This weekend, June 17-18, was a highlight in my work in reconciliation. More often than not, recruiting for events is very challenging, and in our anything-can-change last-minute culture, it is difficult to get people to commit to a weekend-long meeting. Why would people take their precious weekends to stare into a mirror, and perhaps see things that need to change?
The Ahlan women’s group is different. The women were willing to commit to the meeting, we did not have any cancellations before it started and some women drove four or more hours to be part of this weekend discussion on Listening.
We started the weekend with a barbeque, allowing families to join us for a few hours and be involved in what we are trying to accomplish. Several husbands made a grand effort to attend, and they were very encouraging to us to continue in what we are doing. Several of the women’s children of different ages played and ate and laughed as we started the barbeque.
Ronza, Musalaha’s West Bank Women’s Coordinator, and a facilitator in the Ahlan group, took us through a series of ice breaker games. Ronza is not new to running meetings, but it was her first time to lead one of Musalaha’s joint Israeli-Palestinian groups. The families enjoyed the games and we had a special opportunity to learn a little more about each other in a fun, light-hearted way.
Later, when the husbands left, our 28 women gathered and we started a teaching on “Listening to the Other,” which covered how to listen without preconceived notions or judgments. One of our leaders-in-training, Rula, taught a wonderful lesson on putting our thoughts on hold and being present in order to be able to hear the person in front of us. This conversation will only happen once. Be in the moment. You don’t get do-overs in life, so make the most of it and listen.
Rula also taught us not to listen in order to answer. How many times do we sit on the edge of our chairs, hoping the other person takes a break to breathe so that we can start our rebuttal? She reminded us that the person who speaks the most shows what they know, but the person who listens the most shows their wisdom. We are grateful to Rula, and to her mentor in Musalaha’s Train-the-Trainers program, who has taught her well.
Toward the end of the conference, many of the women expressed their gratitude to have the opportunity to interact with women that they could not meet in their day-to-day life. Some women came from a small town outside of Ramallah – a place most Israelis have never heard of, let alone visited. The difference in the lifestyles of these women is dramatic. Several times I was asked specific questions about these differences, and we look forward to addressing them more in the future, after stronger relationships develop within the group.
During the last session of the weekend, we asked for feedback and the women were gracious with their responses. Some commented on the food, the location, and the welcoming atmosphere, but the thought that lingers with me was shared by an Israeli woman who said, “I knew I would learn something about the Palestinian culture, but I have actually also learned some things about my own culture as well.” This is an astute observation and byproduct of reconciliation encounters, because when we learn about the other person, we also learn about our own responses and our own identity as a result. Everyone seemed to agree with her sentiment, and it was a good way to part, reflecting on how listening is an opportunity to learn about ourselves through learning about the other.