It took me a few days, but just now I’m able to process what I’ve been through this past weekend.
Those were some of the most intense days of my life- emotionally, ideologically and existentially. A group of 120 young people from throughout the Middle East gathered in Jordan, all of which have one thing in common: a burning desire for change. We all believe that things can and should be better, that our leaders aren’t doing their job well (or at all) and that if we don’t act to build a fresh new leadership for the future- there’s very little hope for change.
“So, what’s the big deal?” you may ask. Many people take an active role in trying to change things and many more are dissatisfied with their leadership. Well, the most remarkable thing was that we were all from enemy states. My country and their countries tell us that we should fear and hate each other. That all of “Them” are out to get me. That I am out to kill “them.” That we are enemies. Just by being born where we were, by having one faith or another- we are enemies. We are taught this in school, by the media, by our governments and our peers. It’s “Us” against “Them.”
But we were all “Us” in that conference. Everyone that came went through the same online courses (negotiation and conflict management), had the same desire for change and was a potential young leader in their community.
To be honest, this was what made this conference so special- it was a huge “f**k you!” to everything we despise. It was a “f**k you!” to Bibi who keeps trying to blind us with fear and ignorance in regard to who lives on the other side of the fence. The same goes for Palestinian extremists who teach their children that Israelis are evil and vicious and only plan to take over lands and people. It was a huge “f**k you!” to Arab nationalists who claim that all Zionists are anti Islam, anti Arab or anti whatever and to Muslim dictatorships who refuse to admit that they have relationships with Israel (and most of them do, by the way), while blinding their citizens’ eyes with hate and falsities. It was a “f**k you!” to any Israeli fascist that claims that the entire Arab world is against us and that we should keep living in constant fear and war mongering till the end of all times (or the end of us). And most of all, it went to anyone who’s ever begun a sentence with “all Palestinians are…” or “all Israelis are…” or my personal favorite: “all Arabs are…”.
For three days, away from our homes, away from the every-day insanity that we all call “reality”, we got to be people. We got to interact as Udi, Muhammad, Magen and Samia. We weren’t Israeli or Sudanese, Egyptian or Moroccan- we were us, just people. We hung out, cracked jokes, poked fun of each other, told each other about home (the good and the bad), shared thoughts, sights, experiences, aspirations. We ate and drank and smoked and sang. Right wing Israeli Jews put on a Keffiya and danced Palestinian Debka right before Israeli Palestinians danced the Jewish Hora with a passion, a Palestinian from Bethlehem held a tallith for the first time while a female Rabbi taught the “Shema” prayer, a french bellydanced with a Tunisian, a Sudanese put on a Kipa and found it very amusing… And everyone cleansed, together, in the Dead Sea. We were all John Lennon for three days- no countries. And no religion too. We managed to listen to each other and not get hung up on the differences, but focus on the mutual.
Is this real life? No, off course not. We didn’t discuss politics and we didn’t debate any issues. Aside from that, we live in societies, where most people are still blind, fearful and ignorant (otherwise, we’ll all be living in a blissful collaboration). It doesn’t matter, though. In a way, we’re like a secret club now- “We” exist. Some of us have to wear a disguise, like super heroes, in order to pretend they are ordinary people, while they do extraordinary things. Some of us are lucky enough to live in places where they can openly shout that the emperor has no clothes. Either way, we are far from ordinary- we can think for ourselves. We’re able to look at people as individuals and not as an abstract concept named “They”. We can reach out to each other and collaborate, regardless of borders, policies and useless governments. I’m far more excited for the future that I was a week ago.
YaLa Young Leaders