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After a busy few months, a first-draft film trailer has been crafted. More will come throughout the summer, and many edits will be made. Please share your thoughts (by sending an email to info@choosingtoseepeace.org) on the 5 minute video posted below:

http://vimeo.com/35660109

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You may have noticed that a new post hasn’t been added for some time.The reason behind this: I have been focusing on the tedious process of editing the interviews you are reading about on this blog into a documentary. In the mean time, be sure to follow me on twitter (@choosingtosee) and check out the twitter bar to the left. There are truly amazing, interesting, and forward-thinking initiatives for peace occurring constantly, and when I hear of them, I tweet!

Thanks for following and look out for more posts coming soon, as well as a film trailer!

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In the basement of a small house in East Jerusalem, I met with Maysa Baransi-Siniora, the Executive Director of All for Peace Radio. The station was established in late 2003 as a joint project between an Israeli and Palestinian organization with the purpose of having a media outlet for peaceful and alternative voices during the second intifada.

At the time, the mere thought of Palestinians and Israelis working together was shunned by the government and the public. While bombs diffused through Gaza and West Bank, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, there was no peace on the horizon. Furthermore, housing the station in the controversial East Jerusalem was not welcomed by both sides, when the other was clearly the enemy. “Despite these difficulties, we tried to talk to both side, what our intentions are, our goals are, what is the whole idea of having a peace radio station. And it took over a year for both governments to accept having such radio station” Maysa describes.

The radio station has multiple frequencies, in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English. “Our main vision for the radio station is to promote the freedom of speech, equality, democracy…One of our goals is to bring, or to fight, all the human rights abuse by both sides…and to give a stage for all alternative voices that are not heard on mainstream media on both sides.”

With 70 people running the station and hosting individual news segments, many are leaders and volunteers of leading organizations in Israel and Palestine. Maysa describes the range of programs: a morning program that translates the other side’s headlines of the newspapers, programs on women empowerment, having settlers speak about living in the West Bank, Rabbis come to speak of their opinions, and The Parent Circle: a grief program where Israelis and Palestinians come together to grieve instead of going to the side of revenge.

When asked how people react to All For Peace’s programs, Maysa replied, “People, when they start listening to us and understanding what our values are, people start accepting us more.” She spoke of how people really just want to listen and relate, and said proudly that listenership is up 130% from last year. “People are seeing the radio station as a stage for people to express and to talk about their activities and concerns.”

 “When we started the radio station we were very small, we had 12 people that started and we were a bunch of Israelis and Palestinians that saw a light in the tunnel and wanted to make a difference, to show the real picture of what’s happening and trying to find a way of making the other listen to the other.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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I recently met with Adiv Jahshan, one of the two Artistic Directors at the Arab-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa. He is specifically the Artistic Director for The El-Sayaraya Theater, which is the Arab portion of the Theatre.

The Arab-Hebrew Theatre is set sea-side in ancient Jaffa. Founded in 1998, the theatre sits in a once abandoned, archaic stone building.

The history of Jaffa is quite fascinating – when, before 1948, it was the epicenter of Arabic culture, before then it was conquered, destroyed, and reconquered for thousands of years. In the recent history, Jaffa was once a booming city, known for the arts, with Tel Aviv being a much smaller town in close proximity. As we see today, it is very much the opposite, and Tel Aviv boasts all a metropolitan city can offer, while Jaffa seems to sit in its shadow.

Yet if you take a step in you can see phenomenal programs and organizations originating in Jaffa, such as this theatre. It is one of the many efforts to bring Palestinians and Jews together, Arabs and Israelis in once place to share a stage, to have a voice which does not accuse, but to express and create bonds and relationships between these ‘sides’.

With the short hour I spent with Adiv, not one moment passed which disregarded history, experience, and emotion. While sitting face to face with this elder Arab man as he spoke with excitement of this city – his home, his stories were never without underlying pain and longing. Adiv is a man who has lived his life in stages of wars, struggles, fights for self-identity and respect, and still he is working with everything he can to simply bring people together. These may be people who have once hurt him, or people who may not have believed in him, but when he speaks about the occurrences that happen on his stage, he speaks with a simple love for people.

The theatre hosts an array of shows, in Arabic, Hebrew and English. As with many organizations, the Theatre is struggling financially, but refuses to allow this to affect the quality of their work. The intention of the theatre is to bring Arabs and Jews together to one stage to perform and to build amicable relationships, and to show that these individuals can coexist. The theatre also hosts an annual three-day Women’s Festival as well as an International Children’s Festival.

The video will come later, but here is a powerful excerpt from our conversation when I asked him about events that have taken place on his stage:

“We made here an open microphone for the Jews and Arabs. We opened the theatre and the stage, we say ‘you have the microphone’. In this place you could say what you like. People were very nervous, very cross, and everyone had the real freedom to say what they like. You could see and feel the eyes. There was the anger, if it’s Arabs or Jews it doesnt matter. But, in the end, it’s amazing how these people, they get to relax, they breathe outside, all the air outside, and they sat together, drank coffee and tea, and they talked. Suddenly, everything gets open. Just sit and talk, but be honest, not to play, to make fool of him, it never works. It could work one year, another year, but it will not work forever. Let the other side feel that you are right, you speak from your inside, your soul, from your heart, that you really want to live in peace with him.”

To learn more about this inspiring theatre, visit: http://www.arab-hebrew-theatre.org.il/eng/about/about.htm

Call me an optimist, but I believe there must be more out there than violence and left-wing, right-wing, pro, anti, propaganda, name-calling, etcetera. There must be people working towards positive initiatives in a land where the word peace usually brings forth a smirk, a shake of the head, or a very long argument.

Welcome to Choosingtosee, a blog that will report on my video project I am currently embarking on here in Israel on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and the road to peace. Do to the overly saturated one-sided and violent-striken news reports we hear in the West and around the world, I have traveled here to search for more than finger-pointing and “right and wrong”. To do so, I am conducting interviews with organizations that are working towards peace through cross cultural understanding, dialogue creation, community building, and other positive initiatives.

I believe that it is difficult to have opinions until we know the people whom we are speaking about and forming opinions for or against. Especially with such a heated and biased-driven conflict as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we find it easy to hear a news report and think we so firmly know our beliefs and exactly what is happening here in this small sliver of land bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

I encourage everyone to take time to learn rather than judge, to listen rather than accuse, and to ask for peoples’ stories, on all sides, before slandering.

I am not interested in who is right or wrong, rather, I will be blogging about personal experiences of these individuals, I will be writing about their efforts to create relationships between Arabs and Jews, I will be searching for that truth: the truth that says there must be hope if there are people who are doing good things. And these people must be heard.

I name this Choosingtosee – because I do believe it is a choice we consciously make. We can hear so much, read so much, but unless we actively and continuously choose to see past the pages and TV screens and learn past how we were raised and the political climate of our friends, we will remain in a world that is solely ours, blocked off from empathy and honesty.

Thank you for joining me. The end product will be a video production of these interviews, so stay tuned. I welcome all comments and feedback, so long as you are choosing to open your eyes past your current state and opinions.

J. L.