Hands of Peace catapulted me into global citizenry. I, like so many other fellow alumni, could no longer allow our comfortable lives to result in complacency. We knew and cared too much not to act as stewards of a better world. My personal journey after Hands of Peace led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in International Politics at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. This included studying abroad in Jordan, where I lived with a Palestinian Muslim family. My life was full of enriching contrasts: a Jew becoming part of a Muslim family, and an American facing the unintended consequence of my country's war.
After college, I was awarded a year-long leadership development fellowship in Israel. I embedded myself in a handful of nonprofits to develop their conflict resolution programs. My year culminated in publishing a book called Words & Walls , which tells the story of the conflict through political graffiti. The next step on my Hands of Peace-inspired path was to work as a Yemen and Syria researcher at a policy think tank. With the expertise I developed, I wrote analyses for publications such as Foreign Affairs, The Jerusalem Post , and The Atlantic.
With the Middle East in political gridlock, I decided that the most tangible way for me to make a difference is through economic development. This led me to pursue my MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business. My long-term professional goal is to ease suffering through private sector economic development
ALIZA & YASMIN
Aliza and Yasmin met as participants in Hands of Peace. Wanting to make a difference in their own communities, these alumnae created a pen pal program between Aliza's Jewish Day School in New York City and Yasmin's Palestinian School in Israel. This pen pal program is integrated into a Dual Narrative history class that was created at both sites, where students will correspond with each other via email.
When asked about her Hands of Peace experience, and how it is influencing her today, Alyssa replied: "After moving to DC for college, I found myself without an outlet for the nuanced dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I had become accustomed to. My friends were entrenched in their respective sides, and often found themselves in heated ideological conflict with other students. I sought a student organization that focused on a dual narrative, but I was once again disappointed. Two years as an undergrad passed, and as the time for summer internships rolled around, I noticed a position at J Street. I had long admired their work, and was eager to get involved myself. I applied, and was lucky enough to be selected as a Public Engagement Fellow. My work is focused on planning the J Street Conference in late October, so my days are spent researching speakers and organizing logistics for the conference. These logistics involve everything from travel expenses to attendee registration. I work with the Events Team and the Communications Team to ensure that the conference goes off smoothly.
As a participant in the summer program, I learned about the personal cost of the conflict. I also learned how to change one mind at a time through empathy and human connection. As I got older, though, I found myself despairing at the intractable nature of the conflict. With so many people hating each other for so many years, how could any solution be viable enough to consider? Personal relationships are a key factor in ending this conflict, but the reality is that personal relationships need to be supplemented with thoughtful political action. As an American, I feel as though I have a duty to try and influence my government and encourage it to support a solution to the conflict rather than extension of it. I can take the personal lessons I learned from Hands of Peace and turn them into political influence at J Street to take us one small step closer to peace."
Anan was the HOP 2015 recipient of the Don and Ellen Clark Scholarship Award. This award is presented annually to a HOP alum who demonstrates a commitment to the goals and ideals of the HOP program. Anan just received his Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Birzeit University, Ramallah.
Hands of Peace was my wake up call - it helped me find who I am and helped me discover the opportunities that were given to me in life and embrace my skills and abilities. Working for Hands of Peace as a chaperone was an extraordinary experience. The shared responsibility and the passion of every member, the caring and the giving back what you were once given, and most of all the loving atmosphere surrounding the program was something I will always have in my heart and mind to remember and to cherish.
Bashar has earned a law degree and is working as an associate at a legal in Ramallah “to know more about [his] rights and duties and how to and better ways to protect freedoms through peace.” He earned a prestigious one-year fellowship with the McCain Institute for International Leadership and he serves as a Middle East consultant for Cure Violence, an international organization that approaches violence as a contagious epidemic that must be addressed from the grassroots.
Courtney believes that "After Hands of Peace, my life completely changed directions. I was on track to pursue a career in the arts, and was merely curious about studying world religions and volunteer work. Suddenly I found myself completely enraptured in what used to just be my side interests, and actively pursued a way to dedicate my life to this. I went through many phases of how I would go about it, the first of which being a Peace Studies degree at Chapman University. After a semester I realized that both the program and school were not quite right for me, so I left in search of a different path. I moved to Colorado for a while, trying life and a smaller university out there. Still something wasn’t right, and I knew I hadn’t truly unlocked what it was I needed to do and study. My world religions and philosophy classes were my favorite part of any week, and are still something I enjoy taking and dedicating many hours to. But as far as a life path goes I didn’t quite have one, and frequently found myself frustrated at the notion of paying extraordinary amounts of money to hear regurgitated and diluted information from religious texts that are available to everyone for free.
Once I moved to New York City and began taking medical certification courses out of sheer curiosity, I knew instantly it was what I had been searching for. I found myself instantly engaged and yearning for more classes and programs. Being a nurse gives me the opportunity to work with international medical organizations and continue my study of world religions and philosophy in a way I previously found unattainable- straight from the sources and regions themselves. Calling back to my original goals of working in theater/music, I also hope to encourage arts education programs into whatever countries I am working in, as I still believe that there is nothing more beneficial to a society than encouraging/fostering artistic expression. I begin nursing school this fall on the East Coast.
I applied to Project Hope in Nablus as a medical aid volunteer, and was accepted to work for two months this summer. It was only a few weeks later that the coordinator contacted me with questions about my background in music and the arts. I told him about my dance and music experience, cataloguing my many years of training and shows I both performed in and directed throughout my life. Ecstatic, the coordinator offered me the position of working as a leader in their Youth Arts department for the summer instead of as a medical aid. I emphatically said yes; who wouldn’t want to spend their summer encouraging artistic curiosity and creativity in children? And even more than that, it very much fits a larger philosophy I’ve developed both because of my time in Hands of Peace and my senior thesis presentation I had when I graduated high school (The Grauer School, 2017). I absolutely believe in the power of youth having a place in discussing international conflict resolution. I also believe in the power of artistic expression, especially in regions of the world where arts classes are not guaranteed throughout educational careers.
I, like so many others, believe there is a perfect harmony between the arts and international cultural engagement, and that building bridges and platforms for growth within communities can be a direct effect of encouraging children to utilize their artistic abilities. Children are the forever tomorrow, and investing our time, money, and confidence in their artistry is investing in stronger visions and solutions for the future. I could not be more excited to spend my summer in Israel and Palestine doing something I love and believe in. If it’s anything like it was the last time I spent time there, I’ll just be counting down the days until I return."
As a Hand in 2015 and an XL in 2016, Emily was shaped by her experiences. "My aspiration is to be an environmentalist fluent in global environmental policy, peacebuilding and diplomacy. I am entering my last year as an Environmental Biology and International Relations double-major at Tulane University, and my studies focus on conservation biology, environmental preservation, and public policy. More specifically, my current thesis project is concerned with the deleterious overlap between civil conflicts and biodiversity hotspots throughout the world, as well as how environmental conservation can be used to inspire conflict resolution. My experiences with Hands of Peace have prompted me to explore firsthand the complexities of the Middle East and environmental peacebuilding, specifically with regards to multinational water resource management.
Last fall, I spent my junior semester abroad at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies located on Kibbutz Ktura in the Negev Desert, Israel. Arava curriculum blends dialogue among its diverse student body with hands-on environmental and political courses that emphasize the concept that nature knows no borders. While studying with Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and other international students, I advanced my knowledge of the importance of dialogue and multinational resource management. This academic opportunity has introduced me to masters in the field, as well as a group of inspiring young adults who are in pursuit of a future where humanity is united by our mutual love for the environment. While studying abroad, I also participated in the Hands of Peace/EcoPeace Collective Impact Project. Focusing on environmental diplomacy, EcoPeace Middle East is a transnational NGO that developed a training program for Hands of Peace alumni to explore the interdependent regional nature of environmental resources. Under their guidance, I was able to travel to Jordan at the beginning of this year to learn about, and brainstorm ideas for addressing, transboundary water issues. I learned new skills in utilizing various public platforms to communicate controversial ideas in ways that effectively encourage collaboration between multiple parties. With these experiences inspired by Hands of Peace,I hope to become an expert in addressing the growing set of challenges at the intersection of environmental change, natural resource management, violent conflict, and reconciliation."
Hands of Peace was Fadwa’s first experience with different nationalities and allowed her the courage to critically analyze the situation she was living in, as “HOP encouraged me to break the taboo of meeting the enemy and I realized I can be Palestinian and raise the voice of my people without losing my identity as a Palestinian.”
By raising her voice, Fadwa truly believes that she is doing something positive. Working as a facilitator, she is challenging herself to look at situations where conflict arises and helping others process these difficult challenges. The next step for Fadwa is to pursue a masters degree in human rights, because she has decided to be a force of influence for positive change, and is working diligently to achieve that goal!
Spring of 2017 Jason will be interning with the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) in their D.C. office. ALLMEP is a consortium of almost 100 peace organizations that connects and advocates for members abroad and in Congress.
Hands of Peace made me direct almost all of my academic study and extracurricular work towards diplomacy, conflict, Israel, and Palestine. It is the reason that I applied to Georgetown as an Arabic Major, the reason that I worked for MK Erel Margalit, and the reason I will work for the Alliance for Middle East Peace. It has convinced me of the potential for peace and cooperation in Israel and Palestine.
JAFAR & MAX
Max received a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and is currently working as a Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a social justice advocacy organization located in Washington D.C.
Before Hands of Peace, I was relatively uneducated on the complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was for this reason that I knew hosting Jafar, a Muslim Palestinian from the West Bank, had the potential for being intellectually and culturally enlightening. I could not have predicted, however, what those three weeks of intense dialogue and thought-provoking conversation would become. After the program ended, Jafar attended an American university about four hours from our home, and as such, became a frequent guest during winter, spring and summer breaks. After graduation, he lived with my parents and brother for a year while working at his first job, and then went on to receive a Masters in Business Administration and land a job at KPMG in the city. Seven years later, Jafar remains a huge part of my life. I consider him a brother, and my parents call him their second son. Knowing him has enriched my life both culturally and politically, and I truly have HOP to thank for that.
"Attending the Hands of Peace program as a 10th grader complicated my goals for the future in a powerful but very unexpected way. I have been dancing since I was five and dreamed of one day having a professional career as my soul yearned for the artistic expression that dance provided. But I also knew I wanted to help others - I just wasn’t sure how yet. Hands of Peace was an incredibly transformative experience for me. It sparked a growing interest in conflict resolution, international relations and the different and unique ways one can promote healing in the world. I was suddenly torn between two passions, dance and the new world of conflict resolution that Hands of Peace had introduced me to.
I discovered the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in my senior year and was so excited by the opportunity to train with this company for five months on Kibbutz Ga’Aton in the north of Israel. KCDC is a very unique dance company. Their goal is to use dance as a way to build bridges between people of differing ages, backgrounds, and perspectives. Their unique choreography and outreach projects use dance as a medium in which to tell stories and explore issues in powerful and thought provoking ways. Training with KCDC and living on a kibbutz in Israel seemed like the perfect place for me to begin my journey of integrating my passions as well as gain new insight into the reality that my Middle Eastern friends face on a daily basis.
I had a wonderful, intense, and very eye opening experience in Israel. Living there allowed me to delve deeper into my Jewish identity as well as explore the conflict, my role in it, and the different ways I can affect it.I left feeling more connected to this part of the world than ever before and more intent on being a force for change, understanding, and healing in this region and at home."
Hands of Peace alumnus Maeve Plunkett has been awarded a $1,000 Study Abroad Grant from the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi - the nation’s oldest and most selective college honor society - to support her semester study in Rabah, Morocco. Maeve is one of 25 students nationwide to receive the award.
According to Maeve, "This past semester I studied migration and transnational identity in Morocco and the Netherlands, learning Arabic, living with a host family, and interning with an international NGO combatting illegal migration of minors. The experience connected several themes I had noticed from Hands of Peace: notions of belonging based on historical connections to land, different religious groups clashing over misunderstandings and stereotypes, and arbitrary decisions about who can and cannot cross geographical borders which impact people’s lives at their very core.
I chose this study abroad program because I believe migration will only increase over the coming years and with that increase comes the reality that more and more people from vastly different backgrounds will be living in the same spaces. Often, geographical proximity of different groups brings about ugly labels like “insider” and “outsider.” Even more often, those terms are mixed with racial, ethnic, and religions connotations and they cause us to treat one another differently and to limit our understandings of each other. However, everywhere I have travelled in the world I have seen groups work to go beyond those labels and push people to find the benefits of migration, the benefits of your neighbors practicing a different faith than you, the benefits your colleagues speaking another language. Sometimes this means we don’t understand each other, we don’t know what peoples’ intentions or values are. But a rather encouraging lesson I’ve learned from experiences like Hands of Peace and this past semester is that all you have to do to understand is to ask questions, listen, and share your own story. "
Maor started his journey with Hands of Peace 12 years ago in Chicago, as a 2006 participant, and has continued his engagement throughout the years. In 2018 he returned to Chicago as a chaperone during the Summer Program. Maor was one of our keynote speakers at the 2019 San Diego Benefit. To read his speech, click here.
Once you know you cannot ignore.
Mina went on to participate in a delegation of 'School Across Borders' in Ireland, to study their conflict and its resolution, to share her Jewish-Israeli perspective, and her experience living in a conflict. She has also remained an active part of the HOP family by returning on staff for the last 2 summers as one of our Jewish Israeli chaperones.
Seven years ago I started my journey with Hands of Peace. My experience as a participant changed my life completely as I began to perceive the situation in a more complex way. I started developing the skill and quality of consciousness that I didn't have prior, and felt obligated to the two societies who are existing in a conflict. I chose to stay and not to ignore what is happening. Finding ways to change the situation is one of my life goals and I'm trying to find ways to be more active and more influential.
Mohammed spent his summer at an advanced peace conference in the Netherlands working with other youth to draft a solution to the conflict. He was one of the guest speakers at the 2019 San Diego Benefit, where he delivered a speech on "More Than Just One Message". To read the transcript from his speech, click here.
Ever since I joined HOP everything in my life has changed...I have become more mature, more aware of the world, more aware of the conflict. It broadened my horizon and it made me who I am today which I am very proud of! I have recently obtained a full scholarship to do my fourth year in engineering at France and HOP deserves major credit for this achievement.
In October of 2015, amid escalating violence in Israel/Palestine, Noam noticed a disturbing photo posted on Facebook by an IDF soldier. The soldier had written on her hand: “Hating Arabs is not racism. It reflects values.” The photo generated 20,000 Facebook “likes” within hours. Noam was horrified by the reaction to the post, which he felt showed that “the mood in Israel was turning towards hate” For Noam, Palestinians were not “other” people. They were close friends with whom he had exchanged personal and often painful stories and with whom he regularly reunited at HOP’s year-round follow-up seminars. No fewer than 85 of Noam’s Facebook friends are fellow HOP alumni, about half of them West Bank Palestinians and Palestinian Citizens of Israel. Noam and a couple of his friends decided to launch a Hebrew language counter-initiative asking people to post photos of their hands with the tagline: “Hate is not a value. Racism is not the way.” The campaign has inspired thousands of Israelis and Palestinians to post these anti-bigotry photos and take a stand among their friends and communities. It even attracted coverage from major Israeli and Palestinian Israeli news sources.
Watch Noam's keynote address at the Hands of Peace 2019 Chicago Benefit, where he talks about "Giving Hope to the Next Generation of Hands"
Jewish Israeli alumna Niv earned the Tel Aviv county "outstanding volunteer" prize for leadership! Niv has served on the Jewish-Arab parliament for the past three years, joined a youth movement called "hashomer hatz'air", and initiated numerous peace projects in her school.
Niv is serving her country, working with troubled teens that come from broken homes or have been kicked out of school. Her job is to prepare them with all the tools they need to reach their fullest potential as they enter adulthood.
Hands of Peace made me realize I can do things that do matter. The biggest trip starts with a small step, that one person you reach. After HOP I understood that what I love to do is work with teens and kids and be that person they trust to open up to. It was the first step into a road I am still taking. I know now that I change the world my way, using the power of listening and embracing. I no longer look at difference as something that is just present but as a much needed addition to society. I grew up and now I want to help others find what they are good at and what they should do. Also, I am more confident and feel like I can belong anywhere as long as I bring who I am to that place.
Or participated as part of the Jewish-Israeli delegation in 2007. She went on to train as a facilitator, and is currently working towards her degree in Psycho-Drama, where clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing, and dramatic self-presentation to gain insight into their lives. She spends her time working with marginalized groups:
• Facilitating women’s youth groups to create dialogue opportunities for Jewish-Israeli, Palestinian Citizen of Israel, and Palestinian women
• Working with people who didn’t finish their army service and need help re-entering the civilian world, providing information on how to find a job, write a resume, or pursue a university degree
• Working with youth trying to create a less transphobic society
Through her multiple jobs, Or is driving positive change in her society. She is challenging societal conventions by creating mechanisms and facilitating dialogue for people who are pursuing different paths.
“My goal is to change society by making society more diverse and accepting”
Rawy was part of the 2010 and 2012 Palestinian Citizen of Israel delegation and has remained an active participant, attending every alumni seminar. Rawy participated in the Hands of Peace environmental diplomacy seminar for older alumni in partnership with EcoPeace. He gives back to his community and to other future leaders:
• As a freelance videographer and editor, Rawy chooses projects that are meaningful to him because of their positive impact on his community
• Returning as a Hands of Peace chaperone, Rawy inspires new participants on their own personal journeys
• As an entrepreneur, marketing vintage clothing online, he provides job opportunities for other Palestinians and supports the sustainable fashion movement
Remaining actively involved in Hands of Peace reminds Rawy of the life-long connections he has made, and he draws from his experiences constantly as he evolves and changes.
“Skills that I’ve learned in dialogue and through this process over the years have gotten me to a point where I now think and process things in a different way, constantly using the tools I learned through Hands of Peace in my everyday encounters”
Roxanne, a participant in the San Diego program in 2014 and 2015, graduated with honors this past spring from Williams College with a degree in economics and Arabic Studies. Her passion has led her to:
• Explore and broaden her knowledge of the Middle East and the Arabic language. Roxanne lived in Amman, Jordan, working on literacy and readership projects for Jordanian, Syrian, and Iraqi children before studying and teaching an English course for Syrian refugees in Beirut, Lebanon
• Focus her senior thesis on analyzing humanitarian aid allocation and the transition of power from international to local agents in the development sector
• Pursue a Master’s of Philosophy at University of Cambridge in England, in development studies, focusing on the mechanics of poverty in the Middle East and its historical, cultural, and political sources
Roxanne’s long terms goals include a career in development in the region, where she ultimately aims to work in collaboration with bilateral and multilateral organizations in the aid industry
“I am motivated evey day by my experiences at Hands of Peace and a desire to approach the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from an economic perspective”
Shira learned from Hands of Peace that narratives were an integral part of the peace process, reaffirming her decision to become a journalist. She currently works at BBC News Middle East Bureau in Jerusalem.
"I am currently a rising senior at Lewis and Clark College majoring in both Environmental Studies and Studio Art.
This year, a fellow LC student and I facilitated a series of discussions about the various facets of dealing with climate change. While many courses offered at LC address climate change, we wanted to create a space where students from various fields of study would have the opportunity to contribute their diverse perspectives. I felt much more comfortable and equipped to lead these discussions because of my time in Hands of Peace. In dialogue, we practiced navigating the challenges implicit in addressing difficult and complex societal issues. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to practice and grow these skills, which were nurtured in Hands of Peace."
Stav is currently working for the US Peace Corps Philippines, where she recently began a 27-month commitment to help communities with issues pertaining to Coastal Resource Management, working with local government units in their conservation efforts through education.
I will always remember Hands of Peace for teaching me to look beyond the conflict and at the individuals. Despite differences in belief, history, and even 'sides of a wall' Hands of Peace showed me that I could be friends with even the most unexpected of people. At the end of the day, we are all human and often it is desire for the same things that leads to compromise. HOP showed me that a step towards resolution is often a step back from a conflict situation. If we just took the time to know the individuals on the other side of the story, maybe peace wouldn't be such an unattainable goal.
An American Hand in 2012 and an XL in 2013, Yasmeen is helping empower refugee teens. "This fall I will be graduating from Western Michigan University with my Bachelors in Social Work. As a part of my degree, I have had the opportunity to work with Bethany Christian Services. Within this organization, I work with foster care with a specific focus on refugee children. Many of these young teens come to the U.S from war-torn countries in hopes of a better life. Some of my work tasks include health appointments, home visits, reunifications with family members, obtaining official U.S documents and making sure the youth are placed in safe and uplifting homes. A lot of my inspiration for this work came from participating in and working with Hands of Peace.
When I participated in Hands of Peace I found myself building close relationships with teens who lived such different lives than me, yet we easily bonded over similar interests and hobbies. It was in that moment I realized how strong and resilient Palestinians and Israelis could be, despite the atrocities they faced back home. I told myself that one day I would help people in similar situations, and I could not be happier in my line of work."
Zinat Kabbani, a 2009 Hands of Peace participant, believes that Hands of Peace was a starting point for the last 10 years of her life, and taught her how to connect with others in a place of conflict and crisis. She continues to use this knowledge as she pursues a career in Internal Medicine. To watch her keynote address from the 2019 Chicago Benefit, click here.
Hands of Peace taught me how to connect with the people around me without cancelling anyone’s identity – mine or the other
Zoe spent this past summer participating in the National Council on US-Arab Relations summer internship program and worked at The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center in Washington, DC.
When I joined Hands of Peace in 2013 I had no idea how much of an impact it would have on me and the path my life would take. As I look at what I am doing now, it all goes back to HOP. Studying Arabic, which started as a hobby in hopes of surprising my middle-eastern friends, landed me in Amman, Jordan last semester. If I learned anything from HOP, it is that the key to any conflict resolution, big or small, is honest and clear communication. When reuniting with HOP friends in Amman and Tel Aviv during my time abroad, we all agreed that HOP changed everything for us, and as I look at my interests and potential life path, it is clear that this is no exaggeration.