As the war between Hamas and Israel intensifies, so has the war of words on social media. That’s where I found myself debating both rabid Israel haters and people who want to flatten Gaza. It’s exhausting and, in the end, it won’t solve anything.

A start to ending the conflict and the hate is people-to-people contact and respectful dialogue.

Several years ago, I learned – on social media, from an Israeli peace activist – about a project named “Skype With Your Enemy.”

Manar al-Sharif was living in Gaza. I contacted her and she set up a Skype meeting between me and a Palestinian man, Youssef Tarazi. Tarazi is a Christian and active in a scouting organization. I did not go into our meeting with the idea of preaching to him; I went to listen.

One thing stood out from our conversation: He told me that young children were afraid to look up at the sky when they heard a plane flying over, fearing it would drop bombs.

Half the population of Gaza are young people who did not vote for Hamas in 2006, when it ran using the slogan “change and reform.”


I was unable to keep up my contact with Youssef. But I was able to stay connected with an organization known as The Gaza Youth Committee and one of their leaders, Rami Aman. During a time of heightened tensions in the region, The Gaza Youth committee launched pigeons from Gaza into Israel. When I told a friend in Portland about this, they responded: “Dropping firebombs.”

“No” I explained in my reply. “The pigeons had messages attached to their feet. The messages promoted peace in Hebrew and Arabic.”

The committee organized classes in parliamentary procedure in the hopes that young Palestinians would have the skills to participate in controlling their future.

Another project initiated by the committee was a bicycle ride for peace and freedom. Palestinian and Israeli youths participated, riding bicycles at the same time on opposite sides of the separation barrier. Yes, this is merely symbolic, but symbolism is very important in an atmosphere of relentless hate.

Soon after I sat in the comfort of my home in Portland, Maine, along with 200 or so other people in a Zoom meeting. Rami Aman and other committee members had set up the meeting between members of the youth committee and Israeli young people. On April 10, 2020, the New York Times ran a story with the headline “Zoom Call with Israelis lands a Gaza Peace Activist in Jail.”

Several Israeli peace activists proceeded with utmost caution so as not to put the committee members lives in further jeopardy. They worked to obtain the release of those arrested for the crime of “holding a normalization activity” with Israelis. Rami and Manar have both since left Gaza.

I remain in touch with them, as well as many Israeli peace activists who are opposed to the continued military occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza. Of course, I grieve for the slaughtered Israelis in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. I resent that some people call it “a heroic revolutionary act.”

But I also grieve for the possible fate of Youssef Tarazi and the other innocent Palestinians who are victims of this never-ending war.

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