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Israelis And Palestinians 'Must Know How To Speak To Each Other'


A small neighborhood in Jerusalem is home to both Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. Their relations have often been tense or often non-existent. But over the years, a few people have tried to break that cycle. Here's NPR's Joanna Kakissis.

ALISA MAEIR EPSTEIN: So this is Asael Street. This is the street of the book.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: I'm talking with Alisa Maeir Epstein, a 60-year-old Israeli life coach, in her neighborhood of Abu Tor. We're on a street that used to divide Israel and Jordan. When Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, the area became one neighborhood, though largely segregated. We're going to the home of Epstein's Palestinian neighbor, Woroud Salman.

EPSTEIN: We've been living here about 11 years. And Woroud's family - she was born here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nice to meet you.

WOROUD SALMAN: I missed you. How about you?

EPSTEIN: I missed you, too.

KAKISSIS: The two women embrace. Salman is a 30-year-old lawyer, and she often visits Epstein at home, too.

SALMAN: I never thought that I would visit people at their home, Jewish people, because we never did it before.

KAKISSIS: They never did that because Abu Tor has often been too tense with the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

EPSTEIN: Particularly since the Second Intifada, there's been a cutoff between the Jews and the Palestinians in Jerusalem because of fear on both sides.

KAKISSIS: So Epstein and her husband, along with Palestinian neighbors like Salman, decided to do something about it. In the last decade, they have formed a club to garden, play soccer and learn Hebrew and Arabic together. Salman teaches an Arabic class to Israeli Jews at a small neighborhood community center. One of her students is 60-year-old Yitzhak Avigad.

YITZHAK AVIGAD: I don't know if Jews and Arabs ever can be reconciled, but I know if we're incapable of speaking to each other then there's really no hope. And so I'm not out actually to change the world. I'm actually just trying to speak to someone in their own language.

AHLAM QAWASMI: (Speaking Arabic).

KAKISSIS: Another Abu Tor resident, a 39-year-old Palestinian woman named Ahlam Qawasmi, is in the Hebrew class.

QAWASMI: (Speaking Arabic).

KAKISSIS: "I want to speak to my neighbor," she says, "because neighbors must know how to speak to each other." Abu Tor is just a tiny neighborhood in a much larger conflict. And it's in a city, Jerusalem, that both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital. People always worry about the spectre of tension and violence. And Salman and Epstein try to fight that in their small way.

EPSTEIN: One of my Palestinian neighbors, he said there's three Abu Tors. There's the Jewish Abu Tor. There's the Palestinian Abu Tor. And then there's the group of people in the middle who want to live together.

KAKISSIS: And that's the group she and Salman are trying to nurture even as peace prospects remain elusive.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.