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Saturday, August 30, 2014

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Israeli-Arab teen promotes coexistence

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Lina Jamal Medlij, right, with Camp Shomria staff member Rebecca Hirsz

Lina Jamal Medlij, a Palestinian girl from Haifa, was in Toronto last month to spread her message that she’s living proof Jews and Arabs can coexist peacefully.

Medlij, who turns 18 this month, is an alumna of a program called Heart to Heart, which for the past four years has brought 20 Israeli youth between grades 7 and 9 – 10 Jewish and 10 Arab-Israeli – to Camp Shomria in Perth, Ont., for three weeks of dialogue and coexistence programming. 

The program is offered through Givat Haviva Educational Foundation, an Israeli-based non-profit organization that promotes Jewish-Arab dialogue.

Medlij said she wanted to participate in the program to address any misconceptions she may have had about a group of people she knew so little about.

“I’m aware of the fact that even if I’m not connecting right now with Jews, when I grow up, in about three or four years, I will get the chance to talk to Jews and work with them, and I’m going to go out into the real world and I’m not going to stay in my home and in my village,” she told The CJN.

“You hear a lot of stereotypes about a lot of subjects… and you don’t have a perspective of your own. This was another thing that I wanted to know, to create for myself.”

Medlij said her involvement with Heart to Heart exposed her to many new experiences.

“In Israel, we don’t have camps, so it was a whole new experience for us, to be in Canada, and to live at a camp and also living with each other – Jews and Arabs – which is an opportunity we didn’t have before,” she said.

“We lived in the same cabins, we slept in the same cabins, which was another adventure, if I can call it that, and it was really interesting and beautiful how you got to know people around you that lived really close to you for three weeks.

 “If we can compare it to life, it’s a really short period of time, but it still had a very, very significant impact on our thoughts and our way of living and our way of seeing things. We did see a lot of things through each others’ eyes.”

During a speech to the National Council of Jewish Women late last month, Medlij spoke about an incident she and her fellow campers were able to resolve in a way that left both the Jewish and Arab participants feeling respected.

She said that last year, Camp Shomria commemorated its 100th anniversary, and during one celebratory event, the campers were asked to form a circle to sing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.

“I took a step back out of the circle, because I don’t want to be part of it, and I don’t think it speaks to me at all… Other Arab members of my group sat on the floor out of the circle,” she said.

“The next day we had a conversation and… everyone expressed his point of view, and the reason behind doing what they did. We also listened to those who were objecting to what we had done. As a result, we came up with a compromise that we do have the right to leave the circle and not be part of singing the national anthem… but on the other hand, we do not have the right to sit on the floor, since it might be considered as disrespectful by the Jewish members of the group or for those who look at Hatikvah as something really important and means a lot to them.”

Medlij said she felt that this discussion and compromise was a perfect example of the ways Palestinian and Jews can live peacefully with each other, in spite of their differences in beliefs and culture.

“This program had a very good and huge impact, in my opinion, on myself, and it also had an impact on others in my group. Thanks to such programs, we will be able to tear down walls and stereotypes that we have in Israel between Jews and Arabs.”

For more information, visit www.heart-to-heart.ca.

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