Dana Amir: Conversations for Peace
*This story was collected in partnership with New Story Leadership.
Dana, is from Gan-Ner, Israel, but in the past five years, Dana has been traveling and studying around the world. Dana is currently pursuing a Bachelor Degree in Psychology and Economics, and hopes to focus on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy after graduation. Dana previously worked in Project Management, Alternative Education systems, Marketing analysis, and the Israeli startup scene. Dana was a part of the endeavor to build a community center in Ta’oz, a rural town in Israel. During NSL, Dana worked in the Congressional office of Chairman Ted Deutch.
I was born in Israel, and I was raised there. Both of my parents are very connected to the idea of the state of Israel and to the Jewish people. So, my family knows the pain and trauma, it’s very much felt in their everyday things, like finish from your plate because you don’t know if you are going to get later. Not that we live in poverty, but the mentality that you have to finish your plate, because who knows. There are other things that are attached to it. If I’m thinking about the current political reality in Israel, we have soldiers in the Palestinian territories, I will call it ‘occupation’, but my parents do not agree to accept this term, because this land was promised to the Jewish people. We argue a lot about this. So, this the mentality that I grew up with, very Zionist, that Jews should have a Jewish home, we should protect ourselves, etc. Of course, I should go to the military, because of that, because of this national pride. I served in the military for two years, I was in the Intelligence, that was a very mind-blowing experience as someone who grew up in a small village, now meeting the most brilliant people ever. It’s a very liberal place, you’ll be surprised, a very left place.
That was the first crack of breaking the ideas that I heard at home, and all of a sudden I became a very lefty person in the military. I came here to DC, I’ve been here to join a program called New Story Leadership. The program takes about 8 people, from both Israel and Palestine, to learn about each other, learn about skills that will hopefully be effective leaders back home. All of us have projects that we work on, so we learn some tools here in order to push them forward, once we are back. I think what is especially unique for me, is to hear from perspectives from people from Gaza, which I never met, until this point. Also, generally people from the West Bank, and Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, that I never got to really interact with them. In terms of me being here, in the program, and seeing the difference between home and here, unfortunately, it’s very present.
My dad is very anxious that I’m here when we first realized that I’ll be sharing a home with a Palestinian because we live in host families together–he was anxious about it. There is a lot of prejudice and a lot of misconceptions. People don’t know what the Israeli government does in the West Bank in Gaza. People don’t want to know, because it’s kind of painful. We glorify our soldiers, we glorify the military, we think they are our heroes, they are protecting us. All of a sudden, I say the word occupation, and human rights and things, that for me, are very basic, it’s very difficult to have these conversations back home. Sometimes, I’m even looked at as being a traitor, like how dare you to say something that is against the Israeli Jewish ideal of having a safe state in the land of Israel.
My own interest is in changing mindsets slowly, and it’s a very slow process, and to me, it starts with education. Just speaking to people who think differently with me, sometimes I say that my arguments with my father are dress rehearsals, because we fight, we argue, we cry and scream, and then we hug, and we are family in the end. These are very tough conversations, and outside, the conversations are harder, because we are not family. The conversation with my father, we are prepared with it. I think people need to learn more about the other side, and I think we need to humanize the other side more than we need right now. Often the Arab is portrayed as a terrorist or as barbaric, its easier to for us to accept, to know that we are better–and I hate this idea, it breaks my heart. Since, to me, this is not what Judaism is about, but some people in the Israeli government claim to be more Jewish than me and claim to interpret Judaism in ways that I don’t identify with.
I think I’m more equipped with telling stories, I’m more exposed to stories from my Palestinian friends. So, when my dad would tell me, “All the Arabs are terrorists”, I would say, “well actually”, then I can back it up. I think that these stories, when you humanize [a person] when you put a name and a face to it, it’s just more relatable, it’s more empathetic, and you can see that our strong convictions are not really relevant or true, and I think that is the major change.