Jerusalem, Yerushalayim and Al Qods, different names for one city. Jerusalem is divided into West and East. West mostly inhabited by Jewish Israelis while East most inhabited by Palestinian Arabs. Achvat Amim (AA)- Solidarity of Nations is a 5-month program that directly engages with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples. There are 5 participants who come from different backgrounds coming from the US, UK and Morocco.

I’m Yona Abeddour from Morocco. I currently live in Jerusalem where I’m participating in the previously mentioned program (www.achvatamim.org). It is an interesting experience to learn about what this country has to offer, both good and challenging things. AA is an eye-opening and significant program for different reasons. First, diaspora Jews are usually seen through the lens of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or to be more accurate, through the media’s depiction of it. Second, whenever I screen one of my documentary films either in Morocco or abroad, the question of the conflict comes up and I usually try to avoid it because it’s quite sensitive. To be honest, I feel that I don’t have “answers” for such a complex issue. Now that I’m learning about it firsthand from different voices and places, I’m making a documentary film that will attempt to show the diversity of the Israeli society and that the conflict isn’t black and white, and that there are a lot of Israeli individuals and organizations that genuinely care and are doing amazing work for peace and fostering mutual understanding. I’ve put together a teaser of the film:

In the first three weeks, I filmed each one of us in their chosen location: Matt at the Kotel, Rob in a “neutral” space/an alleyway, Penina by a checkpoint after a peace march, Molly in a forest doing Yoga, and Yona (me) in a binational school. We all answered the following questions:

1. Introduce yourself

2. Why did you choose Achvat Amim program?

3. What are your expectations for the next 5 months?

4. Why did you choose this particular place/location and what does it communicate about you or the work you are doing?

Hence, the idea is to follow each one of us during the 5 months, following their passions, their learning processes, their frustrations, their reflections, etc. In the end of the program (August) or in the last few weeks, we will all reflect on ourselves when we first got here and how this experience has changed us and what have we accomplished/learned.

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My volunteer placements are taking place in the YMCA, an institution that embraces difference and celebrates togetherness. The Jerusalem Youth Chorus is an interfaith group where young Muslims and Christians join their voices with young Jews to create a harmonious piece of art/music. The JYC also facilitates organized dialogues to help these young people become peace makers and leaders in their communities. One of the activities they had was watching parts of “The Pianist”, a film about the Holocaust, with the help of Palestinian and Israeli facilitators. After the screening, I interviewed Sasha (Jewish) and Samia (Arab) to give us their input.

In this same frame, it’s worth highlighting that music has the power to break walls and bring people together regardless of religion, nationality or race. Ziv Yehezkel, an Israeli Jew with a kippa on his head, started performing a song by the well-known Arab singer Fairouz, and the whole crowd (Palestinians (coming from East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza) as well as Israelis) began singing and dancing together, men with kippot on, veiled women and young Palestinians dancing dabke style. Another reality that is, unfortunately, hidden to the eyes of many international mainstream media viewers.

Ziv Yehizkel

ACTV is another thought-provoking placement I’m doing in the YMCA. It brings young Arabs and Jews who share the same passion of making films to provide them with the right tools to achieve their goals. Different groups work on different topics that range from memories to fast motorbikes in east Jerusalem. Interestingly, language or religion are not seen as an obstacle but rather as an enriching addition to the experience.

Hand in Hand is a binational school where change is already happening. Pupils are taught to respect each other, no matter how different they are, from a young age. They work on the exercise together sometimes helping each other in Arabic or Hebrew.

This is an overview of my placement work, the four other participants in my cohort, who are part of this documentary film, are doing various human rights work related to the Israeli/Palestinian situation. Ir Amim, Rabbis for Human Rights, Palestine Israel Journal, or writing a biography of an Arab activist. We will learn more about them and the work they are doing in the documentary. As it was pointed out by one of the speakers we met, there is no possible solution from within. So here we are 5 international volunteers trying to bring a fresh eye to the conflict. This land and its people deserve to live in peace.

Yona Abeddour

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© all photos and videos by Y. Abeddour