Israeli Women Share Thoughts on Middle East

Host Debbie Elliott talks with two young Israeli women about the situation in the Middle East. Yara Owayyed is a Palestinian Israeli from Jerusalem, and Inbal Libovits is an Israeli Jew from Haifa. Both are graduates of Seeds for Peace, an organization that tries to get young people on different sides of a conflict zone get to know each other.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott. This weekend we're checking in with young people from the Middle East to get a sense of how they view the latest crisis.

Yesterday we spoke with two Lebanese students in the U.S. on a State Department democracy-building program. Today we hear from two Israeli women who participated in Seeds of Peace, which tries to get Israeli and Palestinian teenagers together to talk through issues that have traditionally divided them.

Inbal Libovits is in Tel Aviv, and Yara Owayyed is in Jerusalem. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. INBAL LIBOVITS: (Seeds of Peace Graduate): You're welcome.

Ms. YARA OWAYYED (Seeds of Peace Graduate): Hello.

ELLIOTT: Inbal, let's start with you. You and your family recently evacuated from Haifa. Can you tell us what it was like there?

Ms. LIBOVITS: Well, we were there the first few days that the whole crisis began, and it was pretty terrifying, actually. I have a young sister who was very terrified and had a very hard time staying there. So after two long days and nights, we decided to get some little bit more piece of mind.

ELLIOTT: Was your home hit by rockets in Haifa?

Ms. LIBOVITS: No, thanks God. My home is standing still, but in Haifa you can hear all the rockets and feel very close no matter where they fall.

ELLIOTT: You said your younger sister had a hard time coping with this?

Ms. LIBOVITS: Uh-huh.

ELLIOTT: What did you tell her?

Ms. LIBOVITS: I don't think there is much to tell. She's adult enough to see for herself and you can't hide from her the reality, and you can't protect her. And she's very scared. She doesn't want to get back home.

ELLIOTT: Yara, let's turn to you now. Unlike Inbal, who is Jewish, you're a Palestinian-Arab Israeli citizen. Can you tell us how the last few weeks have affected you?

Ms. OWAYYED: The last few weeks have been like really hard. My family lives like exactly on the border of Lebanon. So my whole family's like up north and they're like all being bombed, as well, from the rockets of Hezbollah.

ELLIOTT: Is your family safe? Have they been able to get away?

Ms. OWAYYED: Some of them are in the hospital because they got hit by the rockets.

ELLIOTT: How badly wounded are they?

Ms. OWAYYED: My uncle and my cousin, they got hit. The rocket like hit a field where they were working with oranges. They're okay right now, but they're like staying at the hospital for now.

ELLIOTT: How do you view Hezbollah?

Ms. OWAYYED: I do not see myself supporting them in no way. I actually am totally against the way they're working with terrorists and kidnapping people. If they have their view (unintelligible) convey to the world, they'd better do it in a peaceful way because that's the only way things will work (unintelligible) violent.

ELLIOTT: You know, last week the city of Nazareth in Israel was hit by Hezbollah rockets, and that's primarily a city of Israeli Arabs. Two little boys were killed there. Did that change the feelings of Arab-Israelis about this conflict at all?

Ms. OWAYYED: The rocket falling in Nazareth came as a surprise to Arab-Israelis because they did not really expect Hezbollah (unintelligible) toward Arab cities. It's hard to be stuck between the middle, because on one hand we are like expected to support Hezbollah because they are like Arabs, they're trying to help the situation and the Arabs here inside Israel.

But on the other hand, we are being protected by Israel, and I think a lot of Arabs are realizing that the situation that is going on in Lebanon is very wrong and it's hurting ourselves as much as it is hurting the Israeli citizens.

ELLIOTT: Inbal, do you support your government's reaction to Hezbollah?

Ms. LIBOVITS: I think in general I definitely do. I think the fact that Hezbollah is kidnapping soldiers every few years - and you also see now how many rockets they have, and if I was the prime minister of Israel, I don't think that I would allow such a situation, not if it hurts to see the pictures and then you're seeing all the buildings and the...

ELLIOTT: And there are civilians being killed in Lebanon.

Ms. LIBOVITS: I don't know the right way of doing things, and I'm not a military person. I do believe that the Air Force are doing all they can - or at least I hope that they are doing all the can not to harm civilians. But as we know, terrorist organizations are many times staying inside the villages and right next to place where civilians live.

I wish none of the civilians were killed. I really wish. I don't feel good seeing it or knowing it. I don't have an answer.

ELLIOTT: Yara, how do you view the Israeli response?

Ms. OWAYYED: I think it's out of proportion. I realize what Hezbollah is terribly wrong and it shouldn't have taken place. But the actions that Israel took towards Lebanon are beyond trying to get back the soldiers back to Israel.

ELLIOTT: You know, the Seeds of Peace program is aimed at getting young people to learn more about others, people that they may have at one point thought of as their enemies, in hopes that if you spend time together, you're sort of seeing a way to end this age-old conflict. What happens to that sense of hope that you have in light of the recent fighting? Inbal?

Ms. LIBOVITS: Well, my first time in Seeds of Peace was in 1999, so since then I think I've been disappointed many times. So I guess I learned how to keep my hope. I don't think it's easy, but they don't leave us too much choice.

ELLIOTT: Yara, is it a struggle for you?

Ms. OWAYYED: It's really easy because - it's really easy to surrender for hate and just live with the feeling of wow, I hate this person, and I hate Israelis, I hate Palestinians. But I think that most of us are brave enough to fight for what we think and believe in, that the person living next door is not an enemy.

ELLIOTT: Seeds of Peace graduates Inbal Libovits in Tel Aviv and Yara Owayyed in Jerusalem. Thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. LIBOVITS: Thank you, Debbie.

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