We Just Want to Live Here: An Unlikely Teenage Friendship in the Two jerusalems


Palestinian Amal Rifa'i and Israeli Odelia Ainbinder are two teenage girls who live in the same city, yet worlds apart. They met on a student exchange program to Switzerland. Weeks after they returned, the latest, violent Intifada broke out in the fall of 2000.

But two years later, Middle East correspondent Sylke Tempel encouraged Amal and Odelia to develop their friendship by facilitating an exchange of their deepest feelings through letters. In their letters, Amal and Odelia ...

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We Just Want To Live Here: A Palestinian Teenager, an Israeli Teenager, An Unlikely Friendship

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Palestinian Amal Rifa'i and Israeli Odelia Ainbinder are two teenage girls who live in the same city, yet worlds apart. They met on a student exchange program to Switzerland. Weeks after they returned, the latest, violent Intifada broke out in the fall of 2000.

But two years later, Middle East correspondent Sylke Tempel encouraged Amal and Odelia to develop their friendship by facilitating an exchange of their deepest feelings through letters. In their letters, Amal and Odelia discuss the Intifada, their families, traditions, suicide bombers, and military service. They write frankly of their anger, frustrations, and fear, but also of their hopes and dreams for a brighter future.

Together, Amal and Odelia give us a renewed sense of hope for peace in the Middle East.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Profoundly moving....The conflict between Jews and Arabs has been described in countless books and argued in unending polemics, but here, in the letters between these two eighteen-year-old women, an Arab and a Jew, is the heartbreaking essence of the quarrel.... In these letters (an idea brilliantly conceived and carried through by Sylke Tempel) Amal and Odelia educate each other..... This is the book for anyone who wants to feel and understand the emotions on both sides. It will become a classic." —Arthur Hertzberg, author of A Jew in America: My Life and a People's Struggle for Identity
Publishers Weekly
The two authors, now 18, met in Switzerland during an exchange program in 2000, and returned to a Jerusalem soon gripped by the second intifada. After falling out of touch, they exchanged the letters collected in this book from August to November of 2002, cycling through anguish, accusation, artifice, allowance, appreciation-all of the beginnings of real friendship. The book proves to be that rarest of contexts-a place for young women of the Middle East to discuss politics with openness and mutual respect. 6 maps. (Sept. 12) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Amal (an 18-year-old Palestinian girl) and Odelia (an 18-year-old Israeli girl) both live in Jerusalem, not far from each other. But their lives are completely different. They had met in Switzerland in a program that attempted to help Palestinians and Israeli teenagers become friends, but the Intifada began soon after their return to Jerusalem and it seemed impossible to find any common ground for continuing their friendship. Sylke Tempel, with her background as a journalist, facilitated the two young women's correspondence, encouraging them to honestly address their feelings about the differences separating them. This book is mainly a compilation of their exchange of letters. The young women are each thoughtful and articulate; each is proud of her heritage. While they get to a place when they can listen to the other, they don't understand how to solve the great dilemmas that they face. Odelia is from a more liberal background than many other Israelis, and Amal is from a more privileged Arab family than most Palestinians, so they each represent perhaps the best shot at reconciliation; and still it seems almost impossible. YAs with an interest in the current events in Israel will want to read this. KLIATT Codes: JSA;Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, St. Martin's, Griffin, 154p.,
— Claire Rosser
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312318949
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/6/2003
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 265,896
  • Lexile: 920L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Amal Rifa'i, an eighteen-year-old Palestinian, plans to study special education in an Israeli college.

Odelia Ainbinder, an eighteen-year-old Israeli, has started a year of community service with a socialist-Zionist movement. She will soon begin her mandatory military service.

Sylke Tempel, is a Middle East correspondent reporting from Israel. She teaches at the Berlin branch of Stanford University

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Reading Group Guide

Understanding the Book

1. What do we learn about Amal Rifa’i and Odelia Ainbinder in this book’s opening pages? How are they alike? How are they different? What do they—and don’t they—have in common? Where, in general, does each young woman now find herself on the road of life? And how did their friendship begin in the first place?

2. Why do Amal and Odelia have such differing views throughout Chapter Two regarding the so-called “psychometric test”? (What is this test? What does it measure? Why does it matter?) Why are Amal and Odelia unable to agree on this matter? Why is it so important to each of them?

3. In her letter (in Chapter Three) dated October 10, 2002, Odelia refers to something called Am. What is Am? Translate this term, and then explain why Odelia rejects it.

4. What does Amal mean when she writes in Chapter Four, in her letter of September 8, 2002: “I am trapped in my own country”? Later in this same missive, Amal writes: “Jordan is a great and beautiful country.” What specifically does she like or enjoy about Jordan?

5. Chapter Six, entitled “Jerusalem,” finds Amal and Odelia reflecting on the city they both call home—its politics, its religious contexts, its neighborhoods, its attractions, its meanings to various people over time, and so on. We also encounter the individual accounts of Odelia’s mother and father as well as Amal’s grandfather. What does Jerusalem mean or represent to each of these three persons? What brought each of them to the city? And why has each remained?

6. In Chapter Eight, in her letter dated October 18, 2002, Odelia discusses her upcoming stint of mandatory service in the Israeli army. How does she personally feel about this obligation? And how does she feel about it more broadly or philosophically—that is, as a fact of life in Israel? Why does she claim that “the [Israeli] army is more moral” than the other armies of the world today? Explain her reasoning.

7. In the revealing chapter entitled “How I Became What I Am” (Chapter Nine), Odelia gives primary credit to her parents. But she quickly adds: “My movement also helped me understand many new things a lot.” What is this movement she’s referring to, and what did you learn about over it the course of the book? How would you say it has influenced Odelia’s life, thought, and personality?

8. Later in Chapter Nine, Amal addresses the same issue (i.e., the reasons for and sources of her selfhood). Who or what does Amal credit as “the biggest impact” on the formation of her identity? Were you surprised or intrigued by this? Explain why or why not, given what you have learned of Amal over the course of We Just Want to Live Here.

9. The last letter appearing in this book is a note from Amal dated November 2002. What sort of “passport” does she wish for at the conclusion of this letter? Why does she want such a document? What would it give her—or meant to her, or do for her? And why doesn’t Amal have such a passport already?

10. Near the end of this book’s Afterword, Odelia says: “I think neither Israelis nor Palestinians should forget the suffering inflicted on the them by the other . . . But I also feel that Israelis and Palestinians should stop blaming one another constantly.” Having finished this book, does this statement strike you as paradoxical or contradictory? Explain why or why not, citing passages from throughout the book to underscore your view.

Questions and Exercises for the Class

1. Explain the title; identify the “we” in We Just Want to Live Here. Then conduct a brief introductory discussion on what specifically this book taught you about history, religion, politics, and/or current events. Express yourself candidly while listening carefully to your classmates.

2. In her Introduction to the book, journalist Sylke Tempel asserts: “It is the young generation [of Palestinians and Israelis] that suffers most from the violence both sides inflict on each other.” As a class, explore the veracity, history, and reality of this remark.

3. Chapter Two is entitled “Meeting the Other in Switzerland.” How and why did these two young women first meet? What did each originally think of the other? When, if at all, did the impression that each had of the other begin to change, and why?

4. In Chapter Three, in her letter of October 10, 2002, Odelia writes, regarding the tragic and incessant violence of the Intifada: “I think we [that is, both Israelis and Palestinians] should look at great people like Martin Luther King and try to learn from them.” (She later expands on her thoughts about Dr. King in a letter dated November 3, 2002.) Either on your own or with your class, list other historical figures or contemporary leaders whom Israelis and Palestinians ought to study and emulate in order to resolve their conflict. Then elaborate on why you selected these particular individuals.

5. Elsewhere in Chapter Three, in a letter dated October 17, 2003, Odelia writes: “So we have two different wars.” What are the two conflicts to which she is referring? Do you agree with the distinction Odelia is making here? And does Amal—in her answer (of October 25, 2002) to this letter—seem to agree with her? Explain.

6. Midway through We Just Want to Live Here, in Chapter Five, the book-long exchange of letters is temporarily replaced by an in-person dialogue between Amal and Odelia that is moderated by Sylke Tempel. How do both Amal and Odelia regard the Israeli-Palestinian borderlines as compared to the borders of Europe?

7. Amal and Odelia have very different impressions and ideas about school, as we find in Chapter Seven. Elucidate and, if possible, explain their separate reasons for these differing perspectives.

8. An as independent exercise, develop a “pen-pal” relationship with someone who sees the world somehow differently from yourself. Be they near or far, neighbor or stranger, distant relative or anonymous acquaintance—try to exchange your ideas and experiences with this person in a sincere, respectful manner, just as Amal and Odelia do. Then prepare a short presentation (to be delivered before your class) in which you describe what you have learned—about your correspondent and about yourself—from this exercise.

9. The Afterword to We Just Want to Live Here features a second face-to-face conversation between Amal and Odelia, as facilitated by Sylke Tempel. At one point, Odelia remarks: “I guess we have to accept that there will always be different versions of the same history.” As a class or in an individually composed essay, express what this book has taught you about such “different versions” of past and recent events.

10. Finally, how would you characterize the overall tone of this book? Optimistic? Hopeful? Cautious? Perplexing? Uncertain? Otherwise? Identify the prevailing mood of these pages. Also, make an informed guess on the probable future course of Amal and Odelia’s friendship.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2012


    I haven't read it yet but my mom says it looked iteresting so yeah

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