Participating in the Middle East Seminar as an American

Givat Haviva, Israel – November 2, 2018 HOP alumni from across Israel and the West Bank reunited for the first time since the summer program. The Middle Eastern seminar began like most Hands of Peace events – with excitement and lots of hugging. There was a solemn undercurrent to the happiness and excitement, however. We were there to reconnect with old friends, but we were also there to engage in dialogue about the current issues facing Israelis and Palestinians, always a challenging topic.
The two-day seminar consisted of four dialogue sessions, a presentation on the Nakba, and a debate workshop. As a Jewish American, I care deeply about the conflict, but I often struggle with feeling disconnected with the reality that my Middle Eastern friends face at home. During the summer program, I often questioned whether my voice and opinion could offer value to the conversation. And so when I had the opportunity to spend five months in Israel as part of a dance training program, I knew that attending the seminar would be a priority for me.
The dialogue sessions were intense. The physical distance that we have from the conflict during the summer program was erased. There was no way to forget the challenges of the conflict as we were directly in them. Living in Israel for the past three months has significantly complicated my relationship to the conflict. I have experienced for the first time the strong spiritual connection that Jewish people have to this land. I myself had a particularly powerful and meaningful trip to Jerusalem recently. But living here has also meant that I have witnessed firsthand the sort of injustice my Palestinian friends routinely face. Can I simultaneously deepen my Jewish identity and advocate for the equality of Palestinians? Is my passion for creating understanding between Israelis and Palestinians in conflict with my being Jewish?
These are all important questions that arose during the seminar and that I continue to grapple with. Participating in the seminar was a meaningful experience. I was very grateful to be able to reconnect with my Hands of Peace family and join them in a safe space where we could challenge and question each other, listen, wonder, and grow.