From our goals to reality, what is the real impact of our activity on those we host? Here are the some testimonies of participants we have hosted in the past 6 years.
Some refer to the YMCA program which was a 6-8 months program they attended before coming to Switzerland and which continued after the trip abroad.
All the groups we support have worked before in Israel on encountering and hearing the other, and will continue to do so after their visit here, boosted by the new dynamic the trip abroad gave them.
YMCA STAYS, 2006-2009
Amira, Palestinian, Moliana 2008, Coconut peer-leader 2009
After entering the YMCA program I've started looking at thing differently; not that my opinions changed or I changed, no it's the way that I look at things… you can say I can see things now from the wider view. Many people think that by entering these programs I'm going to lose my identity. But I think it's exactly the opposite!
I became more proud of being Palestinian despite all the difficulties I face by living in Jerusalem while I can get other alternatives by just changing my ID so easily. I became more patriotic and not feeling afraid to show people here that I'm Palestinian. While before the program I was afraid to show my identity even by wearing the Kuffieh, now I can wear it proudly anywhere and showing everyone who I am… Even my family and friends saw these big changes. I felt while I was in the meetings that I'm speaking of every Palestinian here or in the refugee camps, and my duty was to represent my people and try to make their voices heard in a time that no one cares for them.
So you can say that I'm thankful to the program that it made me stick to my identity and increased it. Going to Switzerland gave us the chance to see how normal people-far from the conflict-do live and also we were away from our conflict zone. And of course traveling with each other gave us unique experience of living, eating, being with each other all the time and to make our friendship stronger.
Eman, Palestinian, Coconut 2009
I’ve always been curious about the world, the way things are and the ways things are supposed to be. I believe that the journey of understanding, loving, and experiencing is one of the biggest journeys of all. I joined the "Coconuts" a year ago when I was a 16 years old ambitious girl to change stereotype and to express my opinion freely.
When the abroad trip to Switzerland was getting closer we were all very excited even though we didn’t know how should we represent our self whether the group is united enough to go abroad together.
The host families were amazing they were so generous and everything was wonderful the weather, the dancing lessons we had with Rina and every session that we planned with help from Muna and Linda. We had some hard times during dialogs when we discussed politics. But however the time we spent in Switzerland meant a lot to me it helped me discover myself more and encouraged me to live life the fullest because every minute you waste is a minute you’ll never get back. And now when I look back I can see that being a Coconut is a journey of itself
Shahed, Palestinian, Shobkarli 2008
Shobkarli group was finished in the beginning of January but I am still in coexistence program in the YMCA for people who were before in programs.
Attending this kind of program impact my life positively: at the beginning I just understood what my side thinks about the conflict and I thought that this understanding is the right thing but then after being a participant in the YMCA I understood that the other has another way of thinking about the conflict. I tried to put myself in the others place to understand things better.
This program helped me to hear from the other before judging them and helped me to understand that the world is made up of different cultures and people so there are different ways of thinking My parent always says that my personality has changed since I joined the YMCA and that I became more proud to be a Palestinian (and that) I also learned how to talk with the other and even learned how to defend myself.
Veronica, Palestinian, Summer 2007
It has been 3 years since I was in Switzerland for the summer program, and the experience with the families and the people there has been extraordinary. Never in my life have I ever met people who are so welcoming to others that could be very different. The families demonstrated real love and real understanding to the people and to the situation in which we live in whether as Palestinians or as Israelis. The fact that they are still doing this program is inspiring, as it doesn’t only take time and energy but also requires a lot of money to financially support the organization in the process of hosting those youngsters.
One thing I took with me on the way back from Switzerland would definitely be self- fulfillment. The experience itself was for me, all about respect, and mutual understanding in a place far away from all the struggles and conflicts that we face on daily basis. I wouldn’t say it was easy and I wouldn’t say it was 100% successful, as in my group we had a problem with respect and understanding even when we came back from Switzerland and we hoped for a continuation in order to solve some of the unsolved matters that we faced during our 10-day trip. But for me, I learned that you can’t just avoid the truth, you have to face it, even if your counterpart refuses to. It is the human in you that needs to console itself, and find its way in a world that might be overtaken by darkness.
Coexistences taught me what became the core of my life, it taught to be neutral but alert, strong but compassionate. It taught not to look for something in specific, but hold tight to the experience you go through so that you of all people could be the best benefiter.
In the end, I need to thank everyone who has taken part, still takes part or will ever take part in coexistences, as this is the way to open up the eyes of people and introduce them to new ways of understanding themselves and the others in a profound and objective way.
Mi’hali, Israeli Jew, Summer 2006
I arrived in this program of YMVP when I was in the 9th grade, and I did not know really what it was about, what I was expecting from this group, I knew it was about leadership, about meeting with Arabs and about an eventual trip abroad.
It was the first time that I was meeting Arabs for a real encounter. Although nearly half of my country’s inhabitants (including the occupied territories) are Arabs, it is no hazard that I never met them. The populations are separated, the schools separated, the cultural institutions separated, the night clubs separated. Learning about the others happens mostly through the media, which naturally air difficult information’s (terrorist attacks, provocations, terrorism…)
The encounter with Arab girls of my age and discussions with them have been meaningful and even revolutionary for my way of looking at things. I had to meet the political conflicts, the mourning’s, the sufferings, the humanity, the love and the despair.
None of the activities I have in Israel are trivial and are non-political : the poems I quote, the TV channel I watch, but also more important and complex decisions in my life, because of the situation in which I find myself : participating to a Jewish-Arab encounter, joining the army, voting at the Knesset, etc.
The encounter of the two narratives is very loaded in Israel. To put a face on the enemy, really listen to the other side, it is a challenge and it is difficult in my reality. The place that has allowed me to make this encounter happen has been the YMCA, and this encounter would not have been complete without the trip abroad and this for many reasons: in my country, there is not one neutral piece of land.
I cannot walk on a piece of land about which there has not been disagreement, that has not been tangled in politics and directly tied to the live of inhabitants and to their emotions. Even my encounter with the young Arab girls at the YMCA of Jerusalem could not be neutral. One can try to free itself as much as possible from our prejudices in this obscure place of the world we talk about, we cannot be “immune”. Each one of us has seen yesterday the news on a different channel, (it is not the same news that are aired). One of us has maybe faced today racism or has felt fear because of the other people.
Some meetings, during this period, happened in periods of terrorist attacks in the city center. Some participants left the group because of the war in Lebanon which happened that same summer. We have tried to knock the barriers down, and to get rid of our prejudices as much as we could: but the place is charged, the land is charged. We were young girls, friends, students – but the struggle to free the thought is a never ending struggle – there is always an oppressor and an oppressd, the weak and the one who weakens him, the wounded and the one who wounds. Our accent has its connotation; the symbols on our school bags have theirs, the views of the student who studies in my school is his, and so on…
The trip abroad liberated us from these attitudes imposed on us by the land. Being in another country, and more specifically a neutral country such as Switzerland, allows a form of “opening a new page” in the relations.
Of course, the differences do not disappear when boarding the plane, but the meaning of the people to whom you belong changes. For the Swiss, we are one single group and that influences the way we perceive ourselves. Suddenly, we are “the house” of one another, and our hosts are the strangers; in this process we learn to appreciate our common traits, and this was life changing in our relations.
Beside the value of getting out of one’s own bubble, of seeing things in perspective, and the advantage of becoming a group facing a third people, the trip, being away from home, the necessity to tackle the unknown together, and the intensity of the trip, have strongly influenced the dialogue, the encounter, and apparently, will stay forever marked in my memory.
My mother and my little sister have chosen to follow in my steps. I do not know how strong the experience of the encounter would have been if it had been limited to a series of meetings in my city. Getting out of daily life, the profound commitment in dialogue, learning together, all this plays an important role in the making of memory and in the quality of the encounter.
BREAKING THE ICE, 2010
A young Israeli Jew
Breaking The Ice program has positively influenced my life in several ways, more than I can describe, but here I managed to write about 4 aspects:
First and foremost the true adventure and challenge in the mountains, along with the excitement of being elected for such a unique project, has taught me a lesson about self-confidence and about reaching personal goals.
Second, many new friends and interesting people have become part of my day-to-day life. Starting with my own teammates (Jews and Arabs) and also a few more "by-product" acquaintances. Definitely another lesson, this one about human-relations, friendship and commitment.
The third change is on a larger scale. Today I am incomparably more aware of political and social issues. I feel that my judgment ability has improved towards a more balanced and less biased point of view, now that "I know what the other side thinks" and spend lots of my time dealing with these issues. This has led me to understand that what we perceive as justice, equality, freedom and democracy - not what they have always seemed to be. In my country today, Jewish or not, the majority is simply being denied all sorts of general public and social rights. Hidden corruption of all kinds and in all levels is now being uncovered in all sectors on a daily basis. The public understands that there is always someone with private motives pulling the strings for his own short-term profit at the society's long-term expense. This means that the government and all the things that it stands for are now being doubted, and as a consequence, also the public's loyalty to the state and its fundamentals.
For this matter, I feel the "state" has always made the "people" believe that Arabs and Jews cannot live together, that Jews must live in an all-Jewish state, that all the Arabs are trying to eliminate all the Jews that one must chose to be "with us or against us". These insights, coupled with rising extremism (mostly on the Jewish side) make it clear to me that the forced division between Jews and Arabs only profits a small group for the short-term, and the rest of us are paying, and will continue to pay, the heavy price of shortsighted and narrow-minded politicians. Bottom line - I am less inclined to identify myself with the "state's" aspirations.
Last but not least, the fourth change involves the conflict. Thanks to the three processes I mention above, I can understand better now the roles and meanings of Zionism, Jews, World politics, Colonialism and Force in the history of the conflict. That's why I fell less biased. For the first time I am able to think about things like people who were killed in '48 but were not Jewish so they are not commemorated anywhere. That’s what the Arabs mean when the say that the flag and anthem do not represent them.
A young Israeli Jew
How to summarize what I've been to in a few words? This is not an easy task, at least not for me. I think about this expedition more as a journey that integrate 3 levels of relationships: the intrapersonal level (how I felt during this journey as a person, what have I felt, thought, and behaved), the interpersonal level (how I felt in relation to all other participants around me), and the intergroup level (how I as an Israeli Jew felt in relation to the other Israeli Arabs who participated in the journey).
To be honest, the strongest level for me was the intrapersonal level. I felt I experienced a unique experience, a one in a lifetime. Another strong level of relationship for me was the interpersonal level- the relationships between all participants, without being labels as an Israeli Jew or as an Israeli Arab. As a psychologist, it was a beautiful "field experiment" in social psychology for me. All the abstract theories I learned of became very live and vivid for me. The third level- the intergroup one- was the shallowest one for me (and I think it is a good thing).
I had a good time with some participants or some disputes with others, but none of these experiences were based on religion or nationality. I have good memories with both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. In a retrospective view, I didn’t think about my friends during the journey as Jews or as Arabs, I thought about them as my friend, as persons, as human-beings.