By Heather Renetzky
(as part of our Stories of Inspiration series)
Hani Salman first got involved in ICCI and interreligious dialogue during a time very different from today. It was 2008 and[R1] Hani was 16 years old. As he describes it, this was a time when “everyone wanted to engage in dialogue” and people were optimistic about the possibility of achieving peace through discourse. In addition to being a participant in an ICCI young adult dialogue program, Hani served as a facilitator for 2 years on ICCI’s innovative “Kickstart Peace” program for Arab and Jewish teenagers , and he served on the staff of the Face to Face/Faith to Faith program in the U.S.A –in cooperation with Auburn Theological Seminary—for 2 summers.
Hani, a Palestinian Muslim living in the Palestinian Bet Safafa neighborhood/village in the southern edge of “East” Jerusalem, chose to engage in dialogue and joined ICCI’s “Jerusalem Interreligious Young Adult Forum” because he wanted to “speak about [his] cause.” He also hoped that engaging in dialogue would allow him to broaden his understanding of the Israeli perspective:
“I was satisfied that I could talk about myself really, and not be diplomatic,” he said.
“[In dialogue], you hear the things that are hard for you to hear and you start to try to understand it from another perspective.”
Although Hani saw benefits in participating in ICCI and other interterreligious dialogue programs, his friends and family were skeptical. His family told him that they thought his effort was a waste of time, and his friends accused him of contributing to “normalization”, establishing normal relations with Jews in Israel, despite the ongoing occupation..
“It’s not understood that Israelis and Palestinians sit together in one room and talk together at the same eye level, considering each other as equal human beings,” Hani said.
Hani, like many, has himself grown less hopeful about peace due to current events, but he still thinks that there is some value in dialogue. He said that at minimum, bringing people together is important:
“Everything you do to bring people together is better than not doing it,” he explained.
“One of the best things you can achieve from dialogue is to be able to listen to stories that are really difficult for you ,to listen and to try to accept it.”
One of the friends that Hani met through ICCI was, an Orthodox Jew studying to be a Rabbi in the United States. In 21st century fashion, Hani and [R2] recently had an argument on Facebook about what they were each posting. However, the two were able to move beyond the argument and to have a genuine dialogue via social networking.
“We’re still friends and we’re enjoying our friendship because neither of us deny the right of existence to each other,” Hani explained.
He also called for this attitude among others:
“I wish that before jumping to a conclusion, everyone would try to listen in order to hear the side that he may not want to listen to—even the side that is difficult for him to see—and to then form an opinion.”
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.
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