I have a long-term goal! I want to set up a foundation that supports people in meeting each other. I am thinking in particular of adults from Europe and the Middle East. Of course, encounters don't need money, they can be done without it. It is more beautiful though, if you as an organizer receive funding in order to be able to offer a fantastic program, which is not financed only by the contributions of the participants. The own contribution is then no additional hurdle for possible participants. It is then only a question of, do I dare to go on this trip and adventure?!
In the summer of 2018, a fabulous event succeeded! 40 adults from Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Germany met in the Westerwald (Germany) and spent a beautiful week together.
How could that work? Doesn't the Middle East conflict stand in the way?
Yes, a little bit. Already on the first evening the leadership team was put to the test. The issue was that the Israeli and Palestinian flags should not be seen next to each other in photos. That sounds banal. Why can't it be done?
It can't because it might be misunderstood back home in Palestine. Friends and neighbors of our 10 participants might assume that they met in Germany for peace talks with the Israelis. Uncoordinated peace talks are undesirable initiatives for hardliners. These assumptions lead to thoughts that scare the Palestinians at home and therefore the Palestinian participants at our event. Fear is not a good advisor. Fear can give rise to actionism. Our participants were afraid of repression from their own friends and acquaintances at home.
How did we deal with each other? How did we respond to these fears?
I haven't told you much about our event yet. We were 10 adults from each country. Of these, one woman and one man were on the international leadership team that led this meeting. For 32 participants, a leadership team of 8 people. That seems a bit much at first.
The leadership team was a group of its own with its own dynamics. We talked on the phone together about 8 months before the event. We met online via Skype and Zoom. Our basic idea was to consult everything and then decide everything together. So we almost always reached a consensus among ourselves during the event.
Our consultations and actions took a lot of time on the first evening. We embraced the fears, were appreciative, and offered to take down all the flags. We agreed to be careful not to accidentally get photos into the press or on Facebook or Instagram showing both flags side by side. We have had many small conversations and a few more with the leadership team to listen and align.
We showed the larger group how compassion and consultation can lead to mutual understanding and wellbeing.
That first evening set the stage for the entire week. It was an outstandingly great week! We shared almost everything: dormitories and bathrooms both distinguished by women and men, the kitchen, the program, and the evening activities. Our hikes, games and discussion groups were always colorfully mixed. So that there was a balance between women and men and all 4 nations in rooms, tasks, discussions and games.
When a young Palestinian woman gave her testimony of what cross-border friendship means to her, I got goose bumps. Her values are our values. Their ideas are our ideas. Their conflict is their conflict. But their friendship is our friendship.
After the first evening, we approached each other openly and curiously. We talked, listened, laughed, danced, had a delicious barbeque, sang by the fire, played and marveled. What remains is a big WOW. A WOW of what is possible when you set out to make new friends!
Covid has caused the continuation of this event to be a long time coming. We have already postponed it twice. It will be held in Jordan. We want to grow boldly. It shall take place with 120 participants, 30 from each of the 4 countries. Right now it's just a dream.
One day I will support events like this with my foundation. Events that turn people into friends. Events that puts friends in a WOW state.
WOW, so much is possible! - Let's do it!