In September, two students — one from Palestine and one from Israel — arrived in Eugene as part of an initiative to bridge the gap between people of two regions that have been at odds for 65 years.
They have to come 7,000 miles away from home in order to hear what the other side has to say,â€ Creativity for Peace Executive Director Dotty Indyke said.
Creativity for Peace is cosponsoring the events with Lane’s Peace Center and the Lane Foundation, which provided year-long donor-funded scholarships to an Israelite, Yaara Tal, and her Palestinian counterpart, Deema Yusuf, as part of the Peace Makers Project.
According to a press release, their scholarships cover tuition at Lane, fees, books, supplies, rent and travel expenses.
Creativity for Peace is an 11-year-old organization based in New Mexico that seeks to promote peace and dialogue among women from Gaza and Israel.
The organization recruits eight women from each side of the conflict to attend a summer camp in New Mexico that trains them to listen and communicate effectively. Four of the Palestinians live in Israel while the others live on Palestinian territory, Indyke said.
Tal and Yusuf attended the camp in New Mexico, where they were selected to represent the program at Lane.
Tal attended the camp in 2008, and Yusuf attended in 2013.
“Our work is based on the idea that an enemy is a person whose story you haven’t heard,” she said during her Oct. 21 presentation at Temple Beth Israel in Eugene. “We work with women — first of all because we think they need to be trained as leaders, and because they offer an alternative to how things have been for a long time.”
Creativity for Peace works exclusively with women, Indyke said.
“I think we would have to use, like, wrestling instead of dialogue,” Indyke said.”I think a program for boys that was so centered on the emotional piece of this would be hard.”
Indyke visited Eugene for the scholarship recipients’ presentations, first at Temple Beth Israel and again at Lane, where Yusuf and Tal spoke Oct. 22.
“They come into this program often knowing nothing about the other side — absolutely nothing,” Indyke said. “How can you make peace if you don’t even know the story of the other side? You don’t know anything about them, except what you read in the newspapers. And on both sides, all they read is ‘the other side are monsters and they want to kill them.'”
Indyke equated the space of Palestine and Israel to the size of New Jersey.
“I remember my classmate’s comments, saying ‘we have to kill all the Arabs'” Tal said. “I discovered they aren’t that horrifying.
Yusuf and Tal spoke about their experiences in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“They’re your neighbors, and they’re who are trying to kill you,” Indyke said.
Yusuf told a story about her family and their struggle to travel throughout Palestinian and Israeli territories.
“My older sister lives in Jerusalem but works in Ramallah, and the other lives in Ramallah but works in Jerusalem,” Yusuf said, “and my mom lives in Ramallah but works in Jerusalem.”
Her family members tell her their experiences passing through the checkpoints every day.
Tal shared her experiences growing up in Israel and the time she spent in the Israeli Defense Forces.
“I’d watch the border and make sure no one is coming into Israeli territory,” Tal said.
“It’s intense, and I served a lot in cooperation with warriors,” Tal said. “It was really hard for me to express myself.”
Lane instructor Cliff Trolin orchestrated the event and scholarships after hearing about Creativity for
Peace at a conference in New Mexico.
“I went back home to Eugene, and began to read about it and went ‘hmm,’” Trolin said, “‘what if we
brought them to study at Lane and to also be voices for peace in the community?’”
Along with speaking at Temple Beth Israel and Lane the students will be speaking at the First Congregational Church.
”We did try to do a mosque, but they don’t like dealing with political stuff,” Trolin said.
It can be difficult to share their experiences when they get back to their respective homes, Indyke said.
“I try to tell them about the good things and the bad things. They think I came here and forgot about Palestine and its history,” Yusuf said.
“I didn’t forget anything about Palestine. I’m just trying to make a change,” she said.
Most of the attendees supported Lane’s mission.
“I liked it,” community member and Palestine native
Ibrahim Hamide said. “I’ve been up there many times, so I know what it’s like. I’ve been a peace activist 35 years in this community.”
Hamide has spoken on this topic at panels held by Lane in the past.
“I fear the intended takeaway message from those events will be that ‘deep listening and honest
dialogue’ — presumably transforming distrust, fear and anger into compassion and love — is
confused with and substituted for the human rights advocacy and political action proven effective in
comparable situations of colonial occupation, segregation and Apartheid,” al-Nakba Awareness Project
Co-Director Mariah Leung wrote in an Oct. 19 letter to The Register-Guard.
“I support every process that has honest intentions for peace. I don’t think one is a substitute for
another,” Hamide said. “I don’t think there’s only one path to peace.”
Hamide said he supports any sincere process for peace and doesn’t think there’s one single path to achieving a resolution.
“A lot of times they come to us thinking one way, and when they go home, everything they believed
was completely blown to bits, and if you think about that, it’s not easy. It’s really
hard,” Indyke said. “They don’t necessarily know what they’re in for.”