An Israeli and a Gazan discover consolation in friendship amid Gaza conflict | EUROtoday

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TEL AVIV — Barak Heymann had been ready two days for some signal of life. He was mendacity awake in a mattress that was not his, excited about an individual he had by no means met. She nonetheless wasn’t responding.

Every morning and each night time when the Israeli filmmaker messaged Om Ayan, the younger Palestinian girl in Gaza, he feared it could be the final time. He started to kind.

“Are you somehow ok??????” he wrote at 1:15 a.m. on Oct. 28.

One verify mark. No response.

They had met on-line in 2019, after Heymann donated to a fund that helped Om Ayan’s father get most cancers therapy within the West Bank, and stayed in contact through the years. They knew the names of one another’s dad and mom and kids, had shared pictures of their properties and hobbies. It was solely a friendship, each stated, by no means romantic. But it was Heymann’s solely window into Gaza and Om Ayan’s solely contact with an Israeli.

The horrors of Oct. 7 and the battle in Gaza introduced them nearer, every discovering within the different a refuge from unhappiness and isolation. Heymann, a peace activist who felt more and more lonely in wartime Israel, knew somebody in Gaza understood him. Om Ayan, below siege and bombardment, knew somebody in Israel was considering of her.

Om Ayan, 28, shared her story on the situation that she be recognized by a nickname, fearing for her household’s security.

It was unusual, Heymann stated, to really feel so linked to her. Yet right here he was, questioning once more if she was nonetheless respiration.

“My dear? are you there??????? please please send me sign of life please,” he had written two days earlier than. They all the time texted in English.

“Im alive dont worry,” she had responded then. “We are not ok.”

Heymann, 48, had already misplaced individuals in Israel. Would he should mourn her too?

On Oct. 7, it was Om Ayan who texted first.

(Video: The Washington Post)

Before the conflict, that they had messaged sporadically, when their busy lives allowed — sending household updates, pictures, nicely needs.

“I hope that it will be the beginning of a beautiful new year for you,” she wrote on Jan. 1, 2023.

In May, her husband obtained a allow to work in Israel. Her daughter Aylin had simply been born.

“Send me his # and i will call him,” Heymann wrote. “Also — I will give him children’s clothes.”

“On the most basic level, we are both parents of young children,” he stated, sitting in his ethereal Jaffa loft on a transparent, heat December day.

“We both shared this sense of a lack of humanity around us,” Heymann stated. “So I think we find comfort in each other.”

It was a friendship he not often talked about in dialog with different Israelis. After Hamas militants and allied fighters streamed into southern Israel on Oct. 7 — killing about 1,200 individuals and taking greater than 250 hostages into Gaza — he was much more hesitant to say it.

Heymann had a highschool classmate who was shot in entrance of her youngsters. The father of an in depth pal was taken hostage by Hamas.

Many Israelis, shocked and traumatized, felt nobody from Gaza may very well be trusted. There have been calls on social media for revenge, for killing everybody in Gaza. He apprehensive about Om Ayan: “It was the first thing I thought about.”

The vitriol was no shock. It was a well-recognized hatred. “If you grow up in Israel, they put in your blood, they put in your veins ever since you are zero years old that everybody is against you,” Heymann stated. “Most of all Arabs.”

But there have been those that resisted, and he had discovered a way of group amongst them. Now, some activists he had protested with, fought for peace with, have been turning their backs on the motion.

“There are so many great reasons for Israeli Jewish people to be afraid for their lives now, and to be full of hate, and rage and the sensation of revenge,” he stated. “It’s natural.”

“To ask or to wish or to demand people in such a condition also to have compassion and mercy for the Palestinian people in Gaza … is unfortunately quite a big thing to ask,” he stated. “And I will keep fighting to change their minds.”

Heymann has Palestinian flags tucked away in his house, which he used to take out for peace marches; he would take photos of the demonstrations and ship them to Om Ayan.

His youngsters attend an Israeli-Palestinian bilingual faculty. He already hopes that his 9-year-old son will refuse necessary army service, even when it means going to jail. There are stickers on his toilet tiles with the identical message in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “Democracy and occupation cannot coexist.”

On the afternoon of Oct. 16, Heymann’s associates known as him, apprehensive. He had posted on Facebook that whereas nothing might justify Hamas’s assault, Israel bore some duty for blockading Gaza and denying Palestinians primary human rights.

His identify, picture and residential tackle have been being posted on right-wing Telegram channels, individuals instructed him. It took him two weeks to inform his accomplice, who was in another country with their youngsters.

But he instructed Om Ayan the identical day.

(Video: The Washington Post)

He moved out of his house and stayed in a pal’s condominium, the place he lay awake that October night time, praying for a response from her.

More than 24 hours later, his telephone dinged.

“They cut off the internet from the Gaza Strip for two days. It just came back, but we don’t have phone charging,” her message learn.

Shortly after Oct. 7, as airstrikes hammered northern Gaza, Om Ayan wrapped up her 7-month-old daughter, hushing her cries, and packed a milk bottle and a lollipop, vaccination papers and medical information. She was two months pregnant together with her second little one.

Before strolling out of her Gaza City condominium, she reached for the important thing — not realizing if she would ever want it once more.

Israel’s conflict towards Hamas has killed greater than 28,000 individuals in Gaza, in keeping with the Gaza Health Ministry, a lot of them girls and kids.

She fled to her mom’s home in Khan Younis, the place she was born. Water, milk and meals for her household have been exhausting to come back by. By the time she messaged Heymann, she had not showered in additional than two weeks.

Om Ayan saved her communications with him a secret.

“It is difficult to explain to the Arabs here that you are talking to an Israeli,” she stated. “[They] may think that you are betraying your country and sharing security news with him.”

In actuality, she was asking if he might ship her some cash, so she might afford flour, a tent, some medicines. And she requested how he was doing, concerning the well being of his mom and kids.

As combating escalated in her hometown, she took her household farther south, to Rafah, the place she and her daughter, husband and his three youngsters from a earlier marriage crammed right into a single tent. Rain poured down, soaking their nylon partitions. Om Ayan instructed Heymann on Dec. 15 that she was apprehensive for her well being.

(Video: The Washington Post)

He was on the way in which to an indication in Tel Aviv when she messaged him. Thousands of Israelis had gathered to name for the discharge of hostages and the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Heymann was certainly one of solely a handful of protesters to name for an finish to the conflict.

Onlookers shouted curses at them.

(Video: The Washington Post)

On Dec. 30, Om Ayan escaped Gaza. Her brother had citizenship out of the country and utilized to get his relations out. The paperwork got here via after weeks of ready.

“There is hope that’s maybe maybe you will be out of this nightmare soon?!?! I pray for you all the time,” Heymann wrote when he discovered.

But leaving introduced its personal agony for Om Ayan, who requested that her present location not be disclosed for safety causes. Her husband’s three older youngsters weren’t allowed to come back with them and needed to keep behind with their aunts in Rafah. They have been already sick from sleeping outdoors within the chilly. Her husband wept.

She wrote to Heymann the day she crossed the border.

“I am now safe. I have escaped the death of Israeli bombing.”

“Amazing, amazing!” he cheered in a voice word. “Wow I am so happy that you left.”

“My sisters and children are still under bombardment there” she stated. “😭😭”

“I pray for them dearest,” he replied.

Now, in an odd condominium of her personal, Om Ayan reaches for her daughter in the course of the night time, as she did in the course of the nights below bombardment. Doctors inform her she has hypertension that might put her being pregnant at risk. Try to loosen up, they inform her. But she is glued to the information, terrified for these nonetheless trapped in Gaza.

Heymann raised cash for her household to assist them alter to their new lives. He continues to attend peace rallies, generally bringing his son alongside.

When his accomplice and children left Israel for the winter, he determined to remain.

“It’s my memories and it’s my language and it’s my food,” he stated. “I will always fight in order to make it a better place.”

Om Ayan feels the identical pull of house, however her home has been destroyed. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever be capable to return. But she hopes someday she will be able to meet her Israeli pal.

“Just to look him in the eyes,” she stated, “would be nice.”

Hajar Harb in London contributed to this report.