For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Its details have been greatly distorted throughout the world by supporters of both sides, forcing one to excavate through the biases to find the truth. This past summer I decided to do just that. I participated in the Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute (JITLI), a program that joins ten San Diegan Jews, ten Israeli Jews, twenty Israeli Arabs. The purpose of this program is to spark discussion, break down barriers, and defy stereotypes. By beginning a dialogue between Jewish and Muslim teens who live in the epicenter of this storm, we saw what civilians truly believe as opposed to the media’s interpretation.

I have always been an open-minded person, yet this trip proved to be quite a struggle. The clash between the Arabic, Hebrew, and English languages created a major frustration for everybody; attempting to express ideas felt impossible. By the time we had all gotten used to the translations and the accents, I began to realize the real reason for this conflict. I learned that the root of this war is not the dispute over “who was here first” or who is entitled to the land as the media portrays, but something much deeper. It is about the differences in values and priorities. Just by talking with my peers, I realized that each side would take the discussion where they wanted it. For example, one time there was a discussion about the settlements in East Jerusalem. As we argued whether building was justified or not, one of the Muslim participants asked, “But what about how you came and took our land in 1948?” The Muslims often focused on Jews taking their land, while the Jews argued more about Hamas and terrorism.

From this came my greatest discovery. Each side has its own set of priorities. One side tends to care more about the past and tradition, while the other focuses more on the future and securing the borders for the safety of its citizens. I felt an inexplicable sense of pride after making this realization about the core of this conflict. I finally understood the opposing view and I learned the importance of empathy. It proved to be very handy throughout the program.

We also have one more from an Arab participant from the North. Thanks to Lainey Lipson for this. She reached out and got this from him

Jitli. 14 days of joy and sharing for peacemakers. The most refreshing and fulfilling experience anyone could experience. For myself, it was life changing. I experienced moments that will forever hold a place in my heart, days I will always miss, and friends of whom will last forever. This program taught me the value and sweetness of coexistance, sharing, and listening to others. The best four days were in Jerusalem, visiting the Dome of the Rock on Al Haram Al Sharif, the Kottel, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Three of the most holy sites for 3 of the largest religions on earth in one city. This showed us the true meaning of sharing and how easy it is when one sets their mind to it. I particularly remember that amazing moment when we prayed together (Muslims and Jews), following different faiths but sharing the same essential belief in one God. It is not easy to conform to something you do not believe in, but under the fundamentals of sharing and acceptance they did so. That day really touched my heart and soul, and strengthened my belief. I would like to thank the people that gave us this wonderful opportunity. May Jitli live on forever.