Envisioning Peace Through Dialogue: A Conversation Among Young Israeli and Palestinian Women in Austin

Envisioning Peace Through Dialogue: A Conversation Among Young Israeli and Palestinian Women in Austin

Over the past 18 summers, more than 250 young Israeli and Palestinian women have come together at a Creativity For Peace camp in New Mexico to talk, and through the process discovered their anger and prejudice transform into mutual respect.

“I was a person who hated Israelis. I once was a person who could only see the bad side of things or the bad side of people,” wrote Mandy Abuashliya, a young resident of the West Bank, reacting on what she was like before she attended camp in 2011. “When I think about what I once was, I feel sad, I feel bad, I feel angry. I feel the regret in me."

Israeli campers say they too experienced a transformation and recall how difficult it was to go back to the real world.

“All the girls said that being home was hard, frustrating, and confusing.  The people around you haven’t changed. It’s you who is not the same,” wrote Hila Paz, a 2012 camper, who lives in the Lower Galilee region of Israel.

Now these women, and others like them, have dedicated themselves to becoming leaders in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

On Sunday, February 12 at 3 p.m. at the AISD Performing Arts Center, four young Israeli and Palestinian women, like Mandy and Hila, will talk about the process that brought them together and answer audience questions. The interfaith program, called Envisioning Peace through Dialogue, is free and open to the public thanks to funding by the Michael & Jeanne Klein Foundation and Creativity for Peace.

The program began in 2003 as an idea of psychotherapist Rachel Kaufman, artist Debra Sugerman, and peace activist/ writer Anael  Harpaz. They believed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would never end if leto adults and governments and young women had the greatest chance at achieving peace. Mickey Klein agrees. Klein and his wife are local philanthropists, supporters of public and higher education and the arts in Austin. Klein said he got involved with this organization three summers ago, because he felt inspired.

“They have a great process to develop communication so they’re talking to each other, and that’s the thing that interested me and fascinated me, is how 16 young women can come disliking each other and leave caring about one another to the extent of loving one another,” Klein said. “The fi­rst time I went to a session, a young Palestinian woman who was one of the counselors was speaking and said, 'Two of my uncles were killed by Israeli soldiers' and she said, 'but I still believe there can be peace.' And all of the young women came up and hugged her in en masse, and I had tears running down my eyes… It’s a very emotional thing, but these young ladies end up loving each other.”

Every day for three weeks, campers participate in a three-hour dialogue session, led by trained facilitators, where they learn to speak authentically and listen compassionately. As they listen to each other’s personal stories and share experiences at camp, they begin to heal and connect with young women on the “other side.”

When graduates return home, they become Young Leaders and get in-depth training on how to facilitate groups, organize projects, serve as spokeswomen, and take other actions to help achieve peace.

Creativity for Peace Executive Director Dottie Indye, who will be moderating the Q&A at the February 12 public event, said, “It is our hope that in introducing Dima, Deema, Mai and Sivan to Austin, we will show Central Texans how devoted these women are to instilling a way forward.”

This is just the fi­rst stop in a week full of events in Austin intended to inspire others. The women will make several private appearances including programs at AISD and private schools, the University of Texas and interfaith council meetings.

Klein says he hopes the women’s message of authentic speaking and compassionate listening inspires others because it is a good lesson for everyone… not just Palestinians and Israelis.

“We’re trying to do this now, my wife and two other people, in Austin public schools, with what they call social/ emotional learning. It’s a program in all AISD schools where they are teaching young kids, starting in pre-K all the way through grade 12, how to deal with conflict, how to deal with abuse, how to deal with bullying.”

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