They'd probably be enemies if they weren't best buds.
As the violence in Gaza continues, the bond between Aliza Becker (left) and Saffiya Shillo (right) becomes even more necessary.
Becker, a Jewish American, and Shillo, a Palestinian-American, met in the mid-’90s while doing immigrant education and advocacy work in their respective communities. But they didn’t become friends until the spring of 1998, when Shillo attended a talk by Becker, deputy director of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, about Middle East peace and the value of dialogue between Jewish/Israeli and Palestinian groups in Chicago. “I thought, Wow, connecting with Aliza is the key to understanding and advocating for peace here in the U.S…. I realized we are from these different communities that are supposed to be sworn enemies, but we can build a relationship,” Shillo says.
Soon after, Becker and Shillo developed a “dual narrative program,” in which they speak about growing up Jewish and Arab in the U.S. Entering each other’s communities isn’t easy, though. At one conference heavily attended by Arabs, Becker brought up Jewish oppression in Arab countries. “You’d think I started a riot,” she says.
But conflict brings the two closer. During the most recent Gaza war, they phoned each other daily, discussing news from friends in the region and coverage in the Israeli and Palestinian presses. “We listened, we cried—it was very emotional,” Becker says. “But we were there for each other regardless of what was going on.”