Looking for the Light: A Young Palestinian Woman’s Quest for Change

By Heather Renetzky and Morgan Furlong

(as part of our Stories of Inspiration series)

Haneen Majadhle has a modest goal in life: to change the world. She graduated from ICCI’s Between Memory and Reconciliation and facilitated at ICCI’s Face to Face/Faith to Faith’s New York summer camp program in cooperation with Auburn Seminary. Originally from Baqa Algrbiah, an Arab city in central Israel, Haneen moved to Jerusalem to study social work at Hebrew University ten years ago.

Her first experience in Jerusalem was not exactly positive. She was in Jerusalem for one week when there was a bombing at her school. Panicking, she fled to the street with her other classmates. The army seized her and everyone else who either looked Arab or spoke Arabic as suspects. Feeling afraid and unsafe, she kept repeating to herself, “Everything will be okay.” This nightmare shaped her image of Jerusalem.

At this point, Haneen realized that she had two options: to live with hate, or to find circles that would help her deal with the complicated city of Jerusalem. In line with her desire to “make the world a better place,” she chose the latter and joined the Young Adult programs of the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel (ICCI), later becoming a member or the organization’s Board of Directors.

“A lot of people use religion to justify what they do in the name of G-d. I want to change that,” Haneen said.

She wanted to have her voice heard, and she wanted to hear from people of other religions.

“[In my dialogue group at ICCI] It was really hard to listen, and really hard to share,” Haneen explained. She spoke about feeling “surrounded and overwhelmed by a lot of identities,” whether it was Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Arab, Israeli, or Palestinian.  However, she felt that there was a lot to gain in sharing her own story because of the role dialogue plays in helping get rid of ignorance.

Despite these challenges, Haneen also has more positive memories, especially from her ICCI 2010 study tour to Japan, with a group of Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians. She recalls being at a Buddhist temple with Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Being in a place where they all felt out of their comfort zone, the group realized that they had more in common than they had previously thought. In Japan’s unfamiliar environment, the group was finally able to recognize their similarities—culture, food, and language—more than their differences. Haneen returned from the trip noticeably different than when she started it: “Whether in a small group or big group, something happened to the people. I can’t name it. But I do think and feel something happened.”

Participating as a facilitator in Face to Face/Faith to Faith international camp in upstate New York –with staff and students from Israel, Palestine, South Africa, Northern Ireland and parts of the USA.–and learning about the internal conflicts in in all of these places, helped her better understand a struggle beyond her own: “You get to know that you’re not the only nation conflicted.”

She disagrees with those who think that other people’s problems are theirs alone and believes that “If you want to save the world, you have to struggle for everyone.”

“At some point, when you feel you have a common background, you see you have a common thing to fight for: To be safe, not to be poor. It’s the same wish list,” she explained.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has made the atmosphere very difficult, and Haneen expressed her inability to sleep during the conflict. Speaking about how Palestinian people need their basic civil rights– food, clean water, and education– she declared, “Unless we deal with the basic thing, I can’t see the light after that.” She described her dark moments and her criticisms of the current situation:  “As humans, we’re not putting our efforts in the right places. I have bad days—where I’m waiting for the ark and the flood and the world to start again.”

Still, she said that dialogue has helped her maintain hope that there can be change in this world:

“Whether we disagree or agree about what’s happening in Gaza, we can talk.”

“We have lost a lot of hope here, and it’s easy to do that. If you keep talking together…and you feel that other people are [on the same page], I think that’s really helpful. You can see that despite everything, something can happen in here.”

 

Heather Renetzky, a Core 18 Fellow interning at ICCI this summer, is finishing her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Religious Studies from Macalester College.

Morgan Furlong, a Core 18 Fellow interning at ICCI this summer, just finished her Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and is pursuing a career in interfaith work.

 

 

 

 

 

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