Two friends seek to bridge the divide between Israelis and Palestinians with love

Download Audio
Guy Ben-Aharon (left) and Dr. Eman Ansari (right) at an event for The Jar. (Courtesy Anna Olivella)
Guy Ben-Aharon (left) and Dr. Eman Ansari (right) at an event for The Jar. (Courtesy Anna Olivella)

International mediators are working on a possible deal for a temporary humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, where health officials say over 10,000 people have been killed during Israel's counteroffensive.

In the U.S., organizations are seeing upticks in reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents following the outbreak of fighting on Oct. 7.

But two friends from Greater Boston, one Israeli and one Palestinian, have grown even closer together in the month since the conflict began.

Guy Ben-Aharon is an Israeli man who runs the nonprofit organization The Jar and formerly directed the Israeli Stage. Dr. Eman Ansari is a Palestinian woman and pediatrician. Radio Boston spoke with the pair about how their friendship models what they hope to see in a divided world.

Interview Highlights

On how Ben-Aharon and Ansari met:

Ben-Aharon: "This lovely woman walked into the theater company that I was running and for a production — for the very last production of that theater company. And I remember that you came up to me after the show and after the dialogue and said how moved you were and that you weren't expecting what you saw. And there began the friendship. And since then we've seen each other here and also there...within Israel and Israel Palestine. Our families have met, I've been to her home, she's actually been to where I stay when I'm over there and then an amazing thing happened, which is that her own friendship with my parents blossomed without me."

Ansari: "You're a little bit jealous, no?"

"I'm a mother of four. And years ago — now 12 years ago — I met a lovely mother of my daughter's best friend. And she's the daughter of Holocaust survivors. And the two daughters did a project over a book called 'Habibi' by Naomi Nye about a Palestinian who travels from the U.S. and lives in Israel and make friendships and her journey there. The kids became best friends and me and the mother became best friends and we started meeting at least once a month. We continued that even during the pandemic. But four years ago she told me, 'I'm going to take you to a production you'll enjoy.' And she took me and she was right. I enjoyed it."

On how it feels in Ansari's community:

Ansari: "If you're asking specifically within the Palestinian community, I feel we have similar feelings to anyone watching what's happening and anyone in the Jewish or the Israeli community, like the emotions are shared pain, hurt, maybe anger in some of the people. But the most predominant feeling is a ton of fear.

Everyone is scared, everyone is horrified. Everyone, as soon as the topic is open, they burst into tears. How is humanity tolerating this? How did Hamas do this to the Israelis? Why is there a reason to justify violence? And then why are people justifying violence back? And all of it, all of it, you feel as if everyone went into this scared, primal place."

On how, in a moment where difference is tearing so many people apart, Ansari and Ben-Aharon's friendship has strengthened: 

Ansari: "My first text to check on anyone since October 7, was to check on Guy and his parents."

Ben-Aharon: "The first phone call I had that was after my parents was to my friend, Fida, who's a Palestinian psychiatrist living in a few streets away from me in Jaffa. And we spent hours on the phone together. And afterwards, my Jewish friend said, 'That was your first phone call?' And I said, 'She's family.' When I'm there, I see her at least once a week. And I think similarly, our friendship, you know, Eman and I, it's only made stronger now because we see how other people are dividing."

"Just see the human. The labels don't matter. Just see the human and then everything will fall into place."

Dr. Eman Ansari

Ansari: "It confuses me. It honestly confuses me because I don't see it as my people and your people. I see it as our people — I mourn the 1,400 Israelis. I mourn the 10, 000 Palestinians. I'm horrified for the people who are kidnapped. And I see it as our people. They're all our people."

Ben-Aharon: "When someone says to me, I'm so sad about the children. And then somebody else says, 'Well, but which children?' I don't understand. Am I supposed to mourn less when it's a Palestinian child than when it's an Israeli child? That is a moment of loss of humanity."

Guy Ben-Aharon (left) and Eman Ansari (right) biking together. (Image courtesy of Zahi Ben Gigi)
Eman Ansari (right) biking with Guy Ben-Aharon's father, Dror (left). (Courtesy of Zahi Ben Gigi)

On the concept of picking a side:

Ben-Aharon: "I think that is what's so shocking about this moment, is speaking to people who I've known for so many years — some of them my relatives — who think about their life is meaning less than our lives. And when we talk, then they say, 'Well, what do you think? What is the solution? .... And I say, 'Well, I don't know what it is, but do you suggest we just keep repeating this endless cycle of violence? Has this worked for you? Let's be selfish — as this worked for us?' It hasn't. This is what it has led us to. And, and I think the difficulty of this moment is this picking a side. Pick a side, as if it's a football match."

Ansari: "I feel that I'm hoping it's a minority that are very loud and are trying to put people into choosing which side, and the majority who are silent are the ones in the middle who feel for the humanity of both sides."

"We shouldn't be sides. We're all on one side, the side of humanity, the side against hatred, against violence, against the killing, against the kidnapping. But I noticed that whenever, whenever I speak up, whenever I create that space, that a lot of people join. In general, those people are quiet. And the ones who are louder on social media, in the news are the ones who are picking a side. And that's unfortunate."

On what they've learned about love:

Ansari: "Just see the human. Just see the human. The labels don't matter. Just see the human and then everything will fall into place."

Ben-Aharon: "Beautifully said."

This segment aired on November 9, 2023.

Headshot of Khari Thompson

Khari Thompson Producer, Radio Boston
Khari Thompson is a producer for Radio Boston.


Headshot of Tiziana Dearing

Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



More from Radio Boston

Listen Live