An Israeli and a Gazan discover consolation in friendship amid Gaza struggle

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, occupied with an individual he had by no means met. She nonetheless wasn’t responding.

Each morning and each evening when the Israeli filmmaker messaged Om Ayan, the younger Palestinian lady in Gaza, he feared it might be the final time. He started to sort.

“Are you one way or the other okay??????” he wrote at 1:15 a.m. on Oct. 28.

One examine mark. No response.

They’d met on-line in 2019, after Heymann donated to a fund that helped Om Ayan’s father get most cancers remedy within the West Financial institution, and stayed in contact over time. They knew the names of one another’s dad and mom and kids, had shared images of their houses and hobbies. It was solely a friendship, each stated, by no means romantic. However 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 disappointment and isolation. Heymann, a peace activist who felt more and more lonely in wartime Israel, knew somebody in Gaza understood him. Om Ayan, beneath 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 related to her. But right here he was, questioning once more if she was nonetheless respiration.

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

“Im alive dont fear,” she had responded then. “We aren’t okay.”

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

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

(Video: The Washington Submit)

Earlier than the struggle, they’d messaged sporadically, when their busy lives allowed — sending household updates, images, properly needs.

“I hope that will probably be the start of a good looking new yr for you,” she wrote on Jan. 1, 2023.

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

“Ship me his # and i’ll name him,” Heymann wrote. “Additionally — I’ll give him kids’s garments.”

“On essentially the most fundamental degree, we’re each dad and mom of younger kids,” he stated, sitting in his ethereal Jaffa loft on a transparent, heat December day.

“We each shared this sense of a scarcity of humanity round us,” Heymann stated. “So I believe we discover consolation in one another.”

It was a friendship he hardly ever talked about in dialog with different Israelis. After Hamas militants and allied fighters streamed into southern Israel on Oct. 7 — killing about 1,200 folks 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 kids. The daddy of an in depth buddy was taken hostage by Hamas.

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

The vitriol was no shock. It was a well-known hatred. “In case you develop up in Israel, they put in your blood, they put in your veins ever since you might be zero years previous that everyone is in opposition to you,” Heymann stated. “Most of all Arabs.”

However 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, had been turning their backs on the motion.

“There are such a lot of nice causes for Israeli Jewish folks to be afraid for his or her lives now, and to be filled with hate, and rage and the feeling of revenge,” he stated. “It’s pure.”

“To ask or to want or to demand folks in such a situation additionally to have compassion and mercy for the Palestinian folks in Gaza … is sadly fairly a giant factor to ask,” he stated. “And I’ll hold combating to vary 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 kids attend an Israeli-Palestinian bilingual college. He already hopes that his 9-year-old son will refuse obligatory navy service, even when it means going to jail. There are stickers on his lavatory tiles with the identical message in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “Democracy and occupation can not coexist.”

On the afternoon of Oct. 16, Heymann’s mates referred to as him, anxious. He had posted on Fb that whereas nothing might justify Hamas’s assault, Israel bore some accountability for blockading Gaza and denying Palestinians fundamental human rights.

His identify, photograph and residential tackle had been being posted on right-wing Telegram channels, folks instructed him. It took him two weeks to inform his accomplice, who was in a foreign country with their kids.

However he instructed Om Ayan the identical day.

(Video: The Washington Submit)

He moved out of his house and stayed in a buddy’s residence, the place he lay awake that October evening, praying for a response from her.

Greater than 24 hours later, his telephone dinged.

“They lower off the web from the Gaza Strip for 2 days. It simply got here again, however we don’t have telephone 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 along with her second youngster.

Earlier than strolling out of her Gaza Metropolis residence, she reached for the important thing — not realizing if she would ever want it once more.

Israel’s struggle in opposition to Hamas has killed greater than 28,000 folks in Gaza, based on the Gaza Well being 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 had been exhausting to return by. By the point she messaged Heymann, she had not showered in additional than two weeks.

Om Ayan stored her communications with him a secret.

“It’s troublesome to elucidate to the Arabs right here that you’re speaking to an Israeli,” she stated. “[They] might imagine that you’re betraying your nation and sharing safety information with him.”

In actuality, she was asking if he might ship her some cash, so she might afford flour, a tent, some drugs. And he or 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 kids 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 anxious for her well being.

(Video: The Washington Submit)

He was on the best way to an indication in Tel Aviv when she messaged him. 1000’s of Israelis had gathered to name for the discharge of hostages and the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However Heymann was one in every of solely a handful of protesters to name for an finish to the struggle.

Onlookers shouted curses at them.

(Video: The Washington Submit)

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

“There may be hope that’s possibly possibly you may be out of this nightmare quickly?!?! I pray for you on a regular basis,” Heymann wrote when he came upon.

However 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 kids weren’t allowed to return with them and needed to keep behind with their aunts in Rafah. They had been already sick from sleeping outdoors within the chilly. Her husband wept.

She wrote to Heymann the day she crossed the border.

“I’m now secure. I’ve escaped the demise of Israeli bombing.”

“Superb, wonderful!” he cheered in a voice notice. “Wow I’m so pleased that you just left.”

“My sisters and kids are nonetheless beneath bombardment there” she stated. “😭😭”

“I pray for them dearest,” he replied.

Now, in an odd residence of her personal, Om Ayan reaches for her daughter in the course of the evening, as she did throughout the nights beneath bombardment. Medical doctors inform her she has hypertension that might put her being pregnant in peril. Attempt to calm down, they inform her. However 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, typically bringing his son alongside.

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

“It’s my recollections and it’s my language and it’s my meals,” he stated. “I’ll all the time combat to be able to make it a greater place.”

Om Ayan feels the identical pull of house, however her home has been destroyed. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever have the ability to return. However she hopes sooner or later she will meet her Israeli buddy.

“Simply to look him within the eyes,” she stated, “can be good.”

Hajar Harb in London contributed to this report.

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