Every year after our summer program, our Hands return home and often ask themselves the same question - how can I make a difference?
In 2015 two Hands from our Chicago program discovered a way to make a difference in their own communities, and continue creating awareness amongst their peers. They were selected to be 2016 XLs in San Diego. Here is their story in their own words:
My name is Aliza, I am 17 years old and from Brooklyn, New York.
I have spent the last two summers with Hands of Peace because I am deeply invested in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and want to understand it from all perspectives. I grew up surrounded by the Zionist narrative and felt that my upbringing did not provide me with a sufficient representation of the conflict. Through the program, I was forced to break down and understand the root of my beliefs. Although it took me months to process all of the stories I heard in dialogue, I came out of the program understanding that the conflict is multi-faceted. I became acutely aware of the power of perspective and that something extreme to one person may be normal to another. Being a part of Hands of Peace awakened my political consciousness and proved to me the importance of being a critical thinker.
My name is Yasmin. I'm 17 years old and I'm a Palestinian Citizen of Israel. The village where I live is very close to a check point, and because of that I have been living the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in my daily life. I have always wanted to make a change in this conflict because I believe in peace, so I applied for the Hands of Peace program with the hope that it would help me start achieving my goals. And it really did! It opened my eyes to new perspectives and points of views from both sides. It helped me find my inner peace and be passionate. I like the way that HOP improved my personality and my ability to see the conflict from different perspectives, which is why I decided to return this past summer and be an XL.
Aliza: When I came home after being a participant, I felt that my community needed to view the conflict not just from the Zionist angle, but also to understand the current situation by connecting with P
alestinians. Therefore, Yasmin and I created a pen pal program between my Jewish high school in Manhattan and her Muslim Palestinian school in northern Israel. About 50 students between our classes participate in regular email exchanges. Students discuss their cultures, daily lives, religions, and interests. This program has really blossomed over the last year and has given an outlet for teenagers at our schools to connect with each other, learn about one another, and break down pre-existing barriers.
Yasmin: It's hard to go back to your community holding new ideas and opinions because you do not always find yourself accepted when you think differently. I realized that if I want to spread my opinion, I had to first start with the people around me - my friends, my family and my schoolmates. And that's where we got the pen pal idea! There are always two sides of the same story and it's important to know what the other side thinks. The pen pal program gives us the opportunity to ask and get answers, to share and discuss topics with people who you thought were your enemies, and to learn about other narratives.
This pen pal program has blossomed and is now being integrated into a Dual Narrative history class at both sites.
The class will explore the history of Israel/Palestine and students from the class will correspond with each other via email.
Through this program, we are teaching our communities to let go of their stereotypes and to learn what the "other" really is - and to realize that we are not that different.
We are teenagers hoping that peace is attainable by humanizing the conflict through understanding, and by bringing these two communities together our goal is to start building bridges one teenager at a time.