All I Know is That I Don’t Know…

GlobeThe journalists poured their hearts out in their essays, teaching me that there is still so much to learn. One 22-year-old Palestinian man wrote about attending a Hebrew college on a chemistry scholarship, and leaving a year later due to unbearable social pressure at the school. An Israeli woman wrote about the side effects of war as seen in the students of the kindergarten where we she works. A 28-year-old Egyptian gal wrote about the harassment she deals with daily for being unmarried and refusing to wear a hard scarf. A Yemeni reporter wrote about his surprise at meeting “the other” (Israelis) face-to-face in the program, for the first time ever. One Jordanian asked that his name not be published in our magazine, as he could lose his job for “fraternizing with Israelis.” The Danes wrote about their own naivete, having lived in a country that’s been relatively homogenous and peaceful for so long.

“I am not optimistic about peace,” one Israeli student said to me one night over dinner. “It’s too complicated, and something our governments have to work out.” I left the program quite pessimistic myself. I mean, it’s nice that we all got together in this idyllic setting, but eventually we all had to go home.

The participants left with an assignment for the next issue of the magazine—to write about how the program affected them back at home. Their essays flooded my inbox.

One young Israeli man detailed his flight home from Denmark with his new “Palestinian friends” and how he chose to wait in a “special room” at Palestinian customs with them at the airport, rather than breeze through as he could have.

Another wrote about the fact that though it was not be safe for him to visit his new friends in the West Bank, he was happy to stay in touch via Facebook.

A Yemeni reporter was clearly impressed with Denmark’s high-tech, well-designed media outlets.

A young Palestinian reporter wrote about his past “intellectual paralysis,” seemingly embarrassed that before coming to this program, he’d often written about everything but the conflict—“even fashion and tourism.” In my edits I included a note to him emphasizing what has always been my worldview—that the personal is also political, and that art and other seemingly trivial things, like fashion or tourism, can be important, too.

I empathize, because I have questioned this about myself, too. Growing up in the Washington, DC area, I think I just found world politics to be boring. Artists were the people who inspired me—not politicians. But sometimes, I wondered if I was smart or informed enough to cover politics, if I ever wanted or needed to. I wondered if I’d chosen an easier field of journalism to escape responsibility for reporting on life-and-death matters in the world. My student’s essay ends promising some sort of new beginning. He anticipates our group’s future meeting in producing the next issue of the magazine, asking himself “what kind of a journalist will I be then?”

The second issue of our combined effort is out. We will publish two more. And I ask myself the same thing.