I have always loved JITLI. The main idea of the program is working to have the Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs talk and understand each other’s perspectives. As much as JITLI is about this idea it has also taught me how to communicate and step out of my comfort zone.
One misconception about JITLI is that it is all about the politics. Yes, some of the trip is about politics, but the majority of the trip is getting to know each participant and their stories. One of my biggest challenges was trying to have the other participants open up to me and tell me their stories. However, I found a solution. The solution was to start simple. It was all a matter of creating a safe environment for everyone to get to know each other.
One way was group discussions. We talked about politics in the big group discussions and only a few people from the Jewish and Arab perspective spoke, but the purpose of these group discussions were to get individuals talking on the bus rides one on one. For example, one time after a big group discussion a mixed group of us wanted to keep the conversation going and on the bus ride to one of our activities we rallied the group together and the Americans helped facilitate another discussion. Though it was just a select few of us it still started a dialogue.
Another away to create a safe environment was creating a one on one relationship. Mazal, a female Arab participant, was very quiet at first. On every bus ride our councilors had us sit with someone of the opposite religion. Mazal and I ended up sitting together many of the bus rides. At first it was either in silence or me trying to awkwardly break the silence. One day, we started to be able to talk without me forcing the conversation. Mazal started to ask me questions and I began to ask deeper questions about her life and her opinions. After we broke that barrier, we were always together freely talking or in a comfortable silence.
One of the last days of the trip we went on a camel ride and after the camel ride we relaxed in a Bedouin tent. Mazal asked me to walk with her. I was surprised because usually I asked her to talk with me. We took a lap around the dirt area and she started to tell me about her life. When we did walk in silence, it wasn’t awkward anymore. Then we sat down and I started to ask her more political questions. Such as, should the Arabs be allowed in the Israeli Army? or should Palestine be recognized by the UN? We asked these questions in big group discussions, but she didn’t talk much. I was very excited to hear her point of view.
This is JITLI.