MAOR

2006 – Jewish

So… An Israeli and a Palestinian walk onto a plane. Sounds like the start of a joke? How would it continue? What would they do? What would they talk about? Sounds complicated. And yet, every year, for 15 years, this is indeed what is happening.

Israelis and Palestinians sit together on the plane, year after year, a bit afraid, skeptical and charged. They come eager to change the world. And yet, on their way back – they’re crying. A cry of relief, closeness, and an amazing experience that has just ended.

Hello, my name is Maor Yehiel, I’m 30 years old – and exactly 12 years ago … I was one of those kids on the plane.

I live in Haifa, I have one amazing little brother, and loving parents – they come from a Jewish-Arabic background where on my mother’s side we are Moroccan. And on my father’s side we have Iraqi roots. Surprised? It was hard for me too back in the days.

For most of my life I’ve been socially active, as a young high-school student involved in many youth movements, volunteering and training the next generation of leaders. Today I am the founder of an Israeli startup called TRIBE – which helps businesses grow through digital marketing.

Im standing here, thinking of the road taken so far in my life, knowing that this all has one source, one spark that ignited my drive and pushes me even today. It is that summer back in 2006.

To understand who I am, i would like to tell you a little bit about young Maor. It was March 5th, 2003 when I had my first real encounter with the conflict. The Haifa bus 37 suicide bombing had just occurred. Later that evening, as I watched a report about the attack on the evening news, I saw that my best friend’s sister – Meital Katav was murdered in the attack. I was 14 years old.

This sister, this person, used to take us home from kindergarten, used to make us lunch at their house, used to smile, used to laugh and now…she is gone.

Coming from a right-wing family, over the years you overhear conversations, you understand that people are afraid, you see fingers pointed towards the only guilty side.

You read the news, you talk with your friends – and you have around you a “protective” shield of selective information that keeps us from hearing different narratives.

Coming to Hands of Peace a few years later, I am sure I am going to “show” everyone how right I am, how much we are suffering and how this whole thing is their fault.

Hands of Peace made me more involved in my society, a person who asks questions and does not settle for immediate answers. Always looking for greater truth. It gave me strength to know that there is another way. Because I did it. I was there talking, playing, laughing with the other side and I saw what can be done together.

It was a facilitator named Abigail – who called to say i got in. It took another 5 minutes to get over the excitement and start thinking what will happen.

It is the same Abigail who during the dialogue in the summer program, many times shared information I never knew before. I couldn’t argue. Understanding the history of each war and operation, who took what lands and what the everyday checkpoint reality actually looks like. From there, the more I knew the less I was able to ignore.

To accept new information I had to break down socially constructed barriers that were there from the time I was born, but I really understood that no matter what – everyone sees the conflict differently. And this isn’t going to be won by any competition of who suffers more.

A woman suffering, crying over her lost son is equal on both sides. The tears are real, the broken heart and lack of desire to keep on with your life is there and its mutual for them. And nothing is going to change if we keep blaming each other.

Wanting to change the world, i came back from Hands of Peace realizing how much I was changed. Hands of Peace gave me confidence, taught me how to be a better listener and to read between the lines of emotion to what people really care about.

I wasn’t afraid to express my opinion – even if I was the only person in the room who thinks so. Knowledge is power, power it is a responsibility, and once you know you cannot ignore.

It started with my family who started consulting me, asking me questions about the other side and what they really want. My friends asked about possible solutions, and stopped making small comments about the conflict or arabs since now I that have Palestinian friends, I called them on it.

Hands of Peace made me more involved in my society, a person who asks questions and does not settle for immediate answers. Always looking for greater truth. It gave me strength to know that there is another way. Because I did it. I was there talking, playing, laughing with the other side and I saw what can be done together.

One of the strongest and most significant moments for me in Hands of Peace was when we were asked to stand, pick a Palestinian partner, look into each other eyes and then feel each other’s heart beat. I stood in front of an Haya – the sister of Hoda, our Palestinian regional manager. We stood there staring, embarrassed, and in that moment I will never forget wondering what’s so special about feeling the heartbeat. What is so different?

And that’s when it hit me. It’s not different. It’s the same. There is nothing else Hands of Peace wanted us to know besides that deep truth. I realized that the real power lies in our ability to listen and connect with the other side.

Last July, I had the amazing opportunity to serve as the Jewish Israeli delegation chaperone in Chicago. Beyond the sense of mission – it gave me strength. Charging me with energy and reminding me why I believe in this mission so much. Power to deal with difficulties, with loss, pain and frustration …. To know that there is another group, again this year, of youth who believe in change and will help spread it wherever they are.

To know that 12 years later. The little boy who was on the plane with Palestinians, afraid and scared, still has that fire inside that started over a decade ago.

Hands of Peace gave me knowledge, experience and facts. On both sides. Once I knew – I could not ignore! THE TIMES ARE POLITICAL. We can not be Israeli or Palestinian today without being political.

BUT, I do not choose a party – I choose a solution. I choose dialogue, I choose listening openly and peacefully. Pro Palestinian or pro Israeli, Right wing left wing, these are old approaches that keeps us away from realizing that the real choice we all have is to either be pro solution or against it.

I want to thank you all for joining me in that choice.