic Indian Muslim who came to live in the US and suffered discrimination after the 9/11 attack. He remembered what his mother taught him: There are only two kinds of people, the good people and the bad people. In the story, he married a Hindu, a blasphemy according to his only brother. He lost his stepson to a racial attack and his wife gave up on him, and shouted at him that he should see the president and tell him that he is not a terrorist. While on his way to doing what he was told by his wife, Khan came to help a Christian community and went to their church despite he is a Muslim. He was detained for being a terrorist suspect. He was also able to foil a possible terrorist attack after hearing a hate speech in a local mosque. In the end, he was able to finally meet the President.
One conclusion for the book and the movie, RELIGION cannot bind us but GOODNESS towards another human being does. The two girls in the book may live in Jerusalem but they cannot form friendship because they are not allowed to do so and they were made to believe that they are each other's enemy. But actually, when given the chance, they can be kind, loving and good to each other. Same with the movie, people are not classified as good and bad according to their religion but according to their deeds. Once hate is espoused, hostility results. Once kindness is given, kindness is also returned.
I am lucky to read and watch these two at the same time because the message became twice meaningful.