by Rachael Sauceda
On Sunday, February 17th, the ICCI organized a meeting between a group of Jewish High School students from White Plains New York, Jewish Israeli students from Haifa, and Arab Israeli Students from Abu Gosh, an Israeli Arab town, just west of Jerusalem. Traveling to Abu Gosh gave the Jewish students an opportunity to experience what an Arab Israeli High School is like and to sit down face to face to talk with one another. Sitting in the library at Abu Gosh, the students were asked to think about three questions:
(1) What do you learn about your own culture?
(2) What do you learn about Jewish culture?
(3) How many chances do you have normally to meet with Jews?
First we were given the teachers’ perspective on what the curriculum was supposed to be for the school and how that may have differed from what the students thought they ended up learning. Then some of the students of the high school got up and spoke about what they learn or do not learn about and how they felt about the topics. Many of the students got very excited every time one of their classmates would go up to speak and became very talkative, depending on what the student would openly tell everyone. It was also shocking for the students from America to find out that they were not allowed to learn about Palestinian history and culture in school. Hearing from the students from Abu Gosh gave the Jewish students from Israel and America an opportunity to hear for the first time what Arab Israeli students actually learn in their schools as citizens of Israel.
After the short discussion, the students were broken down into small groups to start more personal discussions on getting to know the other side. The students could see the differences that existed between them, but also the striking similarities that they shared. Finding similar interests showed the teens how they enjoy the same things that all teens enjoy, just in different parts of the world. The importance of getting to know the other side and realizing that they enjoyed the same activities despite such culturally diverse backgrounds set a strong foundation of understanding before beginning to talk about the conflict.
The students realized that they had extremely different views on certain topics but showed maturity and respect by letting others share their opinion without being interrupted. The students from Abu Gosh had so many questions for the American teens such as: “what had you heard about our culture?” and “what do you know about Gaza?”, and the American students asked things such as “what do you think about America?”
Each person in the group would take turns answering and the small groups gave the students the chance to be open and honest with one another. Through the discussion each student had the opportunity to meet and bring a different perspective or learn something new about the other side. Although it can be intimidating to enter an unknown culture and only have preconceived notions at the beginning, for the most part, these students were able to work past their initial uneasiness to come together to have a frank, honest and open discussion on what each other’s lives were about.