Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it’s my honor to speak before you today.
My name is Dia Majadleh. I’m a Palestinian, a descendant of a family of refugees from Haifa. My story goes back to 1948, when my family was forced into exile, into the unknown. Luckily enough, I was given everything I needed to make my life worth living, but that’s not how things go with other refugee families.
In 2000, the agreement that was to be the bedrock for a peaceful solution to the conflict had collapsed. We were promised a dove, but still there’s a hawk in the sky.
Words can never explain the raw tragedy, which both societies have to endure. As I grew up during the second Intifada, events around me shaped my life in a way or another. Bombings, curfews, checkpoints, blood and tears absorbed by the land, graveyards flooded with coffins, that is all I remember about growing up in that place. I had so much hate held in my chest, for the way my childhood and future were stolen. I grew up with the belief that the conflict would never end until “one of the nations drive the other into the sea”.
You might wonder how could someone who believed such things stand here today, with these people. The answer goes back to three years ago, when doubts started growing in my mind. A program called “Hands of Peace” brought me, along with a group of Palestinian and Israeli teenagers, to three weeks of dialogue and team-building here in the United States, in Chicago, and that was the first time I encountered “the enemy”. Back then, I didn’t know what to expect, or what their reactions would be. The first dialogue session we had was surprisingly quiet. Nobody wanted to take the initiative and bring a hot topic up. But after a couple of days, the sparks began to fly. Everyone talked about the hardest issues we were going through, the trauma we suffer and our hopes for the future. It was an eye-opening experience that would make you question everything you hear and were told.
As a Palestinian in the United States, I experienced a huge amount of misconceptions. A large part of the American society portrays Palestinians as people who are thirsty for blood. The American mainstream media has done a great job in forming these stereo-types. My response to this is: Not every Palestinian is a terrorist, and not every terrorist is a Palestinian. This issue is affecting our fight for human rights, equality and the quest for a peaceful solution.
The second issue is: for the last couple of months, policy makers in the United States have been questioning the ability of Palestinians to maintain stability within their future state. On one hand, we, as Palestinians, have our own battles to fight on our own soil. We do acknowledge the fact that a house divided against itself cannot stand. But I do not come in your house and tell you where to put your own furniture, so our internal issues should be solved by us, and only us.
On the other hand, I send a message off this podium, on behalf of myself and the new generation of Palestine, to the world that we can. I believe we can not only make a difference, we can change reality, we can even achieve the impossible, and unlike what a Congressman said a week ago (without mentioning any names), we can indeed decide on the color of our Hummus!
The future of our conflict relies on our willingness to acknowledge our issues, and as Martin Luther King said, to make sacrifices, and to take action. Whether some of us like it or not, our future is a shared future. One cannot enjoy his drink on the beach of Tel Aviv, and not care about that child who’s pulling his toy from underneath the ruins of his house in Gaza. Nor can I enjoy the breeze in my garden, and not care about that child who’s hiding in a rocket shelter in Sderot.
Realistically, we all know that our conflict is anything but being solved now. Things are getting more complicated every day, and the status-quo is killing the two state solution. The solution must be based on common interests, and must be architected in a way that is sustainable. That is the reason why we’re here. They always say “if you want to either make peace with the other side, or destroy them, you have to understand them first”. We are here to understand, in order to create and not destroy. THIS is what NSL and similar programs provide us: a platform for understanding, which will enable us when we become the decision makers back home, to make the right choices based on our understanding of each other. We’re asking you here to support us in our own struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
by Dia Majadleh