In this story from The Spiritual Edge, we meet a Palestinian man trying to navigate one of the thorniest conflicts imaginable — whether Palestinians and Israelis can exist peacefully on a landmass barely bigger than the nine-county Bay Area.
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In the Palestinian town of Jericho, customers cycled in and out of a cell phone shop to buy new SIM cards. Sameer, the owner, sat behind a desk, clicking through YouTube for music from his teenage years. He sang along to an anthem about young Palestinians taking to the streets to fight for freedom from the Israeli Occupation. Between verses, he sipped water from a bottle with a piece of amethyst at the bottom. That mineral, Sameer said, is a natural stress reliever. It helps keep him calm and connected to the earth.
Sameer grew up Muslim. He still keeps certain rituals, like fasting during Ramadan. But these days, he said, he’s more into nature - connecting with the hills and the trees.
Unlike many Palestinian men in their 40s, Sameer lives alone. He’s a big guy, with a dark beard and moustache, and curly dark brown hair. Around his left wrist, he wears three strands of olive pits. He carved them into beads when he was a teenager, in prison. Since then, he’s had a weak stomach and more sleepless nights than he can count. When he can’t sleep, he plays one song to help him relax.
The song he plays is Shalom Alechem, a hymn Jewish people sing on the Sabbath, calling on the angels of peace. “Every time I hear it, always I feel relaxed,” Sameer said. “I get touched from this song, maybe because I have that history with it.”
Most West Bank Palestinians and Israelis don’t really get to mix it up. A concrete barrier with checkpoints separates them. So, it may seem curious that a Palestinian man knows Shalom Alechem, this Jewish tune, by heart. For years, Sameer’s relationship with the song was also a mystery to him.
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Sacred Steps is a series from KALW's The Spiritual Edge produced in collaboration with USC's Center for Religion and Civic Culture.