On Sunday, July 1, an audience of 100 people gathered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to hear nine young Palestinian, Arab, and Israeli delegates at New Story Leadership share their first-hand experiences growing up amidst conflict and war in Israel.
New Story Leadership (NSL) is a nonprofit organization that aims to shine a light on challenges symptomatic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it considers overlooked by politicians and the media. It seeks to foster understanding of the “Other” through dialogue and story-telling in lieu of broader impersonal arguments.
NSL’s program for young leaders is highly selective, and their delegates at the event Sunday — all in their early- to mid-20s — boast impressive academic records, prestigious internships, and competitive positions in their fields. They hold advanced degrees in various fields such as engineering, political science, and medicine, and many are currently working or interning for U.S. senators and congressmen on Capitol Hill. The nine delegates shared their stories that captured different aspects of daily life affected by the conflict.
Matan Zur, a delegate from Tel Aviv, shared her story and juxtaposed her idyllic childhood and doting father with the sight of Palestinian fathers in ratty torn clothing holding children’s backpacks waiting three hours every morning at checkpoints to work low-end jobs at construction sites and be able to provide for their families.
“Looking at those men made me think of my father,” she said. The scene at the checkpoint changed her life and opened her eyes to ongoing challenges faced by Palestinians.
Zur works as a coordinator for national and international crisis management at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and she is currently pursuing her master’s degree in security studies at Tel Aviv University. She shared her story because she hopes to help bring positive change to Israel.
More stories were shared by other delegates from the program. A Palestinian delegate described a gruesome terrorist attack that shook his entire family and town, and an Arab Christian delegate who is an engineer described her frustrations with the allocation of water and other resources by the Israeli government.
The NSL delegates have recently presented at AIPAC and J Street, and they plan to continue speaking at additional churches, synagogues, and upcoming events across the country. They have been trying to arrange speaking events at mosques as well but have been unable to do so thus far.
The goal of NSL is not to provide pragmatic solutions to the conflict overall, but rather it offers a platform for sharing and listening to deepen understanding. They use story-telling to affect change — in public policy and public perception. The group’s perspective is that stories often humanize political situations seen only from afar and paint compelling images that may portray injustice more vividly than stale facts and figures.
“I am an Israeli. I love my country, and I am standing here today because I really do,” said Zur.
By Sky Adler