I walk into a room, and at first sight, everything seemed normal. Nothing seemed out of place. I was observing a group of young teenagers enjoying each other’s company, listening to music, and dancing. As a young Jewish 18-year-old, coming straight from New York City to Israel, this type of hanging out was what I was used to. This was how I personally enjoyed my time with my friends.
Upon closer inspection, I understood that what was happening in front of me, was something I was definitely not used to; this was not the type of normal setting I was accustomed to. I had to do a double take to make sure that what I was seeing wasn’t a figment of my imagination.
I first realized that the music that was playing was foreign to my ears; it was mainstream Arabic pop music. After acknowledging this, I paid closer attention to the teenagers that were in this room. I saw a boy with a kippah dancing alongside a girl wearing a hijab. These teenagers were young Israelis and Palestinians. It then clicked in my head: I am in Israel, where the most heated and controversial topic is the Arab-Israeli conflict, where, in many areas, young Arabs and Israelis interacting in a friendly manner is a far-fetched daydream. I’m shocked. At this point, every preconceived notion I had about peace not being a reality between these two groups of people flew out the window.
Before walking into this room, everything I knew about the Arab-Israeli conflict was what I have learned from the media. Whether it was seeing videos of random acts of terror happening on the streets of Israel, or hearing aggressive viewpoints of pure hatred coming from both sides. Back then I didn’t believe that peace was even possible. My thoughts on the conflict were that the only reasonable solution was war.
Coming to Israel for 6 months in 2016 on a gap year program, I had hoped to become more educated in what was happening in the region. Coming from a bubbled modern-orthodox neighborhood in Queens, New York; I wanted to form my own thoughts untainted by other’s opinions.
I then decided to volunteer for an organization called Kids Creating Peace. A non-political organization, which aims to break the walls and barriers between Israeli and Palestinian youth, through educational workshops of self-empowerment. KCP believes that the key to resolving conflict is through love and that the pathway to learning to love someone is through getting to know him or her personally.
When hearing about this organization, I thought it was a nice idea in theory but I was skeptical. I thought that this generation of young adults was already too ingrained with animosity towards one another that any attempt to change their mindset, let alone be friends, would be futile.
Regardless, I wanted to change my way of thinking and open my mind to new possibilities, so I became involved with this organization.
Before I entered this room, I thought I was a person that did not judge people straight away, that I gave people a chance, but I realized that I was generalizing all Arabs. I took one corrupt person I would see in a video on Facebook doing something horrific, and I would generalize millions of other people to be the same.
Once I walked into this room and experienced my first Kid’s Creating peace seminar, I was able to see how wrong I was in my mindset. After seeing first hand that despite their deep differences, these teenagers were able to become friends with another and speak maturely about controversial matters, I realized peace is a possibility.
I saw that when you strip down a person to their core, when you don’t focus on their religion, or where they come from, and simply see them as a human being, your whole opinion on them can change. These teenagers embodied this teaching; they put their differences on the side and were able to connect to one another by breaking the artificial barrier that has been in front of them their whole lives.
My first feeling when I entered the room was right: This is normal. This should be normal.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t make a difference whether these teenagers are in New York City, Israel or Palestine; they all want the same things- to dance with their friends, to laugh with their friends; to be happy.
The teenagers that I met in this room gave me hope and showed me that anything is possible if we make the effort to speak and understand one another.
This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region.