Jerusalem U Shabbaton bridges the gap

News can scare people. Headlines can spur conclusions. And it is Israel that often suffers from biased anti-Israel news that cause many, even Jews around the world, to question whether Israel is a safe place to visit and whether to support and stand behind Israel.

The media often paints Israel as a place consumed with conflict where Muslims and Jews never agree. Yet aren’t there so many more beautiful parts of Israel, including Muslims and Jews living peacefully together? Why doesn’t this ever get publicity?

About a month ago, I had a unique opportunity to spend Friday and Shabbat in Akko, engaging in a Jerusalem U Oz Fellowship “Minorities” educational Shabbaton. The highlight of my week occurred around 12:30 Friday afternoon when I, along with the other Oz Fellows, arrived at Terra Santa, an Arab-Israeli school.

Before I entered the school, I was pretty nervous. How would I communicate with the other students? Would our views be so polar, making it almost impossible to leave with a positive outlook on the day? Would we connect as just seventeen and eighteen year olds? Immediately upon entering the school, however, we were so warmly welcomed by the Terra Santa students and faculty that all my initial worries and concerns were assuaged.

After hearing about the history of their school and the diversity of the student population, I realized the school was formed on a main doctrine of tolerance as Islamic, Christian, and Druze students learn side by side. These are moderate Arabs; Arabs who aren’t spoken about in the newspapers. Arabs who are often subjugated and stereotyped because of the extremists who are the ones in the spotlight calling for the destruction of Israel.

As we all, Jews, Arabs, Druze, and Christians, stood side-by-side in a circle, I reminded myself that we are here for a reason—to talk with one another and string our dissimilarities and similarities together to hopefully form a mutual respect and comprehension for one another.

One specific moment that still sticks with me was talking to Quassem, an Israeli-Arab, about what he wanted to do after completing high school. He responded, “I want to be a healer.” Whereupon I responded, “You mean a doctor?” thinking he simply couldn’t think of the correct English word. He clarified, “No. I want to heal people’s minds and teach them how to be peaceful. We must have peace in this world.” I was shocked. I was actually speechless for a second, trying to process what I heard, but then I smiled.

I’ve always known that the vast majority of Muslims are just people wanting to live their lives peacefully and civilly. I’ve always known that most are not extremists, but Quassem affirmed that belief.

Quassem, I hope you will become a healer and help the world realize the benefits of thinking peacefully while ridding hateful thoughts from the minds of all. And, it most certainly, doesn’t bother me that you are a Muslim. Rather, it brings me clarity to know that you can be an Arab supporting a Palestinian State without preaching hate and destruction toward the Jews and Israel. We can respect others opinions and be friends (In fact, I’ve gained many Facebook friends and Instagram followers since the visit!).

I know this one afternoon will not solve the Middle Eastern conflict. I do think, however, this is a step in the right direction. We should try and begin our peace talks with the moderates. We should start having dialogue with “the other side” at a young age, to avoid hateful stereotypes of one another.

I wish the newspapers would show the times when a Hijab wearing Arab women holds the bus for a head-covered Chareidi woman who’s obviously in a rush, or the times when an Arab and Jew work as business partners. But I know this is not real press. Instead, I will now make it my responsibility to realize the many positive aspects of a diverse society within daily life that most often do not get portrayed. In its essence, daily life in Israel is peaceful. I just wish more people would see the “healers” in our country and realize Israel is not a place that is unsafe to live, love, and visit.

About the Author
Alyson is on her gap year at Midreshet Harova in Jerusalem and is a Jerusalem U Oz Fellow. Originally from Hollywood, Florida, she plans on attending Barnard College next year. Her previous writing experience includes being the editor of her high school's newspaper. Despite writing about an array of topics, she most enjoys sharing her feelings about Israel.
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