We have no choice. This is the only way.

Today I took part in another meeting between Arab and Jewish teenagers in Israel. For those who don’t know this, I volunteer in an organization called “אפשר אחרת” or in English “A New Way.” It literally means- “A different way is possible.” During the meetings, I speak privately with the students and try to understand how they feel, and why. Today, I had the privilege in joining them at the circus!

67 students walked into a circus with hula-hoops, ropes, mattress’s, and were ready to start! This specific group today met for the 3rd time. I parked my car, got out and saw two men standing in the parking lot. I approached them asking if they knew where the students were and could tell me where to go. They smiled and told me “The Arabs and Jews?” I nodded. They told me they were inside. Before walking in they stopped me and said- “Wait, what is this for?” I began to explain what A New Way was, and their purpose. They were the bus drivers that brought the students, and ironically, one was an Arab bus driver and one was a Jewish bus driver. They began to laugh. The Arab told me- “I brought the Jewish students! And he brought the Arab students!” After a minute of laughing they stopped, looked at one another and then at me and said – “So is a different way possible?” I smiled and told them there is. One said Amen, the other Inshallah.

When entering the circus I noticed the problematic students, the easy going ones, and the girls who didn’t want to ruin their hair and sat on the side. I quickly made eye contact with one student. He seemed like the leader of his pack, and I needed him. After speaking to multiple students I asked him to come with me to the side. He stood, and I began to ask questions. His friends said “Can we come too?” And I said “of course, as long as you’re willing to answer questions!” I began to ask the leader of the pack, Salim, how he felt, if the meetings gave him hope, or changed his opinion… He was optimistic and told me there was a lot of racism between the two sides in the first meeting and he’s seen a huge difference. Suddenly, his friend cut him off and yelled “There is no peace with them! Are you crazy? This is all bull shit!” The other 5 students simply looked at him and were shocked he had the courage to speak this way to Salim. Salim was angry, you could tell by looking at his eyes but he gave his friend a friendly slap on the back and told him “Stop! If we don’t do it, no one will. We have no choice. This is the only way.” His friend was aggravated but said – “I guess you are right.” Salim continued to explain to his friends how important it was that I was recording them and sharing their message he said “If more people hear us talking like this on the radio, they will know the truth, that we are peaceful and want to live together.” He was right. And it wasn’t only I who saw it. His friends saw it too. The 48 year old bus driver asked me if it was possible, if a different way was even attainable. And the 16 year old Arab high school student could have given him the answer.

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They are allowed to love, we are not.

Yesterday I attended a students activity day for A New Way. A New Way is an organization that brings Arab and Jewish Israeli students together for multiple activity meetings and then for a final meeting among their parents.
I walked into the classroom and I felt confused. Arabs sitting on one side, Jews sitting on the other. The Jewish girls made cookies and cakes, came up to every Arab student and offered them a piece with a smile. But the Arab students were lost, had no idea what they were doing there and were unable to smile. The first activity began. I sat with the girls. I noticed a girl with a head covering who didn’t say a word. She refused to even try and speak Hebrew. I heard her say her name one time, Aamira. I kept my eye on her…
I realized that everything that is said by a councilor or student is translated into Hebrew and Arabic so that everyone understands. A majority of the Arab students don’t speak Hebrew and none of the Jewish students had fluent Arabic. You see buddies, they don’t leave their buddies. It’s like they’re scared to move without someone from their side… They begin to laugh together, the ice is melting.
A conversation starts among the girls. The Jewish girls start to tell the Arab girls that they can have boyfriends, their parents know about them, and they come over often. Aamira looks angrier than when she walked in.
The Arab girls say there is no way they can have a boyfriend and tell their parents! They hide it away from them. The Jewish girls are shocked! They begin to talk and laugh about it, a young Arab girl talks about how a girl in their school is pregnant and her parents don’t know – she’s broken the ice.
Aamira yells in Arabic “They are allowed to love, we are not.” The ice they broke just shattered.

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Later I sat with the boys who just came back from playing soccer. The councilor was telling them about how this coming Wednesday the teachers and students are going on strike because schools in Israel have cancelled school trips. The councilor tells them “Look at how much power you as students have! No student in Israel is coming to school on Wednesday!” An Arab boy yells, “Us too??” confused on if he’s a part of these Israeli students the councilor is talking about…
The boys were asked if they were to build a soccer team together, how would it work?
Ben yells “Let’s agree that the team’s coach is a Christian! That way its fair!” The boys laugh and agree.
“What days will we train?” Ahmed yells
Gil says “Sunday’s and Thursday’s!”
“Our coach can’t train on Sunday’s!” Ben says
He’s right… So they agreed to Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“And what color shirt will we wear?” Adam says
“White! It’s the color of peace and clarity” Ahmed answers.
They all smile and nod. Leaving with the feeling of peace and clarity… Not looking back at the past but forward towards a clean and new future, together.