Narrative Work with High School students from the Galilee
From Irina Kinscher, exchange student at Oranim
For this paper, I talked to three High School students which are part of the Galilee Dreamer project. Their names are Yazan, Ryan and Yara. I asked them about their home, family, religion and politics to illustrate how the life of young people growing up in Israel and Palestine can look like. Here is what they told me.
The first person I talked to was Yazan. Yazan was born and raised in the city of Nazareth. He really likes his neighborhood because of it’s strong community which is very close and supportive. Yazan’s parents are also from Nazareth. He has a twin sister and a brother and he gets along very well with his parents and siblings. To Yazan, religion is important and part of his identity. Belonging to the muslim community shows what values he stands for. He says that he learned how to be good from the religion. He also treasures the Islamic traditions he grew up with. His favorite celebration is Ramadan because he meets with family and friends to eat and spend a good time together. There are also many Christians living in Nazareth and Yazan says that they get along very well with the Muslim community. He has Christian friends in school for example who respect the Muslim traditions and do not eat or drink in front of their Muslim friends during Ramadan or even fast with them.
Regarding racism, Yazan has a clear and strong opinion. He says that one should always stand up against racist behavior. He has friends from various backgrounds and religions so to him it is very important to be open, respectful and tolerant and to cherish diversity. Yazan says that the fight against racism should start in schools. Parents also have the responsibility to teach their children how to be antiracist.
When asking about the impact the Israel-Palestine conflict has on Yazan, he states that he is having a hard time when something happens to Palestinians. He sees it on the news and on social media and prays for them. What helps him is to talk about the events within his family and friend cycle. Some topics are also addressed in school. Especially on social media it can happen that Yazan reads hateful and discriminating messages about Palestinians or Arabs but he is making sure that he is not taking these things personal by always reminding him that what is stated is wrong and that he knows the truth.
Yazan says he is proud of his country though sometimes he is confused about to which one he belongs. When being asked, he refers to himself as a Palestinian. For people visiting Nazareth he suggests to go to the old market and to the church of annunciation.
Yazan wishes for himself, his family and friends peace and that good things are happening. His dream is to become an English teacher in the USA.
The second insight comes from Ryan. She was born in the Palestinian village Kafr Manda. She used to live next to her grandmother’s house which she really enjoyed since they often went there to play and eat. She remembers these years as one of the most beautiful times in her life. At the age of 13 she moved to a new neighborhood in the mountains. The person closest to Ryan is her mother whom she sees not only as her mother but also as her friend, sister and her „secret box“. To Ryan, a mother is a blessing from God who gave you food, education, clothing, and housing, is there for you through your worries and joy, your sorrows, and the person who knows and supports your strengths and weaknesses. Ryan is very grateful for the close relationship she has with her mother and sees her as a great support.
Ryan states that she is always proud of her country, which she refers to as Palestine. She feels bad when she hears bad things about Gaza in the news but she is grateful that she is able to live in safety and peace.
A song that has a special meaning to her is called „I follow you“. When she traveled to Germany within the Galilee Dreamer project she used to sing it everyday and it became a group song that united everybody.
The last person I interviewed was Yara. Yara was born in Karmiel, a small town in the north of Israel. Yara lives in a peaceful neighborhood where she likes to take walks in the afternoon. The neighborhood is quite new and there are many young families and Yara appreciates the young spirits. You can see families having fun in the park, people walking their dogs or doing sports. One thing Yara would like to change about her neighborhood is the parking spots complexes. She states that they are poorly made and can be dangerous. Yara has two small siblings, a brother and a sister, and two loving parents as well as an adorable dog named Spot. What Yara loves about her family is the openness, she says that she can talk about everything with them and that she sees her parents as her friends. They are also doing a lot of family activities together, travel and share experiences. Every Friday night, Yara and her family have a tradition called „something good and something bad“. There, every family member talks about the good and the bad things that happened to them during the week which leads to insightful conversations and discussions.
Regarding religion, Yara has two meanings that she associates with the term: a place to get answers where the logic sense can't cover up and a place that instills morals and develops a
conscience. To Yara, religion can help you become a better person, for yourself but also for the people around you. Religion makes Yara feel complete and peaceful with herself. Nevertheless, she does not think that her belonging to the Jewish religion has something to do with her identity. She says that she did not choose to be Jewish so it does not define her. She sees it as part of her description, like a title, but it does not say anything about her abilities, hobbies or personality.
Yara sees racism and anti-semitism as something born out of ignorance. She says that if an anti-semitic person would sit with her on a bus station they would not even know that she is Jewish because it is not part of her identity, as she stated before. She makes clear that it is normal to not like some people individually but if this antipathy is born out of hatred for a certain religion or skin color it is not reasonable. Yara says that in order to fight racism and anti-semitism, people need to meet as humans, not labeled as Jews/Muslims/Christians etc. She says that calling her god Alohim while the person sitting across her may call him Alla does not change the personality of them two. To her, religions are ways of living and believing which she tolerates (and everyone should) in all kind of forms. Everyone should choose what they believe in based on what appeals to them and gets the best out of every person.
Yara says that the conflict affects her in terms of safety. There are some places she knows that she is not safe in because oft he conflict.
Yara has a clear opinion and harsh words regarding politics. She feels as if politics is too much about popularity so people focus on being charismatic instead of actually doing things. She says in her school teachers are not allowed to talk about politics because they cannot guarantee to remain objective when a sensitive topic comes up.
When being asked if she is proud of her country, Yara says that there are places where she can truly be herself but there are also places she is ashamed about.
What other people should know about her country is that it is very beautiful, interesting, colorful and special. There are a lot of places where your heart can melt and people who empower you. The most important thing is that one should not judge the country if he or she has never lived there. If you want to state your opinion, inform yourself and be aware of both sides.
Yara wishes for herself a full long life, full of experiences and learning and to never stop growing. For her family she wishes that they stay just as they are and that they will be by her side for a long time. For her friend she wishes for success and great times together. For her country, Yara wishes to know better and more quiet days. She also wants her country to be known for all the good things that happen there.
It was really interesting and enriching for me to talk to these amazing students. I could feel that all three of them are very aware of themselves and their surroundings and can reflect on many things which to me is not evident, especially not at such a young age.
What moves me is that the three students all seem to be very close and in a good relation with their family. This adds to my impression I had during my exchange semester which is that Israelis and Palestinians generally put an emphasis on the value of family and community life, something that in my opinion is not that present in Germany.
Interesting to me is that Yazan and Yara seem to give the same meaning to religion but do not take the same consequences out of it. For both, religion embets values and can help you become a better person. This is why Yazan sees religion as part of his identity because it defines his values to other people whereas Yara says that her identity does not consist of something she did not choose, which is being Jewish in her case.
Another point that I find remarkable is that apparently politics are handled very differently in schools. While Yazan says that they learn about politics in school and address current topics such as events happening in Gaza, Yara says that teachers at her school are not allowed to talk about politics. In my opinion, political education should start in school and current topics should be addressed so students can get several perspectives and the topics do not only stay within the family and friend circle where it is hard to develop a proper opinion and not everything is taken into consideration. From what I experienced during my stay, the Galilee Dreamer conferences are also a good place to address such things and to have a safe space to talk about them.
During the conversations, I realized that the definition of racism of the students covers solely the „face to face“ level. For my understanding of racism it was very important to look at the other levels like institutional racism, micro-agressions and power dynamics. Maybe this is something that could be addressed within the Galilee Dreamers too and of course I would support if this would be teached in schools. It is very important though to create a safe space when addressing such topics, especially when people are affected by what is talked about. In a project I set up with other students at my university, we focused on addressing both racism and anti-semitism equally and to show that they are part of a bigger system that serves certain interests. Due to having both Israelis and Palestinians as participants in the Galilee Dreamer project, I feel like this could be a valuable approach.
To sum it up, I sensed that all three of the students feel a strong connection to their country and are optimistic and empowered regarding the future of their country, their loved ones and themselves.