Monday, October 6, 2008

A letter from a friend in Israel

My Dear Friends,

It was only a week and a half ago that we greeted you with Ahlan WaSahlan and Salam Aleikum, with everyone landing in this country with preconceived notions, fears, ideologies from which we have grown and been shaped. We are the product of our environments, and yet, somehow, because of who you are, you transcended your environment, and the people I have grown to love and know over these last few weeks are people I am proud to call my friends. From the cool breezes wandering the alleyways of Aida refugee camp to the heights of the Ariel settlement in Samaria, you have broken every stereotype, and crossed every line people vow not to cross because of ideology for the sake of education and the vision and hope for something better.
We cannot afford to hate. We cannot afford to become stuck in our ideologies. We must always transcend. We must cross borders both in reality and in our minds and hearts to find mercy and constructive humility. Mercy knows how to forgive, and humility reminds us we are no better than the man/woman standing next to us, and we are all on our own path trying desperately to do right. Bitterness blinds us to be able to see PEOPLE. Please, help people not to become bitter, bitterness chokes hope. When I see you all dancing without inhibition, when I see you, especially some of you that have suffered so deeply in your lives dance, laugh, throw your hands up in the air, I find such freedom. Freedom is a state of mind. It is a daily choice no matter what our circumstances. Freedom is hope. No matter how bleak, because hope sets all captives free.
I encourage all of you not to forget. Not to forget that this place is layered, complex and very real. I encourage you to help others you know that didn't get the chance to come to learn how to research and widen their perspectives. For every one thing they hear or read, to fact check with many sources, to always get another angle another perspective. Because without that, we are irresponsible. Most people are not able to make such dramatic paradigm shifts from so many miles away. You are now, life-long Ambassadors. You are now, in your community, your circle the voice for "the other". Whichever voice is the one not heard in your community.
Most of all, remember the PEOPLE you met. Every time you see the news, every time you hear the soundbite. Close your eyes and remember the PEOPLE. See Avihu the crazy, funny settler guy that made you laugh by sharing his transformation. Remember Usama from Bethlehem standing the balcony speaking about his hopes for his unborn child. Remember Yuval the young Israeli soldier on the beach with sand between his toes. Remember Nazeer from Aida quietly graceful during Iftar meal. Remember that the reason why conflict is so complex is because people are not simple. Emotions are not simple. And memories have a long shelf-life. We are all human after-all.
I hope and pray that whatever perspective you came with, you saw into the eyes of the other to understand and never take anything at face value.
I love each and every one of you. Truly. And you always have a friend and a place to turn to here. Whether to have a place to crash if you come back, or just to e-mail with millions of questions. Lets generate ideas and things we can do together to keep the momentum! I already have billions of ideas spilling over!!!!!!!!!!!!! I miss you guys so much, and am trying to get to Irvine soon to see all of your cute little faces!!!!!
And now as we end, I leave you with a Lehitrahot......a "see you soon" because since you had the courage to face reality in person, this place will always somehow be home for you, a part of you. And I know I will see many of you again soon. Lets become the answer through being the responsible voice.
All My Love and Respect,
Shannon M. Shibata
The Centre for New Diplomacy

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