By Eliran Eyal*
Traveling to the United States and speaking on the [OneVoice International Education Program] tour with Mohammad [Asideh] was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. In those ten days I ran through a gamut of emotions that definitely did not produce the fun times that my friends swore I would have. And yet while unpleasant at times, the tour was not only stimulating and educational, but life changing as well. My decision to participate on the tour has led me to reexamine how peoples’ actions inadvertently affect the lives of others.
One of the moments of the tour that I think most about, happened at an event at San Diego State University. I had finished telling my personal story and during the question and answer session, a Palestinian professor [Dr. Farid Abdel-Nour] in the audience asked me if it were possible for me to relate to any of the Palestinians I had mentioned in my experiences.
As an actor it is often times my job to put myself in the shoes of another person, but his comment really shocked me. He was asking me to see things from the perspective of someone who was celebrating on the streets as I was with my family down in a bomb shelter. It was these times, when my personal identity and my belief in the two-state solution were challenged that I felt characterized the tour as both difficult but thought provoking.
In every session the audience was welcomed to share their feelings about what we were talking about. We were asked many great questions, some of which were harder to answer than others. The hardest conversations, however, weren’t the ones that took place on stage, but the private ones Mohammad and I would have. Getting to know a man from the other side of my military service and hearing his life story and his point of view was rewarding.
For years the media has told me untruths about the Palestinian people. Hearing Mohammad’s first person account on issues both big and small made me realize that the differences between the two of us are much smaller that I thought. Mohammad is not an extremist. He, like me, represents the moderate majority, and is willing to stand up for his beliefs. I feel that he and I could be really good friends if not for the unreasonable reality we live in.
In Israel military service is a natural, albeit mandatory part of life in Israel. For 3 years I served as a tank commander and did so out of respect for my country, my family, and those we have lost. I am still in active in the reserves. It is difficult to find any soldier who would choose to connect with someone they once called an enemy. But as a representative of OneVoice Israel, this is exactly what I did. What I learned from this experience is that any soldier or policymaker around the world would benefit from an experience like this. If they did it would have a truly positive effect on the world.
* Eliran Eyal is a OneVoice Israel senior youth leader. He recently participated in a OneVoice International Education Program 10-day tour speaking tour of Colorado and Southern California, at several academic and social institutions.