Human beings are storytelling beings. We base our lives on stories, about ourselves and about the other. And mainly about the other, certainly in areas where people with different identities live together. We use stories to connect, but often also to separate ourselves from the other. Reinforcing one’s own group by making people afraid of the group of the other. Telling stories about each other is the best way to create fear.
This project took place in the Galilee, the north of a country that is called Palestine by the one, and Israel by the other. Most probably a region in which stories are used as poison; to prove the superiority of the one above the other.
So why would this be the perfect place to work with stories?
Simply said because this project was not primarily about telling stories. It was about sharing stories. Listening was as important as telling. And that is what we did: listen to each other and getting to know each other, regardless cultural background, religion, gender and preferences. It is incredible to see that within a day a group was created, a community in which everybody felt safe to share whatever she or he wanted to share. Dreams, successes, doubts, failures, quests and happiness; we shared stories about daily life experiences, superheroes, choices and nice memories. We became friends that use stories to get to know each other better and better. And we will continue doing this as we consider this first workshop as a first step in a hopefully long lasting collaboration. Or should we say long lasting friendship?
But there is more.
The Galilee is a magical place. Many prophets walked around here and it is the area where Jesus spent most of his life. It is an area of diversity, with so many people with different backgrounds living here. Christian Arabs, Jews, Druses, Muslim Arabs, Bedouins; these are only the biggest groups represented. Is this a recipe for tension and hatred? That’s what most of the Dutch participants expected. Sometimes this idea was validated but more often we were surprised. We met people that are not afraid to meet people from the other groups. We spoke with people that worked with each other. We saw mixed friendships, even mixed relations. It would be way too positive to describe this part of the holy land as a completely peaceful, but is was encouraging to see that people are still willing to listen to each other’s story; that people are able to share instead of using stories to provoke fear.
In that respect the Galilee is not so different from the neighbourhoods the Dutch participants are from. Here we encounter the enthusiasm to get to know each other also as often as the fear for the culture of the other. Stories are being used here as poison as well and some of the Dutch participants experienced quite often that their Moroccan or Turkish background was a reason to exclude them based on the stories told about ‘them’.
Although it sounds a bit exaggerated, this first step in the Shefa’amr project made a deep impression on all participants. ‘Life changing’ are strong words, but for some of us it was life changing. Just because we shared and we met so many wonderful people that wanted to share their story with us. May this be our little contribution to a society that uses stories to connect, to meet and to respect!
Arjen Barel – Dec 2016