Imagine a mother walking through a checkpoint from the West Bank into Israel with her critically ill child in tow. This might be the first time she has ever been allowed to enter Israel proper, and maybe she doesn’t speak Hebrew very well. She isn’t allowed to bring a car across the border and does not know how to travel to the Israeli hospital where her child is supposed to receive treatment. This mother is left on the side of the road, at once scared to be in a foreign place alone and worried for her child’s health.
This is where the organization Road to Recovery fills a vital need. Each day, average Israeli citizens meet Palestinian families at border crossings to drive them to life-saving medical appointments. Over 150 such rides take place daily. These rides give Israelis and Palestinians opportunities to get to one to know one another, and over time building mutual respect, trust, dialogue and friendship. For many Israelis, they volunteer with Road to Recovery in addition to their other commitments. The wide range of people that offer their services give Palestinians a diverse, multi-dimensional view of Israelis. It also gives Israelis the opportunity to understand the challenges Palestinians face from a human perspective.
I spoke with Lama, a resident of Hebron and mother to a disabled child. She has received rides from Road to Recovery and said of the experience, “I believe connecting with people on the human level is one of the roads that will lead to ‘recovery’. The recovery of this land and the healing of both people, the Palestinian and the Israeli, from all the wounds that this conflict has so far caused to many souls on this beautiful land.” The West Bank coordinator for the program, Naeem Al-Baeda agrees and said, “I’d like to say that the Palestinian people and the Israeli people are ready and capable and can very easily live as neighbors and as good friends,” he says. “We really wish for it and don’t want anything bad to happen to Israelis or to us. We’re humans living in one land that we can all live in; there’s room for everyone.”
I recently met an Israeli volunteer with Road to Recovery. She said she does this work because she believes people-to-people interactions are vital to change the attitudes of the Israeli people toward peace. There can be feelings of mistrust among the Israeli people toward the Palestinians, fueled by fear that is often unfounded. She believes that when people come to recognize one another’s humanity, it can inspire the empathy and mutual understanding that is vital to joint living. Her experience has made her hopeful for a better future for her own children.
These rides are among the simplest form of grassroots peacebuilding. Outside of the structure of a planned and organized discussion, Israelis and Palestinians find commonalities in the patterns of their daily lives, bond over the shared trials of parenting, and what it’s like for each of them to live on opposite sides of the conflict. These person-to-person interactions can be life-altering, all due to a caring driver, thankful passenger, and a simple, short car ride.