He laughs about something in Hebrew with the stewardess, pushes his iPad into my hands while mumbling “we will practically be family anyway” (referring to the obvious lack of space in our shared airplane row), and then slings himself into the aisle seat next to me. “Nice to meet you, my name is David.” Before I get a chance to shake his hand, he is already fumbling with his iPad again. Focusing on explaining his favorite game Candy Crush to me, he starts a casual conversation. I find out he is an artist currently living in Copenhagen, but he returns home to Israel every year for a light show in Jerusalem. After a couple of rounds of Candy Crush the conversation turns to me. What am I doing in Israel? I get as far as explaining that I will be working with an NGO. Suddenly he stops playing with his iPad, looks up, and reclines a little “So you will be throwing stones?” I try to explain what I will be doing, but the conversation fizzles to a halt with him saying “I guess you are going to parts of Israel that I would never go to.” While my mind is racing, he turns the other direction and leaves me shifting uneasily in my seat.
What I didn’t get a chance to tell him is that I will be working as a summer peace fellow of The Advocacy Project for the Alternative Information Center (AIC) in its offices in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour. The AIC is a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization, which means it was founded by Israelis and Palestinians together, it has offices in both territories, and its employees are from both nationalities. These organizational principles stem from the deep belief that joint Palestinian-Israeli work is necessary to create a common future. Through reporting on and analyzing both societies, the AIC promotes human rights and a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis. Over the summer, I hope to experience the work of grassroots organizations, contribute to AIC’s programs and reporting, and get to know the Israeli and Palestinian societies.
I believe that this work rests on talking to people, connecting with diverse viewpoints, opening up conversations. Although my experience on the plane to Tel Aviv was only with one single person, it still leaves questions buzzing through my mind. How do you open up a conversation with someone who categorically places the work of NGOs in the “stone throwing” category? How do you connect people that are separated from each other in their mindset or even by a physical barrier? How do I interact with people that stop being interested in talking to me after knowing what I set out to do? As an outsider, I have great respect for the courage of many Palestinians and Israelis who grapple with these questions every day and still continue their daily fight for a just solution within their societies and with each other. As an AP peace fellow, I hope to learn from these inspiring people at the AIC and elsewhere to see what it really takes to keep an open mind towards these issues every day, to leave behind preconceptions, and to listen to all the voices that want and need to be heard.
Posted By Mona Niebuhr
Posted Jun 5th, 2013