”Över hela landet syns moskéer, kyrkor och synagogor”

Hej Kim
Först och främst vill jag tacka dig för ditt initiativ.

Jag har förstått att människor i Sverige inte känner till båda sidorna i konflikten mellan israeler och araber och de har ingen aning om vad som händer här i det dagliga livet. Jag vill hjälpa er att förstå mer genom att berätta om några av mina erfarenheter.

Först och främst är ISRAEL DEN ENDA DEMOKRATIN i regionen (titta bara på vad som händer i Syrien). I Israel kan vem som helst säga vad som helst – när som helst. Muslimer, judar och kristna har samma rättigheter.

Själv har jag studerat vid tre olika högskolor och det fanns flera muslimer som läste på samma skolor och vi hade inga problem med studera ihop – vi hjälpte varandra för att få så bra resultat på tentorna som möjligt, vi delade material med varandra, osv.

Över hela landet syns moskéer, kyrkor och synagogor. Alla kan be i fred, i enlighet med sin religion.

Tyvärr hör man ingenting på nyheterna om alla dessa dagliga erfarenheter. Människor i Sverige får bara höra en sida av sanningen – men sanningen har två sidor.

Jag vill bjuda in alla svenskar att komma hit. Vi har ett underbart land.

Igår cyklade jag till Tel Aviv och jag såg en massa turister som hade det bra. Vädret var utmärkt och det var lagom varmt. Havet var blått och stämningen…fantastisk.

För en vecka sedan var jag i Jerusalem med hela familjen och vi såg araber, judar och kristna som respekterade varandra.

Israeler tycker inte om krig. Vi vill ha fred. Tro mig. Jag bor här och jag vet vad jag pratar om.

Lis 🙂

Översättning: Ingrid Olsson.
Read this letter in English. 

”All over the country you can see Mosques, Churches and Synagogues”

Hi Kim
First of all I want to bless you for your initiative.

I see that people in Sweden don’t know about both sides of the Israeli-Arab problem and they have no idea about what is happening here in the everyday life. I want to help you to know more about it through sharing a few experiences.

First of all Israel is the ONLY DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY in the area (take a look at what is going in Syria). In Israel anyone can say what he wants, whenever he wants. Muslims, Jews and Christians have equals rights.

I personally studied in three institutes during my life and there were a lot of Muslims that studied in the same institutes and we didn’t have any problem to be together in the same classes, we helped each other in order to get the best scores in the exams, we gave learning material to each other, etc. etc.

All over the country you can see Mosques, Churches and Synagogues; everyone can pray in peace, according to her religion.

Unfortunately in the news you don’t see about all these daily experiences. People in Sweden are exposed just to one side of the truth, but the truth has two sides.

I invite all Swedish people to come here, we have an extremely great country.

Yesterday I went to Tel Aviv by bike and I saw a lot of tourists having a good time, the weather was excellent and comfortably warm.  The sea was blue and the mood… fantastic.

One week ago I was in Jerusalem with all my family, we saw Arabs, Jews, tourists, Christians respecting each other.

Israeli people don’t like war; we prefer to live in peace. Believe me, I live here and I know what I’m talking about.

Lis 🙂

Read this letter in Swedish.

”As if it’s a Star of David carved on your forehead”

In August 2008 I participated in VOX PACIS, ”Voices for Peace” music conference in Stockholm. I was a singer in an Israeli ensemble, and we met musicians who came from all over the world: Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Georgia, Israel, Greece, Egypt, Morocco, India, China, even traditional performers and buddhist monks in red-orange robes came
from Tibet.
We all lived for 2 weeks in the small youth hostel in Skeppsholmen and most of our rehearsals and concerts were held in Sofia Kyrka, the beautiful 100-year old church standing on a hill overlooking the entire city and beautiful bay. The final concert was to be held in the marvelous Stockholm City Hall (where they give the Nobel prize), where all the musicians will sing together a musical piece specially written for the occasion, accompanied by an orchestra.

I wish to tell you about something strange that happend to me during the trip.

As part of the conference, all groups performed their music in the morning while the other groups watched, at noon we had lunch break and later we continued to rehearse for the final show or do more concerts for outside audience, usually in the Sofia church. One
morning our Israeli group appeared in concert before the other groups, and a solo I performed was slightly off. Harsh remarks from my strict choir-mistress sent me into an angry, grudging mood. We had another concert in the afternoon, but instead of riding the bus to the church with everyone else after lunch break, I walked on foot through the streets since I was angry and wanted to be alone. Before I went up the hill and into the church I entered a small bar on a street-corner, I wanted to buy myself a drink to calm my nerves.

”Hi, I’d like a chaser of Grant’s, please”
A dark-haired youth raised himself from a stool behind the bar and stared at me suspiciously.
”A what?”
”Grant’s. The whiskey? I’d like to have a chaser please” I pointed to the bottle on the shelf behind him. He looked at me as if I had said something obscene.
”A minute” said the boy and went into the back room. He returned with a tall, dark and heavy-set man, the owner of the bar, who was apparently his father or uncle. He looked at me with the same suspicion and talked to me as if serving customers in his own business was the greatest bother and pain in his life. I almost started to feel guilty for disturbing him from doing something that was obviously much more important for him. His accent was unmistakably Arabic.

”What do you want?”
”Well, I’d just like a chaser of Grant’s whiskey, please”

We looked deeply into eachother’s eyes for a short moment that seemed to stretch forever, and I was washed by a familiar feeling, a feeling that many of you Swedish readers may never understand: the feeling that the person you are talking to knows you are a Jew. You never said it, but somehow he simply knows, as if it’s a Star of David carved on your forehead, and from the moment you look in his eyes, you know that he knows, and you know that he has opinions on Jews, and they are covered by a very thin veil of basic politeness. All of this happens in no more than 2-4 seconds.

”Just a minute, let me get a glass” he said, and went into the kitchen. Why, why can’t you use any glass sitting on the bar? Why do you need a special glass for me? What are you going to put in it? Why am I even having such ridiculous and evil thoughts? That’s what was going through my mind. He came back and placed a glass on the bar (it
wasn’t a chaser), and filled it with whiskey from the bottle I pointed to on the shelf.
”Thank you” I smiled and took a sip
”Good whiskey, huh?”
”Yeah, good”
”Where are you from?”
”Australia” I lied, without hesitating for a second.
”Wow, really. What made you travel such a long way?”
”Well, actually it’s because of a girl” I continued to lie.
”Haha yes, always the same story” he laughed ”You know, I like you!” he exclaimed and grinned at me with a smile that was as inviting as a wolf’s jaws. I tried to laugh, and nearly choked on my drink.

He spent the next moment joking in a chauvinist manner on how it’s the woman who ought to travel to meet the man and not the other way around, and I hastily finished my drink, paid and left, never even sitting down.

I walked up the hill to the church thinking to myself: So, this is the end. He must have put some terrible poison in my glass, if I’m lucky it’s just the toxic soap from his dishwasher, maybe they can still save my life in the next few hours, if I manage to survive until the end of this concert. God, the choir-mistress would make me stand and sing even if I was really dying, no chance of getting to the hospital in time. Oh well, it was a good life. A little short, but full. An artist’s greatest dream is to die on the stage, or at least that’s what they say.. Hmm, I guess someone else will have to sing my solo next time, I wonder who they will give it to.

The first musical item in the concert was: ”A ballad of 3 prophets”, sung by the girls of the Israeli choir in Hebrew. Our choir-mistress gave me 3 candles, representing the prophets of the 3 Abrahamic faiths: Moses, Jesus Christ and Mohammed, and told me to put them on the floor in the middle of the church and light them with matches just before the girls start singing.

Soon the church was filled with listeners and the concert was about to begin. I got up and put the 3 candles on the floor. ”Moses” and ”Jesus” lighted up fine, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t light ”Mohammed”. The audience waited politely in silence as I calmly tried
5 matches one after the other, but in vain: ”Mohammed” simply didn’t want to burn. Finally I raised my head and saw the choir-mistress motioning me with her hand ”Nevermind, it’s fine, we’ll just start to sing anyway”, and I went back to my seat. The concert proceeded from beginning to end without further incident (and thankfully, I

We experience so many things in this life, but only some of them carve themselves into our memory. Happy, sad, profund – or meaningless. Why do we remember them and forget others? I remember the hostile Arab bar owner, but I also remember another sweet Arab who listened to all our concerts, and bought a huge birthday cake especially for me, since I celebrated my 25th birthday during our stay in Stockholm (August 21st). I remember beautiful people from all over the world, of all races, colors and faiths, dancing and singing, drinking, laughing and hugging on my birthday party at the hostel in Skeppsholmen. I will always treasure those short hours and thinking about them always makes me smile and dilates my heart, I always regret that they are behind me. I will always love any person in the world and never judge him by his race, color or faith.


Ett brev till svenska medier

Jag älskar Sverige. Min väninna Ann, som är som min syster, bor i Stockholm och jag besöker henne ofta. Det finns mycket jag beundrar i Sverige, sådant som jag skulle vilja se i Israel, huvudsakligen er tolerans och acceptans av olika kulturer, det sätt som ni kombinerar en fri ekonomi med omsorg om de mindre lyckligt lottade. Jag beundrar att ni har en myndighet vars enda uppgift är att ge ekonomiskt stöd till fattiga länder – SIDA.

En sak som jag inte kan förstå är de svenska medierna. Inget av det ovanstående gäller beträffande Israel. Faktum är att när det gäller Israel förvandlas svenska medier till dogmatiska och självgoda aktivister som verkar drivas av ego och total avsaknad av empati.

Det finns 7 miljoner medborgare i Israel – judar, araber och andra minoriteter. Det är en färgrik blandning av religioner, kulturer, opinioner och känslor. Det är sant; vi har våra fanatiker, precis som våra grannar. Vi har egoistiska, högljudda politiker, precis som våra grannar. Men mellan dessa ytterligheter finns bra, ärliga människor som försöker leva sitt liv i ett ytterst instabilt område för att bygga upp och arbeta för att skapa förbättring.

En social förändring kan endast äga rum när en kritisk punkt har nåtts. Medan politikerna spelar sitt spel, vävs de ekonomiska och sociala relationerna med palestinska företag, skolor och andra bra människor. Det tog England, Frankrike, Holland och Spanien 400 år att sluta kriga. Jag hoppas att det går mycket fortare här… men när man sår ett frö kan man inte förvänta sig att ett träd ska växa upp på ett par veckor.

Sju miljoner människor, många kreativa entreprenörer, men ingenting i svenska medier. Vi beskrivs alla ytligt som aggressiva, blodtörstiga och likgiltiga inför mänskliga rättigheter. Likt en typisk spagettivästern beskrivs vi alltid som ”de onda” och palestinierna är alltid ”de goda”. Konstigt nog kommenteras det sällan att våra städer i söder konstant utsätts för raketattacker av Hamas. Man diskuterar aldrig att de miljontals dollar som er regering skänkt till palestinierna används för att köpa vapen och för att fylla på Hamas-ledarnas privata bankkonton (detta är förstås en intern fråga och rör inte mig, egentligen).

Aggressiva handlingar uppstår på grund av rädsla och smärta och både judar och araber har mycket av den varan i sitt kollektiva minne. Det är lätt att ha en hög moral och nobla idéer när man lever ett lugnt och tryggt liv, men i den bråkdelen av en sekund när man sitter i ett skyddsrum och väntar på att raketen ska slå ner försvinner alla nobla tankar och ersätts av rädsla och vrede. Trots detta tar vi oss samman för att bygga upp våra liv igen; våra ömsesidiga relationer. Det tar tid och tålamod, men dessa frön planteras ett i taget.

Allt vi begär av er är empati. Ni har all rätt – till och med en skyldighet – att kritisera, att rapportera de många orättvisor som finns i denna region, men var rättvisa. Visa våra sanna färger, vår rädsla, vår smärta och vår frustration. Visa det som är bra och det som är dåligt. Och var medkännande. Man kan aldrig döma någon förrän man har gått i den personens skor. Om ni vill vara en del av att förändra vårt Mellanöstern till ett himmelrike måste ni vara medkännande och rättvisa. Vi kommer att lyssna.

Iris Toister

Översättning: Ingrid Olsson.
Read this letter in English. 

A letter to the Swedish Media

I love Sweden. My friend Ann, who’s like a sister to me, lives in Stockholm, and I visit her often. I admire many things in Sweden, which I would like Israel to embrace, mostly your tolerance and acceptance of different cultures, the way you combine free economy with care for the less fortunate. I admire the fact that you have a Ministry for the sole purpose of giving financial aid to poor countries – SIDA.

One thing I cannot comprehend is the Swedish media. None of the above is applicable when Israel is concerned. In fact, when it comes to Israel, the Swedish Media turns into a dogmatic, self-righteous crusader, fueled by ego and zero compassion.

There are 7 million citizens in Israel, Jews, Arabs, and other minorities, a colorful vibrant tapestry of religions, cultures, opinions and feelings. True, we have our fanatics, as do our neighbors. We have ego motivated, loud mouth politicians, so do our neighbors. But between the poles live good honest people, trying to share a life in a highly volatile area, creating, building and working towards a better place.

A social change can occur only when a critical mass is accumulated. While the politicians play their games, the economic and social relations with Palestinian companies, schools and other good people are being woven. It took England, France, Holland and Spain 400 years to stop fighting. I hope it takes far less here… but when you put a seed in the ground, you do not expect a tree in a fortnight.

7 million people, creative entrepreneurships, nothing in the Swedish media. All of us categorized superficially as aggressive, blood thirsty human rights destroyers. Like in a bad Western, we are always the ”bad guys”, the Palestinians are always the ”good guys”. Strangely enough, almost no reference to the fact that our southern cities are constantly bombed by Hamas, no discussion of the fact that the millions of dollars given to the Palestinians by your government, were used to buy weapons and found their way to the private bank accounts of Hamas leaders (but this is more of an internal issue and does not really concern me).

Aggressive actions manifest out of fear and pain and both Jews and Arabs carry a lot of it in their collective memory. It is easy to hold high morals, noble sentiments, while living a quiet life, but in that split second, when one sits in the shelter, waiting for the missile to fall, all noble sentiments fly away, replaced by fear, followed by anger. And yet, we collect ourselves again and again, and go back to rebuilding our lives, our mutual relations. It takes time and patience, but slowly the seeds are planted.

Compassion, that’s all we ask of you. You have every right, a duty in fact, to criticize, to report the many injustices that take place in this region, but be fair. Show our colors, our fears, our pain, our frustration, the good and the bad. And be compassionate. You cannot judge someone until you stand in his place. If you want to take part in transforming our Middle East into haven, if you want to be the voice of Human Rights and free society, be compassionate, be fair. We will listen.

Iris Toister

Read this letter in Swedish.