On Tuesday, June 10th, 2008, I interviewed Bar Gal-On, a member of Kibbutz Bror Hayil, a student at Sha’ar HaNegev High School and a participant in the unique JITLI programme.

Name: Bar Gal-On Age: 18 Address: Kibbutz Bror-Hayil, Negev (kibbutz site in Hebrew  )

Q: (Judih): Hi Bar, I’ve been wanting to ask you about a program you’re involved in called JITLI. Do you have time to talk?

A: (Bar): Sure, go ahead!

Q: Tell us something about JITLI – what is it?

A: It’s a program of co-existence with Jewish participants from the Sha’ar Hanegev community, San Diego, California communities and the Muslim communities of Segev Shalom Village and Lakiya village in Israel. It’s a program that teaches how to take leadership in your community while enabling you to get to know the other side, the other culture, the other religion.

From the site: www.jitli.org:

The original idea was to include these 4 different groups: American Jews, Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians. The group would visit Spain, as a neutral ground with significantly peaceful historical relations between Jews and Arabs, and various parts of Israel, including the Israeli and Palestinian homes. Another characteristic of the program was that every group would consist of 5 girls and 5 boys, and they would be guided by young and adult, counselors from every region. Although not every year could incorporate all four groups, each year has been a success in its own way. The trip now includes a San Diego portion to start it off which lets the American groups also show their home.

Q: Who started the program?

A: Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs, a family from San Diego that wanted to start a project geared to children. It began with the Sha’ar haNegev community and a village in Gaza. At that time, there was far less restriction of movement and the Jitli group flew to Spain for one week and then spent a week in Israel. Things had to change in 2003 or 4, when kids were not allowed to fly freely from the Gaza Strip and Jitli partnered with the village of Lakiya, instead.

Then the JITLI journey became one week spent in San Diego, one week in Spain and one week in Israel.

Q: Who is involved?

A: Each community has 10 participants, 5 boys and 5 girls, selected after an interviewing process. They are chosen based on knowledge of English and on their seriousness in wanting to be ambassadors. They must have potential to take leadership and sincere desire to learn about the other side.

After 2 days of tests, our final 10 participants are chosen. Since November or December we’ve been having one meeting every 2 weeks in which we talk about issues in our immediate world or actively train for the upcoming journey.

In each community there are two counselors: one young and one adult. The young one is fresh from his or her own experience from the JITLI trip the previous year. I have been able to contribute a lot from my experience in order to be able to guide the kids, being more close to them and their problems.

The adult counselor is in charge of everything and responsible for the entire community.

Q: Where does it happen?

A: Meetings take place at Kibbutz Or Ha Ner, which has been relatively safe from qassam fire. We meet once a week, though recently we’ve had to miss meetings because of our Bagrut exams.

Q: Tell us about some of your projects.

A: After the JITLI journey, each participant can take on leadership responsibility in his/her own community or even in another community. There are people who take leadership to begin projects to contribute something or help in an ongoing project.

Q: Can you give specific examples?

A: I can tell you about one person who participated in 2003. After serving in the army, he called Gary and asked how he could help in Jitli. He told them he wanted to continue what he’d started and wanted to give back to the organization. Now, he’s in charge of coordinating all communities in this area. It’s nice to see him come back after the army.

Another project is happening in Hura . There is an open kitchen, serving food to Arab communities. There are kids from Sha’ar Hanegev who are involved in that projet..

We had a gathering of Jitli Alumni from 2000 – 2007. Everyone was excited to meet and share experiences. What was clear is that they all want to keep active and help.

Q: How has JITLI affected you?

A: Even though I experience qassams all the time, I’m in a position that few share. I get to know the other culture. We could never talk to Arabs or Muslims so freely before and how could I have the chance ever again without JITLI?

For me there’s been a switch in my mind – I’m more open. I am understanding. I really want to help contribute to the community.

I gained information from the journey about the West Bank and the way of life there and, also, I get to know the people, the inner person. They talk about their family, those who may be in jail, or even dead. We talk and listen to one another.

We’ve made a lot of friendships. I go to Lakiya and Segev Shalom and my friends there and their families welcome me. They really are friends of mine.

Q: How you think JITLI helps make a difference?

A: JITLI, itself, can’t make a difference. It works on a personal level. If each participant can take something to his or her community, then they, themselves, make the difference through personal contribution. JITLI gives tools. We need to do the work.

Q: And the future?

A: We, the participants from Sha’ar ha Negev are going into the Army. I don’t know what the future is going to bring, but each one is responsible for his own future, responsible for what they’ve learned.

Q: What about the Army? How is it going to be for you in the Army after having participated in JITLI?

A: It’s really hard. I don’t know what the Army’s going to teach me, or how it’s going to affect me. What I do know is that now I’m going to the army with knowledge that other people don’t have. It’s going to help me make decisions.

Another thing I learned is that a lot of JITLI Alumni are now commanders and hold important offices in the army.

Q: That has to be good. Any other comments?

A: Last year, at the end of the 2007 JITLI trip, kids came together and it was really nice for everyone. We were able to see with our own eyes that four years later, after JITLI participants had finished their Army service, they, the graduates kept talking with the Arab kids and were good friends. We saw that and it encourages me and all of us that we can do it, too. And that we don’t have to be enemies.

I guess that’s about all I can say.

Q: Thank you, Bar. You are inspiring. Good luck with everything.

A: You’re welcome.

Note from Judih: For information regarding how to contact Bar Gal-On, make a request in your comments. Show your support for this project! Thank you.