If this is the future, I am more confident.
Many look at the situation in our country and continue to ask if there is hope. What does our future look like? I see both hope and a future in our young people.
I have been actively working with Israeli and Palestinian women for many years. I have been sowing and planting with tears, sometimes frustration, but also with much joy when I see the fruits of our labor. Yet, this was the first time I was asked to lead a group of young adults on a cultural exchange with British young people. It was this trip that gave me a renewed vision of our work of reconciliation here at Musalaha.
In our work over the past 25 years, we have found that each individual goes through various stages in their process of reconciliation, which we call the Stages of Reconciliation. Our method uses an interpersonal approach, which focuses on building relationships before embarking on the difficult task of discussing divisive topics. We have witnessed sincere friendships that cross national, cultural and linguistic borders. Our model has also been tested and applied to other ethnic group conflicts and has resonated for many.
The first phase of reconciliation is beginning relationships as it helps individuals later address issues of conflict. We do this by taking groups to a neutral environment where each side comes together on equal footing. While many times this happens on a Desert Encounter, for this unique group of Israeli, Palestinian, and British young people, it took place on an afternoon hike in a shady, cool, and archaic British forest.
We divided the young people into groups and began with a “listening exercise”. They were all asked a question and the first person had one minute to speak while the others could only listen. There was no arguing or responding. I asked them, “What do 18-year-olds do in your culture?” The British young people immediately answered, “They go to university or get jobs.” While the Israelis answered, “We are drafted into the army. The boys serve three years while girls serve two years, and we don’t have a choice.” As we continued our hike, small clusters began to form as the different sides wanted to learn more about mandatory army service for Israelis.
We stopped again. I then asked, “How do you get water in your home?” The Israelis and British young adults said that they simply turn their faucets on to get both hot and cold running water. “We get water three times a month,” piped up one of our Palestinian participants. “We have to fill up all of our containers with water and if we run out before the water is turned on again, we have to pay 10 times the price to a water delivery truck.” As we moved further into the forest, the conversations became deeper and more intense. Quickly, the group understood that there were vast differences in our cultures and how we live, and it is much more complex than what we see or hear in the media.
Throughout the week we discussed issues such as identity, victimization and conflict. Identity came into play when the Musalaha participants realized they were spending the week with British participants who had varying degrees of faith, both Muslim and Christian. This sparked numerous conversations among them about faith. These encounters help to develop their own identity and refocus how faith motivates them in their lives.
When we began teaching and training on conflict and how conflict is applicable to everyone, we pointed out that this goes beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We experience conflicts in general with our families, friends, and co-workers. Conflict is present in every relationship and an inevitable part of life. We can approach conflict in a healthy way, seeking resolution and benefits for all involved, and we should always strive to learn how to produce positive results.
I encourage you to try the following exercise: Write “Conflict” on a paper and add all of the words you associate with conflict underneath. You will have negative words like “war” and “fighting” but push through. Our young adults wrote things like discovery, learning, solutions, rebuilding. In order to find our place so that we can reconcile, we have to face our conflicts and come out on the other side. I wish these young people well.
I wish them peace. I wish you all will be able to meet these extraordinary young people who look through conflict and find solutions.
By Hedva Haymov