“Patience has escaped me,” she said to the crowd. “Bottom line – I really want to go home.”
AbuAyyash’s concerns for the future of her homeland are shared by the nine other New Story Leadership participants,who joined her this week at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
The nonprofit brings 10 students – five Israelis and five Palestinians – to Washington each summer. For seven weeks,the students,ages 18 to 28,attend a program that incorporates nonviolent communication skills with mentoring and job opportunities.
The result has been a sharing of narratives among students,some who have never met a Palestinian or an Israeli until they traveled thousands of miles to the U.S.
Ahmed Hmmedat,22,was raised in the Dehieshah refugee camp,south of Bethlehem. Noa Shusterman,26,grew up in an affluent Israeli suburb in Kfar Saba,Israel,and was a commander in the Israel Defense Forces.
The two sat side by side Thursday during a panel discussion about Israeli-Palestinian relations. Shusterman looked to Hmmedat on her right as she said Palestinians and Israelis are so used to a rhythm of justifying attacks that they are in a “perpetual tango” of violence. Changing this reality,she said,cannot be about winning.
“My mom says,‘In life,you shouldn’t be right. You should be smart,’” Shusterman said.
The timing of this year’s program has brought its challenges. The students came to the U.S. just before their homelands plunged into violence.
Palestinian officials said Thursday that at least 77 Palestinians,most of them civilians,have been killed in Israel’s Gaza offensive. Meanwhile,rocket attacks from militants continue to target Tel Aviv,Jerusalem and other cities.
Tension in the group increased dramatically with the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in early June,Lior Yafe,27,from Gan-Yavne,Israel,said. For two weeks,no one brought up the subject. When the boys’ bodies were discovered June 30,Yafe said he was angry to be with Palestinians.
He said he believed his “home was under attack. … It felt like a national disaster was taking place in Israel,” he said.
Yafe never expected the Palestinians in his group to grieve with him. But they did. When Palestinian teen Mohammad Abu Khdeir,16,was kidnapped,beaten and burned to death,Yafe said he experienced the same kind of sympathy.
These young people are listening to each other,even if that means shouting at each other sometimes,Paul Costello,president,founder and CEO of New Story Leadership,said. He said their exchanges are the students’ own form of resistance.
But arguments do happen. The young Palestinians and Israelis disagree often on the use of social media.
Ranin Faidi,23,posts images on Facebook of the dead bodies of Palestinians in her home town of East Jerusalem. She said she uses Facebook to get away from media bias and share information with other Palestinians that she said they will not see in news reports.
Daniel Nachum,24,of Tel Aviv,said Facebook does not help resolve conflicts between the Palestinian and Israeli people. He said sites created “by the minority of the minority of Israelis” that encourage the killing of Arabs snowball out of control on the social media site.
“I was amazed I could talk to them not about politics,not about what is going on in Israel. I could talk to them about personal issues,and they gave me so much strength,” Nachum said.
Even as they get over their prejudices,the students face scrutiny from friends and relatives at home. Nachum said he worries about posting Facebook photos with his Palestinian colleagues because of how those back home would respond.
Fear – about their families’ safety or the repercussions they will face when they return – has been a uniting factor among the 10 students. They check their phones constantly for news about loved ones.
Faidi received a call from her parents two weeks ago at 4 a.m. in East Jerusalem – noon in Washington. They told her they could not sleep because of the bombing outside their house.
“When I’m there,I am not that afraid. But when I am here,and it is happening to my family,it’s different,” she said.
Reach reporter Megan Card at [email protected] or 202-326-9868. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.