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"Not Enough Energy for Constant Hatred"

It is an early morning in late July that finds me standing outside the entrance of the Holy Sepulchre Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. With me are 20 young unfamiliar visitors with curious faces. Every now and then, through work or friends, I find myself caught in such circumstances where I am asked to walk with a group of strangers and show them around the Old City.

"I'm not a guide,'' I tell them, ''but I happen to have been born and raised here. If you want a touristy-perspective, you can always find guidebooks. I'll just tell you about things the way I see them.'''

There I stand telling them about the historical and spiritual significance of this church in Jerusalem; the priviledge to be stepping inside; the different rituals and ceremonies that take place, and the sometimes physical fights that occur during easter. ''There are spots inside to separate each Christian denomination from the other,'' I say, ''and despite the faithful facade, you can sense the love of power and authority inside.''

At that point, I see an angry man rushing towards me. ''How dare you say these things??'' he shouts out loud, "You should be ashamed of yourself for telling foreigners about these fights. We are all Christian and we love one another! You should NOT tell them these things!'' He gives me a good deep frown before he walks away, and I have to admit his reaction gets me a little flustered. I turn to the group and say: "Maybe I really am not supposed to tell you these things. Maybe I should just tell you that we are all about love and faith here in the holy land and that we have no hatred in our hearts.''

Of course the foreigners around me are astonished as they soon preach about the freedom of speech and the right to speak our minds. However, one of the truths about the Middle East is that in the midst of a bigger conflict, anything one would say or not say could strengthen or weaken the bigger argument.

That same week, one of my close friends finds himself in a situation where his ID might be taken away from him; leaving him with no nationality anymore (something that happens easily at this part of the world.) "You cannot expect foreigners to understand," he says, "they don't know what it's like to be from the Middle East! They don't have to worry about not having a proper passport and not having a place to go back to.'' I insist that ''foreigners'' have their own set of problems and that one cannot compare grief in the world. There are human issues that we can all relate to, and empathize with, and those are bigger than politics could cover.

That same week, another house gets evicted in one of the streets of East Jerusalem. I see solidarity groups lying down in the streets; some of the members of that family had tears in their eyes, and the little kids had so much hatred in their fists. How could injustice pass so easily was past anybody's knowledge. Across the resistant angry faces were tons of ridiculous blanks on police officers. They were just following orders; pointing their guns at the trees and the roots and the people who had once been there.

''The hell with you Israel!!'' I heard one of the young girls scream, ''The hell with you for taking down our houses and leaving us with nowhere to go to! But you forget, as you do your math, that we really have nowhere else to go to!"

That same week, I found myself in a bar in Tel Aviv, in Israel. I liked the music they played at that bar, yet my arms and legs could not easily move to the music. Around me were random guys and girls with life and sex in their eyes. As the groups were checking each other out, possibly envisioning each other with no clothes on, all I could envision was an audience fully dressed in army clothes; shooting down the place with tanks of destruction.

What I'm trying to say is: I come from a place with complex layers!

My emotions are mixed when it comes to this land of conflict. In fact, for all of us who have been here long enough to have witnessed some of the changes in the region, it is probably fair to say that we are all now diagnosed with a serious disorder in this time of history. We are all schizophrenics by geography!

The truth is, I'm not entirely the same person when I'm crossing a checkpoint in the West Bank than the person I am when I'm sipping coffee and shopping in West Jerusalem. In such chaotic circumstances, it may indeed be too tiresome to play the activist everyday. One professor once said ''Hatred takes up a lot of energy.'' At one point it gets too tiring to keep on arguing.

Then again, it's always more difficult to keep a moderate face when faced with injustice.

Unsurprisingly, you rarely come across objective people in the Middle East. Being objective could simultaneously mean that you're giving up your rights! And for this reason, I am not completely surprised that I had been hushed at the entrance of that church when I openly revealed the inner conflicts among us.

There are, and have always been, things that we are not supposed to talk about at this part of the world. There is always the fear, that when you present reality the way you see it, you might lose your argument. And so it is that there are places we are not supposed to go to. Friends we are not supposed to have. Words we are not supposed to utter. Knowledge we are not supposed to reveal. We should just hush-hush our own self-criticism and stay in the little boxes that have been imposed on us. We should all chant the same ideologies and follow the same creeds. We should all go by the book and not even bother to actually read the book. We should all keep hatred in our hearts for fear that we will vanish if we did not hate enough.

"How dare you allow yourself to even talk to your oppressor?'' Some of my friends would say, "How dare you pretend that the person whose shop you are buying from is not sending his son out to destroy your neighbour's house? How dare you normalize relations of injustice and occupation by getting close to the victimizor and learning the enemy's language?''

"You cannot be naive anymore,'' the preaching continues, ''you cannot empathize with the violator. You cannot be objective about the actions of the criminal. You HAVE to take sides! And whatever that side is, you have to defend it at all costs, you have to believe in and keep fighting for your right of existence and self-determination!''

At this point, I am not sure I am wise enough to come up with a solution to any of this.

All I can personally come up with is that I doubt fear has taught us much. Creeds around the world have been bruised and corrupted because their believers were too scared to dig deeper. From too much fear, we have presented ourselves with stereotypes, paranoid judgments and brainwashed fanaticism. With no desire to TRULY understand, we have managed with lazy homework instead; all of which has left us with a shallow, superficial understanding of what the world is.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

South and Central Asia
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