How two women — an Israeli and a Palestinian — forged a friendship that endures through war

The World
Gal and Rawan in the film by Lisa Gossels "My So-Called Enemy"
Gal and Rawan in the film by Lisa Gossels "My So-Called Enemy"

Courtesy Gal, Rawan and Lisa Gossels

Despite living on opposite sides of one of the world's deepest cultural divides, Gal and Rawan have been part of each other's lives for more than a decade. 

Rawan is Palestinian and Muslim. And Gal — you guessed it — is Israeli and Jewish. The women live in different parts of Jerusalem. They first met as teens more than a decade ago during a visit to the United States. It was run by an organization called Building Bridges, which brings together Israeli, Palestinian and American youths for weeks of conversation and dialogue. The gathering was documented by Lisa Gossels in a film called "My So-Called Enemy."

When Rawan and Gal returned from the US, they remained friends. Rawan is now in Turkey, but lived in Jerusalem until very recently. Gal still lives in the city. They both say having a true friend on the opposite side of the conflict changes everything. 

"If I want to know what things are like on the eastern side of Jerusalem ... I have someone to ask," Gal says. "So many people don't have the ability to ask questions."

Otherwise, Israelis and Palestinians have to rely on the media, which tends to offer caricatures of the opposing side. Both women say the coverage of the current conflict — the third that Rawan and Gal have lived through in the past seven years — has furthered stereotypes.

"The manifestation of hatred and violence has gone beyond any imagination," Rawan says. "I mean, I don't want to think about the numbers, but the numbers are there. It's not a comparison of who is getting more pain."

Both Gal and Rawan say their friendship keeps them rooted in the perspectives of the other society. "With people like Gal on the other side, there is the possibility of not only seeing the conflict from someone else's perspective, but also seeing that there are certain things that are wrong," Rawan says. And for Gal, rather than simply viewing the war in terms of Israel's left vs. right debate, she is able to ask bigger questions. "For me, as a person who sees 'the other,' we need to ask ourselves what 'the other' gets from the policy that we're creating," she says.

Gal says voices calling for dialogue are silenced on both sides of the conflict. "In a time of war there is a phrase in Hebrew: 'Sheket, yorim,' meaning, 'Quiet, there is shooting,' " Gal says. "In times of war, I understand that it's hard to voice these type of voices. And in Israel, they're definitely being silenced."

Rawan agrees that perspectives that urge dialogue are being suppressed. "In times of violence it is hard to listen to a different voice," Rawan says. "It's easy to make invisible any voice that is not in support of 'Let's defend ourselves, and if that cost is killing everyone else let's do it.' But unfortunately it's a common feeling. It's like survival mode."

In her family, Rawan says that's not the case. "My mom's only thing was like, 'I lived through multiple wars, and I would like to die one day living in a time with no war.'" she remembers. "I think I would like to listen to my mother and I would like to be one of those people who one day give her a few years of no war."

There's one final, crucial point of agreement as well: both women say their bond is unshakeable. "I can tell you that I love Rawan dearly," Gal says. "I don't think that political issues will break our friendship."