Reconnecting with our shared humanity

Israel & Palestine
Where we work

Darya Shaikh

17 February 2016

For over 11 years, I fixated on everything related to Israel and Palestine. The conflict, the fight for peace and the demands for justice were the beginnings and ends of my every day. The most formative years of my life were spent working with OneVoice – a bold grassroots organisation, mobilising people on both sides to demand an end to the conflict. It was a challenge and yet a privilege. My intense frustrations and deep convictions were channeled to support people who were risking their lives to achieve a better future.

Almost two years ago, all of that came to an end.

No longer able to hold up my end of this delicate partnership, I walked away. I could feel myself becoming part of the problem. I began to see the worst in people. My guess is that they probably began to see the worst in me. It became easier to believe that things would never change, than to continue to struggle to change them.

This was one of the most difficult – but important – decisions I’ve ever made. Leaving OneVoice meant severing ties with this special and complicated part of the world – this special and complicated part of myself.

Since then, without an emotional outlet for my anger and fear, I’ve felt numb and distant.

That was, until I watched Songman – Daniel Dor’s sweet and poignant tribute to his newly discovered friend and fellow traveler, Antwan Saca. This beautiful, melancholic story stirred something inside me that I thought I’d locked away.

I had the good fortune of being there when Daniel and Antwan first met in Rajasthan during the 2014 Leaders’ Quest Pow-Wow. Their shared curiosity about the world led to an immediate connection. They saw each other, not as Israeli and Palestinian, but as two human beings on a journey. You can feel that bond as you watch Songman.

I cried the first time I watched Songman. I was overwhelmed by its honesty and simplicity. After years of navigating the complexity and paradox of this conflict, I had lost sight of the most basic truth. Any prospect for peace, let alone a resolution, needs to begin with the recognition of each person’s right to exist.

Having spoken to Antwan and Daniel (and cried some more), I am struck by how unafraid they both seem. Antwan said something that has really stayed with me: “There is an inherent trauma we all share…yet we cannot be led by fear. There is connection [between us] beyond nation and history.”

For Antwan, who lives under occupation, there are serious risks to participating in this project. The same is true for Daniel, who had to negotiate the legal implications of travelling to the West Bank. Yet these obstacles only reinforce the trust and compassion they share.

It’s easy to lose faith in people when all you see is the worst of the ‘other’ side. Antwan and Daniel reminded me of the boundless potential that exists when we chose to share our humanity, to stand in the shoes of others and truly listen.

I feel awakened. And hopeful. I look forward to amplifying their voices further, so that they can inspire others.