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Sand in their shoes - An interview with Sahar Vardi and Jennifer Bing

Sahar Vardi and Jennifer Bing
Sahar Vardi, left, and Jennifer Bing work for AFSC in Jerusalem and Chicago, respectively. Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

AFSC staff in Chicago and Jerusalem talk about their work for peace and justice in this January 22, 2014 interview. You can read the full interview here. Below, Jennifer Bing and Sahar Vardi talk about what motivates them.

Jennifer Bing: I’m trying to think of an abbreviated answer. I’m trying to not sound cliché. The people and the work motivate me. Of course, knowing people in Palestine and Israel, having personal relationships. I’m in my 25th year at AFSC, I’ve had the time to meet a lot of amazing people, Palestinians and Israelis, who are giving their lives to making a better future for their children and future generations, and taking risks and celebrating life.

If I ever feel like I want to give up, I just think of all the people I’ve known over the years. Sahar noticed I have a picture of my colleague from Gaza in my office. And if I ever felt like I don’t have it in me anymore – one more speaking tour, one more e-mail to respond to, to explain the situation…. I think about Amal and the people living under occupation. I can’t just set that aside. I could say similarly in this country, I’ve seen the lack of understanding about people from the Middle East, about Muslims, and anyone of Middle Eastern background, and the lack of appreciation for the culture, which leads to Islamaphobia and racist attitudes.

I do feel a responsibility as a person who has connected with this community for so many decades, to share my experience and challenge those misconceptions. So I stay motivated by knowing there’s still a need to do the work. But it’s the people who you meet along the way who keep you at it.

People joke about, if you go and live in the Middle East, you’ll get sand in your shoes which you’ll never get out. And that sand is those relationships.

Sahar Vardi: I think there are two levels. On the small scale, what I’ve found for me that’s most important, is not getting depressed, because things can be rather depressing, is to find those small victories which Jennifer mentioned. And to be able to say, OK, I do a certain activity and I can see the result of it.

The simplest thing that I get to do on a daily basis is when people want to get out of the army. You’re addressed by this 18-year-old kid who’s supposed to join the army in two weeks, doesn’t want to, can’t even think about being in that situation, but has no choice, in a sense, and has no idea what to do.  And you work with him for a while and eventually, you get the phone call saying, “I got the card, I’m out, I don’t have to do military service.” It’s really small, on the one hand, but on the other, for that person, you literally gave them another two to three years of their life. Something that’s very important for them.

So finding those kinds of things, even if they’re small, feeling like you’re actually making a difference.

On the larger scale of things, I’m not even sure that “motivation” is the right word for me. I don’t think I have a choice. I’m from Jerusalem, it’s where I feel at home, is the only home I’ve known, I want to continue living there, but I can’t continue to live there as things are now and just ignore it.

The reality is such that, again, over one-third of my city doesn’t have the same rights I do. Even legally, on the most superficial level, we’re living completely different realities. For me, that’s not something I can just ignore. So even if I’m depressed and not motivated at all, to continue to live where I want to be, it forces me to take a stand to try to change the place into what I want it to look like.

To read the complete interview, click here.