An Israeli and a Gazan find comfort in friendship amid Gaza war

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.

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

“Are you someway 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 therapy 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 pictures of their houses and hobbies. It was solely a friendship, each mentioned, by no means romantic. But it surely 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, beneath siege and bombardment, knew somebody in Israel was pondering 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 mentioned, to really feel so linked 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’re not okay.”

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

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

(Video: The Washington Submit)

Earlier than the conflict, they’d messaged sporadically, when their busy lives allowed — sending household updates, pictures, effectively needs.

“I hope that it will likely be the start of a ravishing new yr for you,” she wrote on Jan. 1, 2023.

In Might, her husband bought 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 primary stage, we’re each dad and mom of younger kids,” he mentioned, 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 mentioned. “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 a detailed good friend was taken hostage by Hamas.

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

The vitriol was no shock. It was a well-known hatred. “Should you develop up in Israel, they put in your blood, they put in your veins ever since you’re zero years outdated that everyone is towards you,” Heymann mentioned. “Most of all Arabs.”

However there have been those that resisted, and he had discovered a way of neighborhood 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 mentioned. “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 an enormous factor to ask,” he mentioned. “And I’ll hold preventing 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 footage 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 necessary army service, even when it means going to jail. There are stickers on his rest room 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 known as him, fearful. He had posted on Fb that whereas nothing might justify Hamas’s assault, Israel bore some accountability for blockading Gaza and denying Palestinians primary human rights.

His title, photograph and residential handle had been being posted on right-wing Telegram channels, folks instructed him. It took him two weeks to inform his companion, 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 good friend’s condo, the place he lay awake that October night time, praying for a response from her.

Greater than 24 hours later, his cellphone dinged.

“They minimize off the web from the Gaza Strip for 2 days. It simply got here again, however we don’t have cellphone 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 data. She was two months pregnant along with her second little one.

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

Israel’s conflict towards Hamas has killed greater than 28,000 folks in Gaza, in keeping with 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 onerous to come back 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 clarify to the Arabs right here that you’re speaking to an Israeli,” she mentioned. “[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 medicines. And she or he requested how he was doing, concerning the well being of his mom and kids.

As preventing 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 fearful 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 considered one of solely a handful of protesters to name for an finish to the conflict.

Onlookers shouted curses at them.

(Video: The Washington Submit)

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

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

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 come back 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 dying of Israeli bombing.”

“Wonderful, superb!” he cheered in a voice observe. “Wow I’m so glad that you simply left.”

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

“I pray for them dearest,” he replied.

Now, in an odd condo of her personal, Om Ayan reaches for her daughter in the course of the night time, as she did through the nights beneath bombardment. Docs inform her she has hypertension that might put her being pregnant at risk. 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 regulate to their new lives. He continues to attend peace rallies, generally bringing his son alongside.

When his companion 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 mentioned. “I’ll all the time battle in an effort 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 be capable to return. However she hopes sooner or later she will be able to meet her Israeli good friend.

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

Hajar Harb in London contributed to this report.


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