By Danny Shaket*
I must admit, at first, I was very skeptical and cynical concerning my role on tour. I thought the events were more about photo ops than garnering influence, and I assumed Ahmad would be a radical nationalistic Palestinian. Yet as the tour got under way, I soon realized my presumptions were misguided.
Standing in the United States, talking about the conflict, reminded me of a saying by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: “What you see from here, you don’t see from there.” Perspectives change depending on where they’re seen.
We were warmly accepted at prestigious think tanks and institutions such as the British and Finnish Embassies, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Buxton Initiative, the United States Institute of Peace, Congress, the State Department, and even the White House. We had very interesting debates and worthwhile discussions regarding how the people on the streets of Israel and Palestine—the people who matter most—truly feel. I’ll be taking home some really great ideas for future events that grew out of these meetings.
The mixture of formal meetings with policymakers and speaking to students enabled us to stay energized. At college events, Ahmad and I were so happy to find out that students in attendance were not simply there to see “the miracle” of a Palestinian and an Israeli standing together. They were genuinely interested in what we had to say. The audience was eager to form their own opinions of the actions on the ground instead of being told what to think by scholars and academics. They had challenging questions and some felt compelled to express to us how we were being portrayed in the media.
On tour, it was understood by Ahmad and I that our role was to convey the message that Israelis and Palestinians each have their own interests in ending the conflict. We want a divorce, albeit amicably. Ahmad and I quickly acknowledged that it is futile to argue over the past, that our present leaders need to negotiate the future, and that it is our responsibility to get them to sit at the negotiation table. By putting our past where it belongs, Ahmad and I really connected on a human level. I hope to cooperate with him now that we are back in Israel and Palestine.
The Gallaudet University event was very emotional for us. It was the first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard of hearing in the world. I specifically remember one member of the audience named Joseph. He was a tattooed man with a goatee and long hair, born, symbolically, in 1967. His question was very direct, perhaps owing to the emphatic nature of sign language; “I’ve heard about this conflict since I was born—why the hell don't you finish it already?” He thought his comment offended us, when really he reinvigorated our conviction to end the conflict.
As a representative of people who genuinely want to see an end to the bloodshed in Israel and Palestine, Joseph lifted our spirits and reaffirmed that we must be more stubborn than those who want to perpetuate the violence and feed off the blood and tears. Both Ahmad and I were filled with the sense that the work we’d undertaken was not only right, but also the only way to tear down the walls of indifference, cynicism, and skepticism on both sides.
*Danny Shaket is a senior OneVoice Israel youth leader. He recently participated in OneVoice’s International Education Program’s 10-day speaking tour of Washington, D.C., Virginia, and North Carolina and met with top U.S. policymakers.