Today I listen to three speakers at Ipswich Rotary Club describe their visit to Israel, Palestine and sacred sites in the city of Jerusalem. They were traveling with a group that was specifically promoting dialogue and peace-making efforts between Israel and Palestine, with two guides (one from each area) who narrated very different perspectives and experiences along the way. And of course, just looking at the map and seeing images of the holy areas of Jerusalem that are important to the three monotheistic traditions – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – and the security and weaponry onsite … this is not a peaceful situation. It is a militarized region with very real concerns about warfare and ongoing issues of social justice. Yet the two guides, the group that organized the trip, and even the visitors who traveled with them are all making real efforts toward understanding and conflict-resolution.
In the past, our Rotary Club has also hosted events and shared meals with teens and young adults through Friends Forever: an organization that brings youth from both sides of divided political places such as Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine to a “neutral” place. Here they come to be kids. To canoe on the river, dance to music, go to sporting events, eat new food, visit schools and clubs and holy places, and be themselves outside the tension of their conflicted homelands.
Together these teens share common experiences. Over the course of several weeks, they develop relationships with other members of the group – surprisingly like themselves — who might once have been characterized as their enemies. Their connections often overcome many stereotypes and obstacles that have shaped earlier perceptions of each other.
Eventually, the young people themselves seek to continue these friendships and conversations when they return home. They write, call and visit each other. They work with their schools and communities – and sometimes defy positions and rules created through hatred – to create vital connections across borders and barriers. Many of these young people participate because they are determined to continue their own peacemaking efforts as they grow up and choose careers. They’re investing in their homelands and each other, and the idea of peace through dialogue.
It’s an idea that can start simply by saying “Hello.” Or Shalom. Or Salaam.
Of course, perhaps the talks that come afterward cannot be so simple. And they must include lots of listening, too.
Just the act of beginning a conversation, though? Breathtaking!