Another day of work comes to an end. You survived the last two hours of your shift; glancing at the clock every few seconds wishing the hands would go just a bit faster. 12:00, the office doors swish behind you as you walk out, fast enough to not waste another unnecessary moment there, but slow enough to avoid suspicious or accusatory looks from your boss. Arriving home, you forget to close the apartment door and you fall on your bed, exhausted, on the brink of a hibernation-esque slumber, when your inner voice tells you that “you should really take a shower, honestly, you smell like s**t”. As you crawl into the shower, lifelessly adjusting the temperature, you have the patience-span to think of nothing more than nothing… yet this actually just paves the way to think about the things in life that mean everything.
Sound familiar? Yeah. I found myself one night juggling a few of those colossal questions. One piqued my interest: the notion of purpose. Perhaps it was made even more intriguing by the concept of finding purpose in the context of a ‘lifetime’. In my head, a hurricane of words, ideas, constructs, and notions were already flying around aimlessly, but skillfully I managed to pick out a few worthwhile answers: creating my own family? leaving an impressive legacy? They all sounded pretty appealing frankly, yet I was looking for an answer that both my mind and conscious would immediately agree was THE purpose.
By the end of the night, I thought I found it. And well, this is actually where the story begins.
With a backdrop of tension and violence between Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, my school brought together some of the most outstanding Israeli and Palestinian high-school students to live together under one roof. Yes, one roof, and not only inside a classroom. Actually it was outside the classroom that the real debates were waged, the real friendships were forged, and the real negotiations took place.
In a gesture of personal and social awareness to shoulder the responsibility of building a bridge between conflicted sides, I created a platform for Israelis and Palestinians to explore out what an activity like Model United Nations (MUN) had to offer. Every Tuesday evening, we would meet for an hour and a half. In the beginning, I had to remind them what MUN’s acronym stood for. Our goal was to provide a stage where everyone were genuinely inspired to putting him/her self in another’s shoes by the end of the program.
Without their knowing, I enlisted us as a team in the biggest MUN conference in the country. Yet before I was convinced that taking the risk and and facing the adversity of public scrutiny of bringing the first ever mixed Israeli-Palestinian delegation to the competition, I presented them with the final challenge. I organized a simulation of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — the Palestinians represented the Israeli Delegation, the Israelis represented the Palestinian delegation, and the International students remained mediators in the process. I was pretty sure that what the school’s founder had envisioned in giving life to this international project was what conspired in that hall that day.
From an event of well-chronicled insurmountable passion and nearly untouchable emotion, emanated an atmosphere of understanding and compassionate listening. Not only were all learning about each other’s narratives, but also we were learning what the others saw in the “enemy’s” story. We had learned to listen and fathom — something seemingly clinically-proven impossible with politicians and people of real influence.
Come February, conference time, we excitedly dispersed into our respective committees around the event campus. For the next three days, I saw my peers face their fears, overcome adversity, build friendships, and enjoy themselves. All this was in build-up for the final general assembly, where awards and special recognitions were delivered to exemplary individuals and teams. We had conceded that as a first-year team filled with primarily inexperienced delegates, it would be wisest to refrain from any expectation of winning any awards. However, I would be lying to you if I told you my naive hope of the unexpected was not there. After what felt like a lifetime, subsequent to a string of impressive speeches by impressive statesmen and leaders, the superintendent took the microphone for the last time, and cleared her throat a bit too loudly:
“Delegates, supervisors, staff and honorable guests, TIMEMUN 2016’s most prestigious prize of the Best Overall Delegation of 2016 goes to…
… the Eastern Mediterranean International School.”
That was my school. That was my team. That was us.
That was Ihab Atawnh, a 17 year old boy from Hebron, raised under the brutality of Israeli occupation, raised to hate Israelis, wholeheartedly embracing Roy Keinan, a 17 year old boy from Kfar Uriah, growing up under the rocket fire and stabbings of Palestinian militancy. If a picture is said to be worth 1000 words, that sight was worth every single set of final words uttered by those who perished as a result of this conflict.
Flowing through my veins was an unfiltered, unadulterated ecstasy that to this day remains too challenging to quantify or to put into words. Very few times in my life have I experienced such a significant and fulfilling moment. A sort of happiness you explode with, forgetting everything, not physically being able to care about what others are saying or thinking. In search of that raw sensation, for my own and my peers’ sake, I founded that sweeping movement: engaging in what I love whilst leaving this world a bit better place than I found it and building bridges between youth otherwise conditioned to hate each other.
That has become my purpose. Creating opportunities with potential to yield moments like these.