The “Slap Heard Round the World”
YOUTH BRIDGING THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN DIVIDE
The typical connotation when one hears “Israel and Palestine” is conflict, and thoughts of peace seem unrelated. Having a deep interest in International Relations and being an avid reader of Foreign Affairs, I thought I was well versed on the conflict as well as the typical attitudes of the citizens of these nations. I had never been more wrong.
This summer I led UNESCO’s Art Miles Mural Project’s intercultural mural project involving Israeli and Palestinian teens of the Hands of Peace organization, and witnessed the exact opposite of what I had expected: they were inclusive, empathetic, and kind to all participants. As the teens worked in coalition to create murals symbolizing Palestinian-Israeli cooperation, they respectfully contributed their perspectives in conversation and their interpersonal skills traversed the enormous international barriers.
Although mural painting may seem trivial, it fosters dialogue and cooperation. This is where peace begins. I would love to see the leaders of these respective countries attempt to accomplish what their youth achieved. The connections forged via this experience opened hearts and minds to others that initially seemed permanently estranged.
I had the privilege to attend the Hands of Peace closing ceremonies and heard the teen’s explain their evolution during their immersion in an interconnected environment. Although they were from different countries and initially identified themselves within the program by their country of origin, they all ended up seeing themselves as common members of the human race. I believe their bright spirits proved that peace was rather easily within reach.
Continuing to believe resolution could soon be achieved, my heart broke as I heard Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian girl who has been an activist for rights, had been arrested for physically resisting soldiers who were patrolling her village, Nabi Salih. Although she seems like an incredibly strong young woman, her youthful spirit shined even as she fiercely resisted oppression. I understood her desire for a better world and her messages resonated with me. Had I or any young activist been born in Palestine, we could have been in a similar situation, and if Ahed had been born to my family she could be enjoying a much different life.
As I thought more about the situation I recognized that if I saw a teen had slapped any authority or elder I would be appalled by their actions. Despite the overwhelming praise of Ahed as an international hero, other individuals and news outlets expressed sentiments similar to these. Peaceful and mutually respectful resolution is always ideal, but in Ahed’s scenario it could not have appeared possible. For most of her life she has fought for equality and freedom to no avail. All she has known has been her village, the occupation, and constant unrest.
I reevaluated my experiences this past summer and felt compelled to write. The news of Ahed caused me to question the rather naïve mindset I had acquired regarding the possibility of peace between these nations. The conflict existed long before I was born and has undeniably contributed to the divisiveness associated with this era.
Optimism and realism must be balanced when considering the future, but as I recollect the inspiring teens that were starving for a peaceful world, I have hope that greater strides towards resolutions and compromises will be made by my generation. I hope we finally learn that one’s nationality, race, sex, or other classification cannot be used to label people as inherently malicious or innocent. Most importantly, I hope for more people like Ahed, and the teens I am so fortunate to have met, all of whom are forces of strength and symbolic of the better future world we anxiously anticipate.