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- Written by Roshi
- Category: World News
It's this one-dimensional picture that plagued so much of Abu Sarah's 30-year life as he tried to come to terms with his older brother's imprisonment, torture and eventual death. Abu Sarah was only ten at the time. "I was so bitter and angry all I could think about was revenge," he explained.
"I grew up as an anti-peace activist," he told CNN. "I had never met an Israeli or Jew other than soldiers or settlers. I was as extreme as you can get."
But at 18 years old, after enrolling in a Hebrew class and learning "the language of the enemy" to further his career, Abu Sarah joined Hamas. It was then that he came to face to face with the hatred that had been driving him. However, in getting to know people one-on-one, building friendships, and seeing beyond the guns and violence, Sarah began to change his rage into constructive transformation.
"Meeting Jews for the first time challenged everything I believed; now I use that as a framework to help people question what they think and see how complex the 'other' actually is."
In 1998, to fight the propaganda spread by both Israeli and Palestinian sides during traditional tours, he founded Mejdi with a Jewish friend. 18 months ago, the company began offering tours. "I realized that friends of mine who had come on Israeli tours hardly wanted to talk to me because they had heard the Israeli narrative, and others who heard the Palestinian side left almost anti-Semitic," he said. "We don't want to spread this hate. We have three million tourists come to this country every year. Imagine if we could transform tourism to spread peace instead of hate?"
"My goal isn't to come in to a group of students or soldiers and say here's my political view, you should think like me. I simply expose them to thoughts they've never heard before. Pain is very powerful, very destructive. But it can also be constructive. If you open up and listen to the other side's suffering you don't have to agree with their actions, but you can understand where they're coming from."
The joint understanding has not only transformed tourists, but the company's own guides as well. "I was the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors on both sides, so I was reminded every day that the Israeli state was the stability the Jewish people needed after the Holocaust. The Jewish story was all I knew," said 26-year-old social guide Shira Nesher.
Another social guide, 30-year-old Kobi Skolnick, realized during a tour he had a deep connection to Abu Sarah when he pointed to a house he shot at while serving in the IDF. The house belonged to Abu Sarah's aunt. "This was 2001 and there was serious violence. I protected Israelis from gunshots and suicide bombers. At the time, I just felt I was protecting people..."
Out of this tour group comes a new crop of emerging adults who aren’t as interested in widening the gap in Jerusalem as they are in filling it in. In an ever globalizing and interconnected world, younger generations are showing that it’s not bombs or bullets that build up an Israel or a Palestine; it’s dialogue, which can only happen when fighting stops and gives way to mutual solidarity.
"Walls that separate people are often built on ignorance, hatred, and fear,” Abu Sarah said. “I try to put cracks in those walls. When people realize they feel the same pain, they begin to see how much we all have in common."By Safa Samiezade-Yazd, Aslan Media Contributor
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