Reflecting, Najat Abdel Hadi calls her 17-year-old self a right-wing extremist and a member of the “righteous, infallible team” in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Now a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s Peace and Conflict Studies Program, Hadi is an active board member of Yalla, a forum providing space to individuals with interest in the Conflict to engage in meaningful dialogue. Yalla, formed in 2003 by a group of Arab and Jewish Canadians, encourages youth between the ages of 18 and 35 to both creatively express their thoughts and engage with others, “without fear of retribution.”
As a child in the Palestinian city of Nablus on the West Bank, Hadi calls herself blessed to have been able to take pleasure in the “little things in life.” Life, however, consisted of curfews, annihilated buildings, and the blare of gunshots. These children, who knew nothing else, who felt the illusion of safety, were inundated with “messages of hate and distrust that would shape their future ideas and decisions.” Hadi later realized that both sides of the conflict were fed this inculcation, these distorted depictions of the truth.
Her revelation, which came during the same time the Israeli army invaded her city, took place at the United World College of the Adriatic. Here Hadi met three Israeli students and her perspective changed as she recognized that these people were not “cruel soldiers on a checkpoint,” but instead potential friends. Hadi realized her place was in the field of communication; that “building channels of dialogue between real people on both sides is the only way to achieve stable peace.”
In one of the Yalla’s featured articles, Danny Iny writes of the pertinence and power of dialogue. Iny asserts that one perspective is just one piece of the big picture. He deems “insight” the most gratifying gain of dialogue; insight into “the other” perspective and one’s own. For, defending one’s opinion means, “you have to examine and refine everything you believe.” Though he does not deny the frustration and frequent disappointment that comes with dialogue, Iny maintains that constructive discourse is worth the work and can be achieved through “respect, genuine curiosity and patience.”
Maintaining faith in people’s humanity and rationality, Hadi feels proud to be part of Yalla: “We probably won’t alter the course of history in the Middle East, but I believe it is a step in the right direction.”