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NOAM

2011, 2012 – Jewish  Israeli

Giving Hope to the Next Generation of Hands: Speech at the Hands of Peace Benefit, at the Chicago Botanic Gardens on April 7th, 2019.

My name is Noam Preminger and eight years ago I stood at the Hands of Peace Farewell Celebration as a participant and told my story. Some of you were probably there. Today I’d like to share with you my path since then and what the future holds.

I was born and raised in a small village in the north of Israel called Moledet, My parents immigrated from Chile before I was born. When asked why, they told me they never felt 100% at home in Chile. Being Jewish, they never felt equal.

The area where I lived most of my life has a 50% Arab population. The closest Arab village is one mile away from my home. Six miles to the south is the green line, beyond which live 2.5 million Palestinians. Six miles to the east is the border with Jordan.

Despite this, until I was 15 and came to Hands of Peace, I never knew any Arabs. It might sound crazy, but even though we live very close, an infinite number of virtual and physical barriers separate us. We live in different villages, go to different schools and mostly work separately. We speak different languages and, as a Jewish Israeli, we don’t learn Arabic. Almost the only time we meet is in the markets. I never hated my neighbors, but they were complete strangers to me.

The conflict was always a safe distance from me. It was never in my backyard. At Hands of Peace, for the first time, I heard the stories firsthand. Stories from Israelis who were living with missiles from Gaza. And stories from Palestinians who were living under occupation and suffering every day the lack of freedom. It’s impossible to stay indifferent when the people suffering were my new Israeli and Palestinian friends.

For a while after Hands of Peace, I became very pessimistic. After that summer, when I sat down in dialogue and for the first time grasped the complexity of the conflict and the emotional baggage that each side carries, I couldn’t see any future for the two nations. Negotiating maps and borders turned out to be just a small step on a very long road.

Later, out of this, grew hope. That hope came from recognizing that I could be the one to build the bridge, to do what we did that summer, but for the long run. I decided to commit myself to fighting for a better future.

We, Hands of Peace alumni, are becoming a great power. We are the most diverse, educated and dedicated group of young people I know. In my life, I am seeking opportunities to reach over the barriers to my Palestinian friends and act together with full confidence that I will always have a hand reaching out from the other side.

Three years ago, I was living in a mixed city of Jews and Arabs. It was a very tense time. Every day we faced attacks against civilians. The West Bank was in chaos. Violence raged. Still, my friends and I were shocked when a hate post went viral. An Israeli girl wrote on her hand “hating arabs isn’t racism, it’s values” and the post generated tremendous support. We had to push back against this hatred coming from all directions. We started an online campaign in response. We wrote on our hands “Hate is not a value, racism is not the way” and uploaded it to social media. Our post went viral. In this small way, we helped spread this message of acceptance, and made the climate less hostile.

Three months ago, I participated in a new joint project between Hands of Peace and EcoPeace. The project, just for older alumni, gave us the opportunity to learn about environmental diplomacy. We focused on ways that water issues cross borders and therefore require cross-border solutions. Now we are meeting as adults and the discussions are more complicated and mature.

One of the major things I have gained from my ongoing Hands of Peace experience is the ability to face someone whose ideas are very different from mine and see how we can bridge the gaps. This skill was very useful when I served my military duty on a Navy ship. I lived very close with many people, and some were very different from me. It was not an easy place for a gay liberal person.

Tools I learned with Hands of Peace were often the key to approaching my colleagues. I gained the trust of my shipmates and of my commanders, so I had more influence than I ever thought possible.

The peak of my service was getting the opportunity to be in charge of education for the entire ship. I planned a 4-day trip to Tel Aviv – Jaffa and Jerusalem for the entire crew — 60 soldiers, including officers and commanders — to learn about Israeli society, it’s conflict’s and the people doing good in it. We talked about inequality, the LGBT community, African refugees, and activism. We met different people who dedicate their life to make the world better. One of them was Hanin, a Palestinian Israeli who took it as her mission to teach Arabic to Jewish Israelis. It is impossible to describe how rare such a meeting is in the reality of a soldier in the Israeli Army. And for me, seeing some of my friends caring about serious conflicts in our society for the first time was incredible. With my own two hands, I could make a real change.

We, Hands of Peace alumni, are becoming a great power. We are the most diverse, educated and dedicated group of young people I know. In my life, I am seeking opportunities to reach over the barriers to my Palestinian friends and act together with full confidence that I will always have a hand reaching out from the other side.

This is one of the reasons I will be coming back this summer as a chaperone. And this is the message I want to pass on to the next generation of Hands of Peace.

In less than 48 hours, I’ll be back at home, in the voting box. These votes are crucial. But replacing people in power will not bring the desired change. Change comes slowly. It comes thanks to what Hands of Peace, you in this room, and many other good people are doing every day. By bringing people together, by facing the harsh reality and being an island of sanity, by changing one person at a time.

Thank you for being here, thank you for listening, and thank you for joining me on this journey towards peace.