Amid Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Japanese Supporters Pray for Safety of Youth, Especially Ones They Have Ties With

The Yomiuri Shimbun
In Tokyo, Hiroko Inoue communicates online with a youth in the Israel-Palestinian territories area on Tuesday.

The situation in Gaza is becoming increasingly tense as Israel prepares to launch ground operations there. Japanese involved in supporting the young people from both sides of the border are praying for the safety of people in the area and hoping for the situation to calm down as soon as possible.

Takato Sasaki, a travel agent in Ayabe, Kyoto Prefecture, is worried about two young women, an Israeli and a Palestinian, who stayed at his home in 2019 for a homestay experience.

“I just hope they are both safe,” he said.

For about 20 years the city of Ayabe has been inviting young people, some of them orphaned by conflicts, for homestays. Through the program, Sasaki, now 45, welcomed the two women in August 2019. They were both university students in their 20s then.

The two spent a few days at Sasaki’s home. At first, he was worried whether they would get along, but they seemed to have had a good time together. The Israeli woman arrived a day earlier and taught the Palestinian woman how to use chopsticks. They also took photos together wearing yukata.

“Both being university students, they got along well regardless of their nationality,” Sasaki recalled.

Sasaki sent a text message to the Israeli woman on Oct. 11 to see if she was safe and received a response the following day. She said she was on her own with her newborn baby girl, as her husband had been drafted.

“Please pray for peace,” she wrote.

“I pray for your safety,” Sasaki responded, but this message has not been marked as being read.

Sasaki couldn’t get in touch with the Palestinian woman as he does not have her contact information.

“I pray that peace will come soon so that the two will not be harmed by the war and the violence,” he said.

In Tokyo, Hiroko Inoue of the nonprofit organization Helping Children in the Holy Land established a fund with a group of volunteers in 1990 to provide support for Palestinian children’s school fees.

As time went by, they started to think they should also support Israeli youth who would help foster peace in the next generation.

Since 2005 the NPO has invited a total of about 100 young Palestinians and Israelis to Japan. The organization arranges for them to live together for about two weeks to help them deepen mutual understanding.

Since the conflict started, Inoue, 84, has been contacting the youth the organization had supported using emails, phone calls and online means.

“I don’t want any one of them to become a victim,” she said.

While she has been receiving messages such as “Please pray for us” and “I hope peace and safety will come soon,” some people who live in Gaza have not been able to evacuate.

“This situation makes me feel powerless,” Inoue said. “I hope the situation will be brought under control as soon as possible.”